Tamar Braxton saw an opening, and she took it.
Performing midway through Sunday’s BET Awards, the R&B singer and reality-television star tore into her song “My Man” — about how you should “never trust a lonely woman with the one you love” — as though her life depended on it.
She whipped her long blond hair; she doubled over to better dig into the song’s low notes. And when it was over, she dropped her microphone and sauntered off stage, as certain she’d crushed it as everyone in the audience was.
Would Braxton really have died if her performance hadn’t been so fierce? Surely not. But the BET Awards — until that point a surprisingly sluggish affair — might have.
In the past few years, the cable network’s flagship awards show has been the liveliest and most relevant on TV, with electrifying performances from top hip-hop and R&B stars and a focus on progressive values that has often made the Grammys and the American Music Awards look trivial.
Yet this year’s edition, broadcast live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, suffered a serious dip in energy — and seemed to back away from the chance to more deeply engage the issues of today.
One problem was the lack of A-listers such as Drake, Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé, the last of whom is said to have given birth to twins recently and therefore wasn’t available to collect the viewers’ choice award she won for her song “Sorry.” (Other winners included Migos for group of the year and Kendrick Lamar for best male hip-hop artist.)
Lamar hadn’t been announced in advance as a performer but showed up to do “Mask Off” with Future — a last-minute cameo that made you wonder if someone at BET called the Compton rapper Sunday evening around 6:30.
More troubling, the artists who did appear failed to do much worth getting excited about. Chris Brown sang a perfunctory “Party,” while Big Sean combined several of his hits into a boring medley.
Trey Songz performed seduction-by-numbers in his slow jam “Nobody Else but You.” Mary J. Blige’s vocals were wobbly in “Love Yourself.” And then there was Post Malone, the polarizing white rapper who clung to Quavo of Migos like a life preserver as they did their duet “Congratulations.”
Given the lackluster company, you could understand why Braxton figured she could snatch the crown when her opportunity arrived.
In fact, her game-upping moment inspired competition; after “My Man,” the four-hour show improved considerably.
Chance the Rapper, accepting BET’s Humanitarian Award for good deeds including a $1-million contribution to Chicago’s public school system, gave an appealingly unscripted speech in which he criticized a bank he said was betting against the schools’ success.
Saxophonist Kamasi Washington and singer El DeBarge — the latter dressed in a dazzling red suit — paid tribute to the late George Michael with a warm and loving rendition of “Careless Whisper.” And the members of New Edition, whose lives were dramatized this year in a painstaking BET biopic, brought a rowdy thrill to the show as they crowded the stage to accept a lifetime achievement award.
After their speeches, a lengthy stretch of dead air took place — long enough that the wheels appeared to be coming off the BET Awards again.
But the delay was actually because of New Edition’s changing costumes for another unannounced performance of its classic R&B song “Can You Stand the Rain.”
If your answer was yes, the BET Awards had something for you.