Anyone tuning in to Sunday night’s BET Awards telecast looking for a model of what virtual awards shows might look like as we head to the Emmys in the fall — and possibly well beyond. beyond – probably didn’t leave with many workable solutions.
Certainly, there are things that can be learned from any awards show scheduled for three hours and ending at 11 p.m. sharp ET – which must count as the main benefit in turning a normally bloated live event into a carefully curated show. and edited. But let’s not pretend the BET Awards were really an awards show, especially this year.
During those three hours of prime time, perhaps five prizes were awarded. Maybe six, if you count Beyonce receiving a Humanitarian of the Year award. That’s not unusual if your idea of an awards show is the Grammys, another TV show that made trophies and speeches essentially an afterthought.
This made the BET Awards production team’s job easier on some levels. Winners are unpredictable, and so are presenters. There’s a reason why “jokes” are one of the first things to get cut when shows start running long. Here, none of the few recipients spoke for more than a minute. No one, presenters or winners, claimed anything was happening live, so that was a lifted burden too.
More than anything else, the producers’ primary responsibility was one that no subsequent awards show will ever have to face so directly: addressing the protests in the streets, the Black Lives Matter rallies and the widespread outrage over George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many other names to count or ignore, an idea made manifest in Alicia Keys’ performance of the insufferable news “Perfect Way to Die.” The performance, performed at night on an empty city street, ended with Keys kneeling on the sidewalk etched with many of those tragic names.
Current events shaped the entire telecast, which began with a rather spectacular remix of “Fight the Power,” featuring an all-star cast of hip-hop royalty from Chuck D to Nas to Black Thought to a Rapsody that steals the stage. Da Baby’s performance began with him pinned to the tarmac with a policeman’s knee on his neck. Anderson .Paak and Jay Rock’s “Lockdown” was enlivened by the chorus “You should have been downtown / People are getting up” and climaxed with the throwing of a Molotov cocktail. Album of the Year winner Roddy Ricch was one of many artists wearing Black Lives Matter shirts.
The global pandemic was the cause of the uniqueness of the evening’s organization, but it became almost an afterthought – although there were occasional reminders of how the coronavirus had a disproportionate impact on the black community.
The challenges of the day were also at the heart of Unsafe Co-star Amanda Seales’ monologue, which followed 12-year-old Keedron Bryant’s stripped-back singing of “I Just Wanna Live” and began with the resigned statement, “I’d love to talk about everyday things, but racism still beats me at that. Seales made jokes about the mainstream appropriation of Juneteenth (“It’s dope, but you don’t let them all Cinco de Mayo these days”) and even made a beard to Terry Crews (“Terry Crews couldn’t do it. Not surprised.”) But she remained very on topic. There was even darkness tinting the show’s only comedy skit, a Zoom call with Seales “undercover” with three “Karens”, discussing the misadventures of calling 911 of their day.
It’s worth noting that while the show was moving and also filled with emotional performances – and as impressive as some of the quarantine production elements were – Seales looked like it was recorded in a small bathroom. low ceiling. It’s one thing if a presenter or winner can’t make their own sound, but if you have a host who will come back again and again, you absolutely need to make sure that host is checked in to something resembling professional standards. . Even if they’re just in their garage.
The performances themselves varied wildly in ambition and scale, never lacking in power and above all not lacking in execution. Of course, some of the spontaneity and energy you might normally expect from a live performance has been lost. Instead, you had to turn to the ingenuity of artists who, more often than not, entertained or moved me too much to think about the lack of six-foot distance.
There were large production gaps. Megan Thee Stallion has directed a full music video for “Savage,” featuring dystopian desert visuals straight out of a madmax movie. Other than several dancers wearing masks, there was no sense of privacy or social distancing caution. She just wanted to be big and she succeeded.
Lil Wayne, on the other hand, mostly stood on a dark stage, spitting out verses paying homage to Kobe Bryant, letting the Black Mamba-themed videos do the heavy lifting. Somehow John Legend had a huge warehouse to play ‘Never Break’ in, which made me feel bad for Chloe X Halle singing and dancing in a storage locker (literally, seemed- il) – at least until I saw that they had blown their budget on special effects allowing them to play side by side with… themselves.
Slightly less showy than Megan Thee Stallion’s performance, but probably just as logistically stunning, was Wayne Brady’s tribute to Little Richard: a heavily choreographed one-shot trip through a seemingly random house with dancers ( some masked, some not), a multi-song medley and genuine musicality.
Other real musical stars include Jennifer Hudson, singing “Young, Gifted & Black” as a prelude to a first trailer for her Aretha Franklin biopic, and Kierra Sheard and Karen Clark Sheard singing “Something Has to Break” as a finale. breathtaking.
The sense that the BET Awards spoke to nothing less than the pulse of the nation was evident in the number of advertisers who wanted to be a part of the show, sponsoring segments and awards and making sure the trailer to big prizes debuted as that of J-Hud. The respectBeyoncé’s Disney+ “visual album” black is king Where hamilton were queued up until strategic moments.
Ultimately, what can Emmy — or even Golden Globe and Oscar — producers learn from the BET Awards? Probably not much, other than making sure the host is properly mic.
Otherwise, it was a unique TV show for a unique moment.