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BET Awards 2017: 15 Best, Worst and WTF Moments

Ecstatic (Xscape), messy (New Edition) reunions, Leslie Jones, technical snafus, crowd-rousing stints defined night of highs, lows

Oh, what a long night. The 2017 BET Awards, broadcast live on BET from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles Sunday night and hosted by a perpetually game Leslie Jones, clocked in at a full four hours – and not all of those heavily produced, star-studded seconds, minutes and hours flew by. Thankfully, the inspired, audience-approved performances (Migos, Khalid, Bruno Mars, a reunited Xscape) and acceptance speeches (Chance the Rapper, Solange) exceeded the thudding, disappointing moments (we’re looking at you, New Edition and Trey Songz). Mostly, though, it was a reminder of the impossibly high bar set by last year’s show, defined by jaw-dropping tributes to the recently departed Prince and a damn historic turn by a wet-and-wild Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar (“Freedom”). Here, a recap of the super-sized evening’s highlights and low points.

Best Worst BET Awards 2017

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BEST: Tamar Braxton Is a Glorious Drama Queen

Tamar Braxton’s new single “My Man” draws on a long line of fraught, theatrical soul ballads. At the BET Awards, Braxton wore a shiny black dress and stood on a black dais in front of a dark backdrop littered with stars; the minimal set-up focused all eyes on the singer at center stage. Her band heaved and crashed through the predictable swells of “My Man,” and Braxton eventually took control of the performance with a series of well-honed, highly dramatic gestures. First, she hurled her microphone stand behind her and took a few purposeful steps forward. Then she rocketed into a smooth, polished high note. Finally, as “My Man” came to a histrionic close, Braxton squirmed and writhed, nodding her head with such vigor that her blond hair became a furious, kinetic blur. There were dancers moving around Braxton onstage, but thanks to the force of her stagecraft, they were quickly forgotten. –EL

Best Worst BET Awards 2017

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WORST: Chuck Berry Gets Short Shrift

Last year’s BET Awards used a series of tributes to Prince as its tentpoles, a smart positioning move that also resulted in some of the night’s most wondrous, cathartic performances. This year’s “In Memoriam” section was confined to a single segment, which meant that while major artists like Mobb Deep spitter Prodigy and pop-jazz crooner Al Jarreau only got a mention from presenter Tyrese Gibson, rock legend Chuck Berry was merely honored with Roman GianArthur’s brief (yet spunky) version of “Johnny B. Goode.” (The other artist to get a musical tribute was George Michael, whose Wham! smash “Careless Whisper” got remade by saxophonist Kamasi Washington and soul smoothie/fellow Eighties icon El DeBarge.) While Berry’s decades-spanning legacy doesn’t immediately seem as of the moment as Prince’s, a more robust and lengthier tribute could have connected his fiery energy and economical songwriting to current movements in hip-hop and R&B – and shown that he was more than “Johnny.” –MJ

Best Worst BET Awards 2017

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WORST: Technical Snafus Kill the Vibe

Technical difficulties hampered the evening too many times. The trip-ups started with the onstage conveyor belt: it was supposed to deliver stars to the microphone to present awards in style, but instead it was a frequent, comical source of trouble, leaving several presenters (including Remy Ma, Jamie Foxx and Cardi B) struggling to keep their balance. The foul-ups seemed to increase in frequency as the ceremony wore on. After New Edition accepted their Lifetime Achievement Award, there was a lengthy, awkward silence while they changed into all-white suits to perform a hit medley. And then came a harsh one-two punch: the voiceover introduction for Insecure star Issa Rae welcomed the wrong presenters, forcing host Leslie Jones to intervene, and seconds later, the microphone failed as SZA began her performance. Jones came to the rescue again, contributing a quick stand-up set – “Method Man, let’s go hotbox the Ritz!” – to give the show’s producers cover while they fixed the audio and start over. To SZA’s credit, she was unruffled by the snafus, and when she resumed performing with a working sound-system, she delivered handsome renditions of both “Love Galore” and “The Weekend.” –EL

Best Worst BET Awards 2017

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WORST: New Edition Makes a Hot Mess

It should have been the grand finale of the BET Awards: the much-anticipated reunion of New Edition for a much-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award. Instead, we were first treated to the bizarre spectacle of Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky, Mike, Ralph and Johnny looking on from the audience while their The New Edition Story impersonators soldiered through a lengthy karaoke session. Yes, the critically acclaimed and highly rated biopic was a lot of fun, but its leads were actors, not singers, and their dance moves and stage bravado couldn’t mask a dearth of musical ability. (The underrated R&B singer Luke James is a notable exception, and his inspired cover of Johnny Gill’s “My, My, My” brought the audience to its feet.) After the real, time-worn New Edition accepted their awards with a few lengthy speeches, the stage cleared for a very awkward few minutes of dead time. When the curtain finally rose, it was the real deal. Bobby Brown, who has little of his voice left, croaked through “Mr. Telephone Man,” then ceded the stage to the others as they crooned “Can You Stand the Rain.” Finally, the actors and the group joined together for a chaotic revival of “If This Isn’t Love.” It was a hot mess, even though the audience didn’t seem to mind. –MR    

Best Worst BET Awards 2017

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WORST: Really Shameless Plugging

At several points, the night’s momentum was drained by extended clips from movies that have already been promoted relentlessly for months. First came P. Diddy to plug his Bad Boy documentary Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, a film which premiered in April at the Tribeca Film Festival, where Diddy and other members of the Bad Boy family celebrated the movie with a star-studded concert. This promotion wasn’t even a first for an awards show – Diddy had already used the Billboard Music Awards as a platform to plug the film and air its trailer last month. Later in the evening, Jamie Foxx sidetracked the proceedings with a clip from Baby Driver, which is jockeying for position in the summer blockbuster race. This was redundant and unnecessary, though his battle with the teleprompter was one of the night’s most amusing moments. Finally, as the evening was coming to a close (four hours in), Irv Gotti and a cast of actors showed a tedious, overly frothy preview for Tales, an upcoming BET show that he is executive-producing. These extended trailers took the spotlight away from the art and the artists – which the ceremony is supposed to be celebrating – and turned the BET Awards, for a moment, into a commercial.  –EL

Best Worst BET Awards 2017

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BEST: Leslie Jones Keeps Things Moving

In her first awards-show hosting gig, Saturday Night Live breakout star Leslie Jones was seemingly game for anything – time-warping so that she could surprise the ’90s version of herself with the news that she was on “the white people In Living Color,” flaunting her wrestling-influenced court style in an ad for her basketball fantasy camp, asking world-beating beatmaker DJ Khaled and R&B up-and-comer Khalid to clarify the differences between their names, comparing her down-there grooming style with Amber Rose’s. It wasn’t flawless, but her high-energy, high-volume performance kept the laughs coming and the show moving. 

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