This past April, after the world was robbed of Prince’s musical genius, Madonna of all people decided to pay tribute at the Billboard Awards.
This was BET’s response.
It only took 15 seconds for BET to raise expectations impossibly high. Ever since that promo dropped, fans have been screaming that THIS year’s BET Awards WILL BE SOOOOO LIT.
Umm, playa, I’ve been reviewing the BET Awards in this very space for more than half a decade. Most years BET boss lady Debra Lee can barely find microphones that don’t die mid-show. This show has never been lit.
But after all the hype, all the shade and all the sky-high expectations, this is the one year BET HAD to deliver.
And you know what? They actually did.
Mostly. See for yourself.
1. The biggest question of the evening – “Will Beyonce actually show up?” – was answered two seconds into the show when the Beyhive turned BET into Bey Entertainment Television. Yep, King Bey was in the house, stomping through a saturated stage alongside Kendrick Lamar in a fiery performance of “Freedom.” Bey has no respect for your $150 hairdo, she was getting ALL Y’ALLS PERMS wet that night.
2. Hosts Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson opened the show with a urban radio tribute to the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.” If you ever wanted to hear “Cut It” sung by women dressed like plantation slave owners, your dreams have been fulfilled. But am I the only one who thought Anthony Hamilton’s “Comin’ From Where I’m From” cameo stole the show?
3. Look, I appreciate the BET Awards showcasing new artists like Bibi Bourelly and my dude Anderson Paak throughout the show. But wouldn’t we appreciate it more if they didn’t ignore them 364 other days of the year?
4. The R&B pop artist award went to Bryson Tiller, AKA Great Value Drake. How long will it take for this “trapsoul” fad to die out like T-Pain’s vocoder?
5. The closed caption guy trying to transcribe the gibberish in Desiigner’s “Panda” performance:
And y’all made this the No. 1 song in the country? We need to do better.
6. Conversation in Soul In Stereo studios:
Weirdo in tight pants and shades bounces across the screen.
Wifey: Who is this? I know none of the rappers on this show.
Me: It’s all good. Next year no one will know them either.
7. Why won’t MC Lyte give us another album? Only on the BET Awards is the lady on the PA system better than 95% of the performers.
8. Now, we finally get to the only reason for this show’s existence – the Prince tributes. First up was Erykah Badu and The Roots. Did they have Badu’s mike set on “church usher whisper?” I couldn’t hear nuthin’. But it’s cool, Bilal MORE than made up for her sleepy performance. He literally stopped, dropped and rolled through “The Beautiful Ones,” leaving the young’ns on Summer School Twitter confused like a kid seeing someone catch the Holy Ghost for the first time. They’re just not used to artists passionately delivering their art. Pray for the children.
— BET (@BET) June 27, 2016
9. Hey, a song from this decade I actually like! Fat Joe, Remy Ma and (ugh) French Montana came through with “All the Way Up,” and although the performance was a bit flat, I love the song’s retro feel. What I was NOT feeling was Montana’s PF Changs busboy shirt. Why was he dressed like candy at the bottom of your trick or treat bucket?
10. Sigh, Alicia Keys. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of her new single, “In Common,” but when she hit the stage with that guitar, didn’t you expect her to say “I WROTE A SONG ABOUT IT, LIKE TO HEAR IT HERE IT GO?”
— RCA Records (@RCARecords) June 27, 2016
Her 45-instrument one-woman-band deal was much better in theory than in practice.
11. The Prince tribute by Tori Kelly and Stevie Wonder (whose braids have receded into a rattail now) was mildly disappointing but Jennifer Hudson was MORE THAN READY to take us to church. When she came out wearing Prince’s old Assassin’s Creed hoodie, you knew it was time to pass the collection plate.
Who else could have done “Purple Rain” that kind of justice?
12. Beyonce’s “Formation” won Video of the Year, but did y’all really think Beyonce was sticking around for this 14-hour show?
Bey had to
catch the season finale of Game of Thrones hop on a plane for an overseas show, so Mama Tina accepted her award, like a parent picking up an honor roll certificate at a PTA meeting.
13. I have no problem with the New Edition biopic coming to BET next year, but what’s up with this bizarre narrative that New Edition was the world’s FIRST boy band?
America’s 1st boy band?? pic.twitter.com/BJj69JwlHU
— Ghengis Kellz (@KMJeezy) June 27, 2016
14. Kudos to BET for asking Laila Ali to pay tribute to her father, but didn’t it feel a bit abbreviated? Seems like they could have done much more for a man who built his reputation by empowering the black community.
15. I know many fans, including me, have given Maxwell grief for his LONG hiatuses, but he’s still got the goods, delivering stirring performances of his new single “Lake by the Ocean” and one of my favorite Prince songs, “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Seriously, would you rather let Bryson Tiller mumble you to sleep like Jigglypuff from Pokemon, or let Maxwell come through with authentic R&B?
16. What’s up with all the water effects tonight? Between Maxwell and Beyonce, BET’s water bill is gonna be a beast tomorrow.
I hope they’re on budget billing.
17. Debra Lee, AKA the DMV sloth from Zootopia, brought down the mood to present Jesse Williams with the Humanitarian Award. But this wasn’t about her – Jesse used the opportunity to give a five-minute State of the Black Union, delivered with more passion than anything I’ve heard from a political leader in decades:
“If you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions for those who do. SIT DOWN….Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”
It was easily the most important moment of the night. Did y’all hear him or were you listening? Forget “stay woke,” stay AWARE.
Jesse Williams speech got us like pic.twitter.com/sx8ikCMhyX
— vonte. (@Jx60z) June 27, 2016
18. By now, my timeline was getting restless with ballads and wanted to hear more upbeat Prince tributes. Enter Janelle Monae – THE most underrated artist in the game right now – who dived into Prince’s catalog of uptempo hits and burned the stage to the ground. “Pop Life,” “Kiss,” “Delirious” – Janelle has an undeniable flair. She even dressed the part.
BUT WHY DID ANTHONY ANDERSON HAVE TO PLAY TWINSIES?
19. I’m not a fan of Usher’s new Master P-worshipping single “No Limit.” He seems a bit too mature to sing such a juvenile song. And did you hear Ursher weezing like Darth Vader out there on the dance floor? Playa, no matter what your song says, we’re getting close to 40. YOU HAVE LIMITS.
20. The show finally came to a close with a STIRRING Prince-themed finale by Sheila E. Even Jerome got in on the act. But where was Morris Day? I know he had the time!
…I’ll show myself out.
Despite my salty reputation in these Internet streets, I have no problem admitting when I’m wrong: This year’s show not only exceeded my low expectations, but wound up being the best BET Awards in years. Any show featuring refuse like Desiigner and Future stumbling across the stage obviously has its flaws but that’s inconsequential. Beyonce’s performance, the stellar Prince tributes and Jesse Williams’ breakout speech are more than enough to make this a notable show.
BET actually got it right this time. Next year, I hope someone doesn’t have to die to motivate Debra Lee to give us a quality show.