The awards show is changing. When you can’t put dozens of celebrities in the same room for a live telecast, things don’t work the same anymore. They look especially different when it comes to the BET Awards. Last night, the cable network aired its annual awards show, which was nothing like last year’s show. When the BET Awards takes place during both a global pandemic and a massive anti-racism protest movement, it takes on a radically different tone.
Last night’s BET Awards featured a ton of performances from A-list entertainers, but all the performances were videos sent in for broadcast, which means they weren’t live. Instead, the different artists put together elaborate music-video-style clips for their tracks. Many of them reflected or referenced the revitalized Black Lives Matter protests. Righteous rap godfathers Public Enemy, who recently returned with their “State Of The Union (STFU)” single, may have set the tone.
Public Enemy came with a new version of the 1989 anthem “Fight The Power,” and it featured contributions from Nas, YG, Rapsody, the Roots’ Black Thought and ?uestlove, and recent PE collaborator Jahi. The different artists added their contributions remotely, and the BET producers spliced it all together with footage from the recent protests.
DaBaby and Roddy Ricch also referenced the protests with their performance of their recent #1 hit “Rockstar,” which wasn’t exactly a protest song before. At the beginning of the performance, DaBaby lip-syncs his verse from the new Black Lives Matter remix of “Rockstar” while being pinned down, a cop’s knee on his neck. The rest of the clip takes place during a staged protest, with DaBaby and Roddy Ricch rapping on top of a burned-out cop car. There’s even a staged confrontation with riot police, with one of the cops laying down his shield and joining the protesters.
Also, Anderson .Paak performed his new protest song “Lockdown” with his band the Free Nationals on a soundstage. He was made up to look like he’d just been beaten by police, and Jay Rock, who’s in the “Lockdown” video, came through to rap a verse.
Not all of the performances referenced the protests. Megan Thee Stallion’s performance may have been the highlight of the whole show. She and her dancers did her new single “Girls In The Hood” and the chart-topping Beyoncé remix of “Savage” in the middle of a desert, in a post-apocalyptic clip that referenced the Mad Max movies and, by extension, the 2Pac “California Love” video. The sight of Megan riding around on a hot-rod four-wheeler covered in skulls is the kind of thing that really demands to be seen.
Also, Roddy Ricch, in addition to performing alongside DaBaby did a couple of his recent hits — “High Fashion” while pretending to play a piano, “The Box” while pretending to drive a car.
And Lil Wayne performed his 2009 track “Kobe” in honor of the late Laker, with his performance set to clips of Bryant.