BET Awards not just a show, but centerpiece for an Experience

 BET Awards not just a show, but centerpiece for an Experience
Missy Elliott, left, and Pharrell Williams perform at the BET Awards at Nokia Theatre on June 29, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press)

The BET Awards had no shortage of showstopping moments Sunday evening: Pharrell Williams bringing out special guest Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Chris Brown's first performance since leaving jail and Beyoncé and Jay Z beamed in from their massive summer tour for the finale.

Williams continued his massive year by walking away as the night's big winner at the annual awards, held at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. His breakout smash "Happy" was named video of the year, and he was also awarded the trophy for best male R&B/pop singer.




A June 30 Calendar article on the BET Awards at the Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live incorrectly included Mary J. Blige in a list of performers appearing across the street at Staples Center the same night.


Brown's energetic performance of "Loyal" was a show highlight, as were Usher's retrospective of hits and a performance by R&B heartthrobs Trey Songz and August Alsina (named best new artist).

The awards were the hottest ticket among the tens of thousands of people who came to L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles this past weekend for the 2014 BET Experience, the network's three-day music and entertainment festival. Only the festival's VIP packages, priced from $1,095 to $4,395, provided access to the awards show Sunday evening, but even those who couldn't afford all-access passes got close to the action — be it copious shoulder-rubbing with stars at fan events such as the celebrity basketball game with Snoop Dogg, Chris Brown and Justin Bieber (a surprise addition), perhaps, or live shows from urban chart-toppers.

Live music is the foundation of the BET Experience, and there was plenty. Headliners Maxwell, Jill Scott, Outkast, Rick Ross and Mary J. Blige anchored shows at Staples Center, while Future and the Roots played late-night gigs at the smaller Club Nokia. Unlike many big-ticket music fests, BET also curated dozens of performances from rising and established hitmakers.

Small sets from R&B veterans Faith Evans, Eric Benet, Tank and Jagged Edge and rising acts Sevyn Streeter, Mack Wilds, Tinashe and Elle Varner were packed into the sprawling, free fan expo that included a sneaker convention, panel discussions and meet-and-greet sessions at the Los Angeles Convention Center with actors and musicians.

But the top ticket, no doubt, is the awards show. Since its inception in 2001, the BET Awards have routinely been one of the network's highest-rated programs and an exclusive industry event.

The demand for the awards show sparked the network to build an entire festival leading to the ceremony last year.

"This was the way to do it. There were always parties, and they weren't necessarily always sponsored by BET," said Debra Lee, the network's chairwoman and chief executive. "Now we've taken over L.A. Live, and it's all centralized. You can stay in L.A. and have a good time."

The idea for the BET Experience wasn't just about the network expanding its highly rated awards show. It was an attempt to turn L.A. into a destination for urban music fans searching for a big-ticket event in the Southland.

So while Jennifer Hudson and cast members from BET shows such as "The Game" and "Being Mary Jane" hung out with fans during meet-and-greet sessions, panel discussions provided in-depth conversations. Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel in space, was interviewed by actress Regina King. A conversation about dissolving the prison pipeline for young black men was another standout. Elsewhere, celebs such as the Game shot hoops for the crowd's enjoyment.

"It's fun to be playing with your peers — athletes, entertainers," Snoop Dogg said. "We all dreamed of playing basketball, so when we have a celebrity game like this we get to show off our skills. Some of us don't have skills."


Ticket sales got off to a slow start compared with last year, when Beyoncé used the BET Experience to launch the U.S. leg of her world tour. This year, a team of BET production staffers were seen handing out surplus tickets to the festival's opening night, and Staples Center didn't sell out, though fans left satisfied.

"We were here last year. It's not 105 degrees, and it's a little more organized and has more production value," said Stephen Dilts, 41, who made the festival a vacation destination and purchased a VIP package to ensure a ticket to the awards.

Fan Paula Williams also decided to splurge for all-access to the weekend of events.

"You get in everywhere faster. It's been wonderful," said Williams, 52, wearing her gold VIP laminate. "We like being able to go where we want to go — that accessibility."

As the curtains closed on Sunday's ceremony inside Nokia Theatre, across the street at Staples Center, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Hudson and Trey Songz — most of whom had performed earlier on the awards show — played the closing concert to a packed crowd.

Although the winners of the BET Awards aren't as important as the spectacle of the show for many fans, the list of those who took trophies did include Beyoncé for female R&B/pop artist, Nicki Minaj for female hip-hop artist, Drake for male hip-hop artist and Young Money for best group. In film categories, Lupita Nyong'o won best actress, Chiwetel Ejiofor won best actor and "12 Years a Slave" won best movie.

Times staff writer James Easterhouse contributed to this report.