Beyonce ignited the BET Awards with a surprise, splash-tastic performance of “Freedom” and the opening number was elevated another several levels when Kendrick Lamar joined her onstage.
I’m still trying to figure out how a live mic and a pool of water co-exist peacefully, but hey, as long as Queen Bey safely made it to her private plane to zoom across the country and over to England, it’s all good.
While Beyonce’s spectacle piqued our interest during the Sunday night awards ceremony in Los Angeles, many viewers stayed locked in to see if BET’s post-Billboard Music Awards promise that “we got you” really did hatch a worthwhile Prince tribute.
Also, Atlanta was heavily represented. Drake and Future nabbed the Best Group Award, but only the ATL part of the Summer Sixteen duo showed up to accept (“Mad love. This is for y’all,” Future drawled from the podium). Usher and Young Thug glided through “No Limit.” And Janelle Monae exposed more than her love for Prince.
As for those Prince homages, here is how they unspooled.
Prince Tribute 1: Pal and master Prince impressionist Dave Chappelle handled the inaugural performance introduction.
“April 21, 2016, very difficult morning for many of us…that night, the night of April 21st, spontaneously, all over the world, the monuments everyone treasures were lit in a purple light. Everyone felt the loss that we all feel tonight,” he said, leading into the first performance.
The Roots backed an off-key Erykah Badu who warbled through “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” with all of the interest of my cat after being awakened mid-nap. Bilal soon joined her for a mercifully stronger version of “The Beautiful Ones,” which he packed with plenty of emotion – and a bit of floor-flailing melodrama at song’s end – but by then shades of Madonna had already overshadowed this lackluster first attempt. C+
PT2: Stevie Wonder, clad in a plaid lavender suit, and Tori Kelly, in high-waist flared purple pants, harmonized beautifully on a welcome version of “Take Me With U,” with The Roots and Wonder’s crew adding a tight funk groove.
As Wonder moved from a tablet-sized keyboard to his more traditional synthesizer, Kelly took a step back to clear the way for Jennifer Hudson, who crept out in a short, white hooded dress and unleashed the first notes of “Purple Rain.” If we have to hear the 9 millionth Prince tribute using this song (as disappointing as Badu was, at least she performed a deep cut), listening to JHud slay it is the way to go. And when Roots guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas sidled next to her for a searing guitar solo? Just get off the stage. Which Hudson did, murmuring and wailing extra notes as she unleashed her sorrow in song. A+
PT3: Maxwell segued from his new smoothie, “Lake By the Ocean” into “Nothing Compares 2 U” with customized lyrics to showcase Prince’s uniqueness and Maxwell’s own melancholy (“It’s been seven hours and 66 days since you took your music away…”). The performance oozed soul and class, as Maxwell always does. B+
PT4: While every artist who has paid tribute to Prince has done so with genuine intentions – yes, even Madonna, I believe – Janelle Monae has made no secret of the profound influence Prince had on her and her career and Sunday’s show was the ideal platform for her to showcase her love.
In feathers and lace, she launched a medley that included a knee-knocking, recalibrated “Delirious”; a deeply funky, pelvic thrusting “Kiss,”; a stage-strolling bop behind the springy bass of “Pop Life”; and a straightforward croon of “I Would Die 4 U,” which included a stroll into the audience (Samuel L. Jackson was ready to groove) and another look at her butt-baring pants.
When Monae dropped to her knees at the end of the set and yelped, “I love you, Prince,” everyone felt it. A
PT5: Sheila E. was undoubtedly the BET performer with the closest ties to Prince and she did his spirit proud.
First she laid down a fat groove behind a traditional drum kit and then hopped up to prowl the stage for “Erotic City.” Sheila E. is synonymous with her stand-up percussion set (now emblazoned with Prince’s symbol), which she rattled during “U Got the Look” surrounded by sassy horns. “A Love Bizarre” found her skipping around the stage in her flowing white pantsuit and bare feet and she even incorporated a Springsteen stage slide during “Baby, I’m a Star.”
By the end of her sweat-inducing performance, Sheila E. looked both drained and exhilarated and still a little in disbelief that she just performed a tribute to someone she probably thought would always be there to share the stage with her.
But as she slowly lowered one of Prince’s (we think?) guitars from overhead, everyone watching could agree: This was the tribute Prince deserved. A+