The BET Awards are like those parties you’d go to in college where you have to stop outside the door before going in and say to your friends, “Look, y’all. We all know this is going to be wild. It’s going to be good wild, it’s going to be hot-mess wild, your shoes are going to get scuffed up and you’re going to sweat your hair out dancing. We all know this. So don’t nobody complain.”
The BET Awards are unabashedly joyful, unreservedly empowering, distracting-ly corporate-sponsored and too long. Every year it’s a mixed bag, but it’s a bag you still carry around because you like it, you always get comments on it and it holds a lot of stuff.
Grand Opening/Grand Closing
Last night’s show opened with Bruno Mars’ infectious funk anthem “Perm.” Bruno Mars is such a talented little nugget of joy. Y’all can’t tell me nothing bad about Bruno Mars as a performer. His choreo is always on point, his enthusiasm is contagious, his sound is a delightful mix of musical quotation and gleeful originality and he sings live, which is more than many can say. He was the perfect way to open this show.
And speaking of delightful nuggets of joy, DJ Khaled brought his adorable son, Asahd, out on stage to close the show with him, Lil Wayne, Quavo and Chance the Rapper. It was a perfect ending, even though the world’s busiest toddler was clearly up past his bedtime. The show was over four hours long! And the first three hours were mostly commercials for movies we should see. But no matter, Asahd always saves the day.
As usual, it was a night of a thousand looks. Migos, the Best Group and Best Collaboration winners, showed up in astounding patterned shirts. It’s that thing where you turn your grandmother’s couch into sickening fashion and then add roughly 10 pounds of bling. Later, they donned huge down coats during their performance of “T-Shirt,” which also doubled as a Patagonia photoshoot.
Fashion icon Solange won an award sponsored by Burlington Coat Factory and never have two more disparate concepts been shoved into the same space. It was the Centric Award for “Cranes in the Sky,” which is great because Solange should win every award. But real talk, Solange has never been inside of a Burlington Coat Factory.
And in tribute to the song “Mask Off,” Future and Londyn Wilburn came serving you high-fashion Bane and diva Mad Max.
Mary J. Blige brought fire to the stage, cursing her ex-husband out in song, with four random black Panthers just chilling in a Cadillac. Mary J. is a legend and she doesn’t need to be out here with her snatched body and her fire vocals but she did it anyway and we’re all better for it.
Xscape picked up where Mary J. left off, showing up and showing out without breaking a sweat. The group reunited after decades apart, and still sounded amazing. Seated on stools and dressed in sequined bodysuits, they killed it on “Who Can I Run To,” “Understanding” and “Just Kickin’ It.” Tell the kids that’s how it’s done.
Chance the Rapper became the youngest recipient of the BET Humanitarian Award presented by Walmart for his activism, his support of the Chicago public school system and his nonprofit, Social Works. He was honored by BET President Debra Lee and by future president of the United States, Michelle Obama. Seeing Michelle pop up on screen took the wind out of me, y’all. I yelped like Jesus had actually come back. That’s how much I miss Michelle: a random appearance feels like the rapture. I’m too much. This is too much.
Speaking of the rapture, Maxwell — literal perfection — performed on a set made up to look like a sanctuary floating in a constellation. The BET Awards is a show in which spirituality is always at the forefront and that was especially true last night. From presenters thanking god to mini-sermons from Chance and Bobby Brown to the aforementioned holy appearance of Michelle Obama, the show was serving you church from beginning to end.
Pass the Collection Plate
Every presenter who got on stage was basically only there to sell a film. It was rather distracting. Diddy has a documentary he wants us to watch. Jamie Foxx needs us to go see Baby Driver, the cast of Detroit gave a sobering tribute to black people killed by police violence…before introducing a clip from their film. Essentially, the BET Awards just exists for musical performances and movie trailers.
Speaking of promotions: during a break, we caught the trailer for Jay-Z’s new album, which he has apparently decided to promote with a commercial featuring a shirtless Mahershala Ali boxing so yes, I am sold. May I pre-order two, please?
The show neared its conclusion with a fantastic tribute to New Edition, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award. They were feted with a video package highlighting their roles as pioneers of the boy band, their incorporation of hip-hop dance moves and their bold fashion choices. Usher, La La Anthony, Erykah Badu, Common and others praised the band and their influence. The video was followed by a dubiously mic’d tribute number by the cast of the Lifetime movie, plus Tank, Luke James, Keith Powers and Bryshere Gray. The last four were, thankfully, shirtless and looking like absolute snacks.
New Edition came up, thanked god and their families, and promoted their new tour. Then they exited the stage. Next, BET made the choice to air three minutes of an empty stage before the group re-emerged in white suits. They then brought the house down with a three-song medley complete with incredible choreography. These men have been through some tough times and they are well into middle age. No one would expect them to spin and slide like that. But they did, they did it in sync and, even though the show had been going on for roughly six years at this point and they were surely tired, they made it look damn good.