Up to the moment it aired, the status of this year’s BET Awards ceremony was a bit of a nail-biter.
High-profile acts such as Donald Glover and Janet Jackson are said to have pulled out of live performances near the last minute for reasons unknown, and host Jamie Foxx faced controversy after new allegations of past sexual misconduct surfaced (he has strongly denied any accusations).
Would the night go off the rails? Could some landmark performances save the show? Now that Neil Portnow has said he will leave the Recording Academy in mid-2019, are the BET Awards due for a similar shakeup and fresh vision at the top?
The night did have some commanding musical moments, but it also had some weirdness that edged the telecast from loose and spirited to occasionally uncomfortable. Here are a few of the best and worst moments.
Jamie Foxx: All too often Foxx flailed at keeping the room’s spirits up, and was clearly stalling for time. The worst came when he pulled Glover onstage and practically begged him to perform some of “This is America” a capella, a scene that could only be watched through clenched fingers. Joking that Glover was wearing what appeared to be PJ’s onstage, Foxx noted that’s “when you know you’re rich.” Glover looked just about ready to strangle him, and he should have probably stayed in bed.
Snoop Dogg: Some BET fans were surprised by Snoop Dogg’s unexpectedly excellent and reverent recent gospel album “Bible of Love.” But they were even more surprised when he pulled off a seamless medley of sacred and profane to close out the show. Going straight from g-funk into rousing church music was a move only he could pull off, and he did it all in a Grambling State sweatshirt, keeping the streak of HBCU love on big pop stages alive.
H.E.R. arrives: The BET ceremony was this mercurial singer’s awards show debut, and she pulled out all the stops. Her performances of “Focus” and Best Part” had gorgeous vocals and guitar-shredding pyrotechnics. Daniel Caesar added his own considerable firepower, and together they represented a new vanguard. If H.E.R. is now finally ready to come out of the fog of anonymity, this crowd was thrilled to have her there.
Anita Baker tribute: One knock on the Grammys is its occasionally ossified or head-scratching choices for tribute performances. BET is usually a little better, but its earnest tribute to Anita Baker could definitely have used more firepower. Yolanda Adams obviously brought the house down on “You Bring Me Joy,” and Ledisi and Marsha Ambrosius were more than up to the job too. But any combination of, say, Jazmine Sullivan, Leela James or Toni Braxton (or countless other younger singers as well) could have really elevated the showcase.
Ella Mai: The BET Awards probably underestimated the draw for this emerging singer, whose hit “Boo’d Up” deserved much bigger placement than the tiny side stage they put her on for the telecast. She made the most of it, though, with a powerful, passionate performance that helped cement her role as a major new R&B force.