From an electric surprise performance by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to an unforgettable show-long tribute to Prince, this was an awards show to be remember.
I do not rock with BET programming. I think BET feels that sentiment from a lot of people as it’s starting to bring back more shows and reminisce on the good old days of Bob Johnson. Unless it’s reruns of Fresh Prince or a good movie, I just can’t. There’s only so much foolery I can do in a day, and VH1 has way better trash, if we’re being honest. Thus, I usually don’t pay any mind to the BET Awards, and I was confused after Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta went off and I saw some kind of awards show coming on VH1.
To my extreme surprise and delight, it was the BET Awards and, having had the pleasure of going to the Formation Tour earlier in the year, I immediately recognized Beyoncé’s “Freedom” playing as some dancers walked through the audience. I figured it was just an opener with some dancers, looked away, and then freaked out just like everyone else in the audience when Queen Bey, herself, hit the stage! The song – my favorite on the Lemonade album – features a rap by Kendrick Lamar, and oh, yes, he was there to do it live! The performance featured a sure-to-be iconic moment where Bey and K. Dot splashed in the water that filled the stage together, almost in a triumphant, tribal dance.
And that was just the beginning….
We had been anticipating an epic Prince tribute after BET’s social media manager threw some epic shade on Madonna’s tribute on the Billboard Awards. What we weren’t expecting was a SHOW-LONG tribute! But wait…I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go through the show in order of musical highlights:
Better known as one of Rihanna’s writers, I wish she would’ve done a song where she didn’t sit the whole time. She’s a pretty big deal, and I was hoping her performance would display that. Don’t sleep on her, though. The force is strong with this one.
Fix it, Jesus. I want so badly for him to go away, but I have to admit that he’s a great performer. He really lays it all out there, and people seem to dig it. While we can’t understand what he’s saying, he’s fun to watch sometimes. I saw a meme that described him as the underclassman at the senior party. Accurate.
Prince Tribute Part One: Erykah Badu, The Roots, Bilal
The first tribute performance of the night to the Purple One was already amazing. Dave Chappelle introduced it (unfortunately not dressed as Prince like he did in his sketch), and Erykah’s performance was great…but BILAL. In his rendition of “The Beautiful Ones,” he not only channeled the passion that was in Prince’s voice as he recorded it, but he also rolled on the floor and writhed just like Prince did when he performed it. Bravo!
Fat Joe, French Montana, Remy Ma
I really liked the group’s performance of “All the Way Up.” I was actually surprised that I was entertained, because none of the aforementioned artists is really known for moving much while performing, but it was good to see Fat Joe, and Remy Ma looked like a million bucks. Terror Squad reunion when the Bad Boy reunion is done, maybe?
She was there.
Prince Tribute Part Two: Tori Kelly, Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Hudson
An excellent choice for a duo, Stevie and Tori did a wonderful rendition of “Take Me With You.” It was a lovely mixing of new soul and old soul. Now J. Hud….I don’t like her singing, kind of ever. And nothing changed during her rendition of “Purple Rain.” Now, “Purple Rain” is really only the kind of song that Prince needs to sing, or someone who is trying to mimic Prince. I was not there for that gospel version, nor the screaming, nor the placement of the song in the tribute. BET missed it, on that one.
Chloe X Halle
PERFECTION! Oh wow. Just a wonderful performance from these sisters. I’ve been watching them since their YouTube days, and it was wonderful getting to see them on such a big platform. The show featured newer, indie artists a couple times during the night, but this was a definite favorite. I hope to see them featured more often.
I…I just wanted so much more from him. He literally talked the song, “Exchange,” which happens to be a favorite for me, and then “Don’t” was pretty meh. His voice is usually such butter, but this was not the best display of it. You would think after winning his first award ever for Best New Artist he would’ve been more lit. *sigh*
Maxwell/Prince Tribute Part Three
LAWD this man will never not be fine. (sips Gatorade) OK, now that my thirst is quenched, Maxwell sang his newest song, “Lake by the Ocean,” beautifully, as only he can, then surprised us with a soulful rendition of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” remixing the lyrics to make his own personal tribute to The Artist. Feels, man, just so many feels.
Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals
If you weren’t a fan before, you should be now. Anderson is an excellent performer and up until recently hasn’t had much exposure, but that will soon change after last night’s performance. He’s definitely on his way.
I’m gonna let him live, because he was overshadowed by Jesse William’s PHENOMENAL speech as he accepted the Humanitarian Award and shaded music with content such as Future’s. But it was still very lackluster. How you gonna let Desiigner steal your style and your shine, man?!
Prince Tribute Part Four: JANELLE MONÁE
I called it! I knew that her tribute was going to be amazeballs. Prince was her mentor and friend, and I knew she’d feel the music more than others, and she most certainly did, breaking down crying after leaving it all on the stage. She sang iconic songs like “Kiss,” “Pop Life,” and “I Would Die 4 U,” turning around to show us her ass-less chaps, in truest of Prince fashions. It was high-energy and Prince would be proud.
Let’s be real: the best part of the performance was his “Don’t Trump America” jacket. The song, “No Limit,” is kinda poo, and the dancing was an awful lot of dabbing, for what we know he and his dancers can do. He brought out Young Thug, as well, who I also cannot stand (but “Lifestyle” is so darn catchy…) and that was kinda it. The Southerner in me has to respeck the Master P reference in the song, though.
THE DEFINITIVE PRINCE TRIBUTE: SHEILA E., THE TIME, JEROME, MAYTE GARCIA
Know how everyone was so disappointed that none of the truly important people in Prince’s world were featured in Madonna’s Billboard Awards performace? Well BET made up for that! Sheila E. got the whole gang together again for the ULTIMATE tribute to her former fiancé, featuring his ex-wife/dancer Mayte Garcia, long-time friend, Jerome, The Time, and many more of his background singers and backing band. Sheila and friends tore up the stage, and I got this sudden overwhelming regret that I never got to see them live. The last image of Mayte hugging Sheila as Sheila held up Prince’s guitar was too much for many, and many shed tears as the camera panned the audience. It was truly beautiful.
If such a tragedy as Prince’s passing is the stimulus for the BET Awards to not be embarrassing, I’m not sure I want it to be good, to be honest. I am, however, super thrilled that I got to see this one, even if by chance (the show aired on all major Viacom stations). Kudos, BET. I might just tune in again next year.