I attended the 2018 BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles last Sunday, even getting a sneak peek during a dress rehearsal.
While there were some emotionally chilling performances and entertaining segments, I came away thinking that overall this year’s show was lackluster and largely uneventful and that a revamp and redirection are needed.
Last year, Memphis’ own Leslie Jones was the host, with her performance drawing a lot of unfavorable comments. I was hoping that actor and musician Jamie Foxx would pick up the “SNL” comedienne’s slack. And while there was a slight uptick, the show was not substantively better than last year’s disappointment.
Memorable moments on the positive scale was the moving performance by Meek Mills and Michael B. Jordan’s spontaneous delivery of one of his unforgettable lines from the movie “The Black Panther.”
Other highlights included the Lifetime Achievement Award tribute to Anita Baker and the recognition of “everyday heroes,” including Waffle House shooting hero James Shaw Jr., Stoneman Douglas High School survivor Anthony Borges, activist Naomi Wadler, journalist Shaun King, high school student Justin Blackman and Mamoudou Gassama, who scaled a building to save a child.
The BET Awards are about celebrating black excellence. Foxx tapped into that during his opening monologue as he brought to mind the wide-ranging cultural impact of “Black Panther.” Pulled from the audience by Foxx, Jordan stepped into his “Black Panther” movie role with this memorable line: “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from ships because they knew death was better than bondage.”
Nicki Minaj was (to some degree) billed as the show’s headliner, which was a poor decision. Nicki is simply not an engaging performer – the evidence including her off-putting “crowd hyping” and stiff dance moves. She performed a medley of her latest hits “Chun-Li” and “Rich Sex” before bringing out rappers, YG, 2 Chainz, and Big Sean for a grand finale rendition of their latest hit, “Big Bank”.
J. Cole’s performance of “Friends” was powerful. The song reflects on today’s crazy – and at times overwhelming – world. With featured appearances by rapper Wale and singer Daniel Ceaser, J. Cole performed his poetic rap about addictions and the complications of drug dependency.
Donning a black sweatshirt that portrayed the faces of XXXTentacion and Jimmy Wopo, both murdered last week, Meek Mills touched on myriad issues, including police brutality and mass incarceration. The somber performance included a chilling murder scene of a young boy and inmates standing behind bars
The Anita Baker Lifetime Achievement Award tribute had Foxx, Ledisi, Marsha Ambrosius and Yolanda Adams performing her greatest hits. Ledisi and Marsha are always good tribute picks and Yolanda blew the roof off the place with a stirring rendition of “You Bring Me Joy” that was one of the best performances of the night by far!
For me, the newest R&B songstresses, H.E.R. and Ella Mai, stole the show. H.E.R. kicked off her set with “Focus,” calling attention to her flawless vocals. She grabbed the electric guitar for her very own Prince moment and later enlisted fellow R&B standout Daniel Caesar for their duet “Best Part.” The two traded verses on an apartment stoop while Caesar took over on guitar duties. A rendition of Lauryn Hill’s “Nothing Even Matters”capped H.E.R.’s set.
Ella Mai kept it simple. With only a band to back her vocals, she sung the song of the summer – “Boo’d Up” – in pure performance.
Sunday’s show ended with a rowdy and joyful performance by Snoop Dogg, who might be the only entertainer in the world capable of segueing from gangsta-rap to a cut from his recently released gospel album – a fete he pulled off as he celebrated 25 years in the music industry.
After 32 years of working to help make BET a media powerhouse, Debra Lee stepped down as chairman and CEO last month. Mary J. Blige and LL Cool J presented Lee with the Ultimate Icon.
“The power of black culture is unmatched. It’s beautiful. It’s amazing. It’s everything. It’s us,” Lee said.