Not only is the art behind the show often history-making, but each year, the broadcast of the show tends to be unforgettable, often full of its fair share of shocking and heartwarming moments.
From Rick James’ jaw-dropping last performance to Beyoncé being, well, Beyoncé, the BET Awards have left audiences surprised at every turn and usually in the very best way possible. These nine moments were especially poignant in the scheme of the show’s history.
1. Beyoncé left Terrence Howard — and viewers at home — breathless.
Before her days as a solo artist, Beyoncé was a member of Destiny’s Child. Joined by fellow members Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, Beyoncé led the group in a sultry performance of their single “Cater 2 U” at the 2005 awards, one that involved an unforgettable lap dance.
After emerging from fog and beginning the song, the three women chose three men to give a lap dance as they sang. In the end, Nelly, Magic Johnson, and Terrence Howard ended up on stage and Howard’s face pretty much said it all.
Because Beyoncé is Beyoncé, she also managed to end the song with a pretty impressive run, all while Terrence Howard seemed to be only a set of heart eyes away from turning into a cartoon character.
2. Michael Jackson paid tribute to James Brown.
Jackson was emotional as he discussed Brown’s impact, both in the music industry as a whole and for himself personally growing up.
“I couldn’t refuse to give this award tonight because nobody has influenced me more than this man right here,” Jackson said before hugging Brown.
Viewers were also verklempt as they watched the two legends share the stage in a display of mutual respect and true, sincere emotion.
3. Janet Jackson opened up about her brother’s death.
Janet Jackson broke her silence at the 2009 BET Awards after her brother Michael’s passing.
Jackson, who is notoriously private, closed the show with a short speech about how her brother’s death had changed both her life and the world.
“To you, Michael is an icon,” she said. “To us, Michael is family. And he will forever live in all of our hearts.”
The award show took place only three days after the music icon’s death, turning it into a sort of tribute show in celebration of his life.
4. In 2006, Beyoncé and Jay Z made their debut on the BET Awards stage.
The tight-lipped pair decided to quell the rumours by making their official debut in the form of a performance at the 2006 BET Awards and it was pretty steamy, to say the least.
In the first of many surprise collaborations, they sang their hit “Deja Vu,” and by the end of the song, it was clear that the chemistry existed beyond the recording studio.
5. Beyoncé pulled a Beyoncé and surprised everyone – with Kendrick Lamar.
Beyoncé just has a way of shocking everyone. One of her greatest tricks was somehow opening the 2016 BET Awards without any sort of fanfare or advertising beforehand.
Beyoncé marked the beginning of the show by dancing in a pool of water and belting “Freedom,” a song from her album “Lemonade” about freeing oneself from oppression. Rapper Kendrick Lamar joined her onstage and of course, both the attendees and viewers at home reacted pretty strongly.
6. Prince was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Six years before his death, the artist received the ultimate BET tribute. The 52-year-old was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award and became part of a prestigious list of honorees that includes Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, and James Brown.
An all-female musical tribute included Janelle Monae performing the classic “Let’s Go Crazy,” Alicia Keys playing “Adore” on the piano, and Patti Labelle singing her rendition of “Purple Rain.”
In his acceptance speech, Prince said he was thankful “to be a part of this world of music.”
7. Rick James’ final performance was at the BET Awards.
At the age of 56, Rick James, the man behind generation-defining songs like “Super Freak” and “Give It to Me Baby,” took on the BET Awards one last time.
Funk singer James performed “Fire & Desire” alongside Teena Marie, bringing the house down at the 2004 awards with his age-defying and powerful vocals.
At the end, James would deliver one of his most memorable lines while presenting an award. “I’m Rick James, b—-,” he told the crowd.
8. Several different artists honored Prince after his death.
Though award shows often memorialise artists’ lives with single performances or speeches, in 2016, BET decided that a series of tribute acts would best serve the legacy of Prince after his shocking death.
The lineup included Janelle Monae, Tori Kelly, Sheila E, Maxwell, Erykah Badu, and several others, all in celebration of Prince’s life and the many different stages of his career. From “Nothing Compares 2 U” to “The Beautiful Ones” the varied performances each impressed in different ways, all showing the innovatively diverse and ever-changing personas of the man often known as the Purple One.
9. The Fugees unexpectedly reunited.
In another surprise opening, The Fugees unexpectedly opened the 2005 BET Awards with three of their most famous songs: “Ready or Not,” “Fu-Gee-La,” and “Killing Me Softly With His Song.”
Prior to the show, the three members of the group – Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Pras – had each pursued solo careers after the massive success of their time together. Rumours of a feud left fans unsure whether or not they’d ever see the trio together again. Nearly a decade later, the group finally returned to the stage.
In retrospect, the award show moment is even more precious because it likely won’t happen again. A reunion is highly unlikely, according to both Hill and Jean.
10. Rihanna created an instant viral GIF.
Though it was a sort of blink-and-you-missed-it moment during the original broadcast, this would eventually take the internet by storm.
Before she hit the 2015 BET Awards stage to tease the video for her hit single “Bitch Better Have My Money,” a backstage camera captured Rihanna throwing a wad of cash at Stephen Hill, the head of BET’s programming.
Immediately, Twitter turned the moment into a GIF while debating whether or not it was staged. In the end, it turned out that the moment was scripted, but the memes lived on.
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