Hits and Misses from Last Night’s BET Awards

BET

Last night’s BET Awards were too long, heavy on shameless cross-promotion and light on spontaneity. The show offered plenty of entertainment value and musical creativity to go along with the awkward presenter intros and protracted acceptance speeches, though.

In other words, the show was no different from the dozens of other awards shows that occupy the airwaves throughout the year.

Let’s stay positive for a second. Here are four things I really enjoyed about last night’s show:

The long, loving tribute to R&B legend Charlie Wilson. The BET Awards often excel when they pay tribute to idols present and past, and last night’s presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Charlie Wilson was no exception. At nearly twenty-five uninterrupted minutes, the segment was long enough to give Wilson the homage he deserved, showcasing his wide range of musical tastes and collaborations. And the guest list was suitably prestigious. Indie.Arie, Jamie Foxx, and Stevie Wonder each sang a full song, followed by Wilson’s acceptance speech. The highlight, though, was Wilson himself, gracious and in top musical form. When he took the stage to sing a few songs of his own, the audience erupted with joy and appreciation for this eminently likable musician and R&B mentor. Justin Timberlake, Pharrell and Snoop Dogg eventually joined Wilson onstage to keep the music going, and all three ended the performance bowing down to their idol. I was moderately familiar with Wilson before this tribute (he sings the memorable hook for the Yeezus track “Bound 2”), but now I want to explore the artist’s full catalog. Kudos to the BET Awards for putting together a musical tribute worthy of Wilson’s apparently illustrious career.

An unconventional – and awesome – finale. I expected the show to close with some sort of hip-hop collaboration featuring a murderer’s row of rappers laying down a popular hit from the past year, as hip-hop awards shows tend to do, but this year, the BET Awards changed the game with two fierce, spunky women who more than earned their finale slot. Monae and Badu’s “Q.U.E.E.N.” afforded both women the opportunity to shine with strong vocals and fun choreography. The performance left me feeling pleased even after the bloated telecast had worn me down.

One big, happy family. Although hip-hop and rap music is often associated with petty feuds and crude rivalries, a generosity of spirit shone through in several of the performances. Erykah Badu sang the chorus for Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” returning later for the finale with Monae. Miguel owned his powerful solo performance (no near-decapitations this time!) with the help of Lamar, who delivered the verse from his “How Many Drinks?” remix. Later, Miguel returned to assist J. Cole on “Power Trip” and Mariah Carey on “#Beautiful.” Nicki Minaj supported Chris Brown and Ciara during their solo sets. And Lamar joined A$AP Rocky and 2 Chainz for their posse track, “Problems.” (That song also features Drake, who wasn’t present; more on him later.)

You might need a roadmap to straighten out these guest performances, but the collaborative nature of the show made for an entertaining and surprising experience (who’s going to come out next?), and it was heartening to see these artists support each other as they rise to the top.

“Blurred Lines”: clear favorite. In recent TV performances, Robin Thicke and Pharrell have performed their randy hit “Blurred Lines” without the help from the song’s third collaborator T.I., but last night, the trio was united for a rowdy, energetic, enjoyable rendition of the nation’s current most popular song. T.I.’s geezer dance and the trio’s grandstanding translated well to the live setting, and Pharrell’s enthusiasm was palpable, from his mid-song exclamation of “I love black music!” to his embrace with T.I. at the end of the song.

And four things I could have done without

Hey, there’s Chris Tucker on stage! What’s up, Chris? Tucker is a strange character, a movie star with three installments in a huge franchise (Rush Hour) under his belt who disappeared for the better part of the last half-decade. He made a quiet comeback in Silver Linings Playbook last year, but to my knowledge, this is his first major stint in a public setting in quite a while. And yet, he added little to the show but filler, even admitting at one point that the producers had asked him to just point out people in the audience until the next segment was ready. His rambling contained intriguing nuggets, particularly when he related a story about Michael Jackson confessing his love for modern rap music or when he poked fun at his well-documented woes with the IRS. But Tucker didn’t seem to have enough material to fill the long stretches of airtime the show gave him, and so he vamped, and pointed out more people, and asked repeatedly, “Where’s Bobby Brown?” Not exactly a laugh riot.

Can we get Randy Jackson on the phone? This is ridiculous. Where should I even begin with the trainwreck that was Mariah Carey’s performance of “#Beautiful”? The awkward interaction between Mariah’s live vocals (few and far between as they were) and the pre-recorded backing track? The dreadful attempt at lip-synching? Young Jeezy dropping his remix verse right in the middle of the song with no fanfare whatsoever? Miguel appearing onscreen for maybe 30 seconds despite appearing in over 50% of the actual song? Please. Make it stop.

If you’re going to be an obnoxious attention hog, at least be an ENTERTAINING obnoxious attention hog. Even by the incredibly low standards of a Chris Brown appearance on a televised awards show, Brown disappointed with his show-opening set. Instead of showboating with spectacular dance moves as he typically does, Brown kept the energy low. His trademark off-key vocals didn’t improve, though. And Nicki Minaj’s tepid surprise appearance couldn’t salvage this dud of an opening number. That’s what you get when you invite pop music’s least appealing star to open the show.

Et tu, Yeezus? Some of the biggest names in music skipped last night’s ceremony, and the absence of their star wattage did not go unnoticed. Jay-Z is busy prepping his new album, which comes out this week. Beyoncé is on tour. Kanye is a reclusive enigma. And Drake, initially scheduled to appear, mysteriously dropped out of the lineup, leaving a gaping hole in the center of the “Problems” performance. How would the show have been different with these important figures present? We’ll never know, but maybe they would have taken the spotlight away from Kevin Hart, who never met a shameless plug he wouldn’t exploit. (When does his movie come out again? Oh, that’s right – I don’t care.)

Did you watch the BET Awards? What did you think?

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