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BET Awards: All the performances graded (and Janet Jackson's speech)


Grading the performances as they happen (sort-of), typos and all:

New Edition: Jackson 5 medley,  "ABC," "The Love You Save."
This one is going to be a challenge to instantly grade, as a lot of these performances were certainly thrown together at the last minute, and are more about celebrating our favorite Michael Jackson songs than typical award-show self-promotion. Ideally, that will give us some of the better award-show live performances in memory, where emotion and soul will take precedence over all else. That was certainly the case with this surprise New Edition appearance, where they adorably strutted in red and tan vintage '70s outfits, and were a fitting cover band. It was cute, and set a celebratory tone. Sadly, it did not set the stage for an expansive Jackson tribute show. B

Keri Hilson: "Knock You Down." Kind of a hot mess, and certainly an entertaining one. Hilson was sporting a "Bad"-era Michael look, and showed of some vintage Michael skids and slides, but spent the choruses falling backward into the audience. Her ragtag backing crew looked like it belonged on "The Outsiders" rather than an awards show, but Hilson kept it lively -- this was about forcefulness rather than finesse. B

Ne-Yo: "Lady in My Life." A crowd-pleaser, but anything Ne-Yo did was going to win over the audience, as his career has been a love letter to Michael. He handled the ballad fine, but Ne-Yo has the power to bring the house down. Few other young R&B stars could tackle any of Michael's dance numbers with aplomb, but Ne-Yo parked himself on a stool, and went for a tearjerker rather a show stopper. B-

Jamie Foxx & T-Pain & Travis Barker: "Blame It." An already cluttered song, marked by its artless Auto-Tune vocals, became even more cluttered when Blink-182's Travis Barker arrived to hammer away in the song's final few moments. Foxx was better when he referenced "Beat It" in the show's opener. D

Soulja Boy Tell'em: "Turn My Swag On." Hmmm, so much for the BET Awards being completely retooled for a Jackson tribute. Here we get Soulja Boy singing his latest ring tone. "Yeah, I'm getting money," he bounced and hollered, seemingly mocking us all for making him a star. D

Beyoncé: “Ave Maria” and  “Angel.”  Looking classy in a thin white dress. Wait. No. A few seconds in we see Beyoncé is wearing basically a slip with a see-through white robe, which a wind machine is doing its best to strip her of. It’s a pretty enough song, if this were a Christmas tree lighting. It switches midway to Sarah McLachlan's "Angel,” but the real entertainment at that point was watching a crew of dancing sprites throw a makeshift dress on Beyoncé. B-

Mary Mary: “God in Me.” Foxx introduces Mary Mary as “the new Queens of Gospel,” but they sound an awful lot like standard run-of-the-mill queens of R&B. With a skittering electronic beat, it’s mid-tempo R&B with a smattering of hip-hop. A midpoint appearance from Queen Latifah picks things up, but not by much. C

Ne-Yo with Jamie Foxx and Fabulous: “She Got Her Own.” OK, so the Associated Press noted that these awards may run 30 minutes longer with added Michael Jackson tributes, but how about they just trim the repeat performances from Ne-Yo and Foxx, especially the mid-tempo numbers? Nice to pull out a live version of a remix, but things are definitely slowing down. D+

BET flashback moment: Keith Sweat’s “I Want Her,” Guy’s “I Like” and Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison.” Losing the room. What’s the excuse for this medley? Do all these artists have greatest hits albums coming out? A couple minutes of some old hits, but this is offensive awards-show padding at this point. D

Ciara: “Heal the World.” Sporting a Michael-inspired jacket, complete with tassels, Ciara was sublimely sweet in her take on the Michael classic. Clean, simple, restrained and a bit too short even. B

Keyshia Cole and  Monica: “Trust.” A small stairway materialized on the BET stage to add a bit of choreography for the R&B ballad. Monica looked tough in black, almost as if she were ready to jump on a motorcycle. Cole was all hot pink, and the pair tossed verses back and forth, selling a relationship anthem for those skeptical of relationships. B

Jay-Z: “D.O.A.” A take-down of Auto-Tone, this song is pure nonsense -- a manufactured attack on a recording device that manipulates vocals. But it’s working, as Jay-Z is getting the headlines, and even when he has nothing to say he’s a more demanding performer than most. Additionally, the dripping sax and alarming guitar notes at least make Jay-Z’s Auto-Tune attack feel important. B+

Tevin Campbell, Trey Songz, Tyrese and Johnny Gill: A tribute to the O’Jays with “Forever Mine,” “Back Stabbers,” “Stairway to Heaven.” Introduced by “Soul Train” creator Don Cornelius, who credited the O’Jays as “the soundtrack of the black experience,” there was nothing wrong with this homage. Seeing Campbell surprised the crowd, and he sounded strong. But the real treat was Cornelius, who chatted off-prompter for five minutes introducing the O’Jays, and telling stories about having to wake them up at their hotel room to get them on “Soul Train.” B

The O’Jays: “Let Me Make Love To You,” “For the Love of Money” and “Used Ta Be My Girl.”  Whew — this is a lengthy segment for the O’Jays. In fact, the O’Jays’ music has probably now gotten as much screen time as all of the various Michael nods. But the positive grade for the above medley was given a bit too soon, as that was pure vanilla compared to the lengthy three-song run-down, in which the O’Jays were all suave and class, and even brought a bit of grit. A

Maxwell: “Pretty Wings.” Eloquently introduced by Foxx, who said that the first time he heard Maxwell he almost had himself in a “Prop 8 situation,” the silky R&B veteran performed his new single, the elegant, late-night, slow groove of “Pretty Wings.” Feathers draped the crowd, and a sax helped the song reach its swoon. Now at almost 3½ hours long, the BET Awards are feeling awfully bloated, but Maxwell surely calmed the nerves of anyone who was getting impatient. A-

Drake, Lil Wayne and  Cash Money: “Best I Ever Had” and "Every Girl." Along with Kid Cudi, Drake is the hottest rapper who doesn’t have an album out yet, and he got a prime slot on the BET Awards, at least for anyone who was sticking around. He looked a little green, hurrying through his “Best I Ever Had,” and never leaving his stool (Update: Drake was confined to his stool because he reportedly tore his ACL), at least not until he introduced Lil Wayne for “Every Girl.” Much of the latter, however, wasn’t audible to the home viewing audiences, with BET censors protecting the world from Lil Wayne’s  explicit anti-commitment rap. C+

Before the final performance, Janet Jackson gave a brief speech: “My entire family wanted to be here tonight, but it was just too painful, and they elected me to speak to all of you … To you, Michael is an icon. To us, Michael is family, and he will forever live in all of our hearts. On behalf of my family and myself, thank you for all of your love, and thank you for all of your support. We miss him so much. Thank you so much.”

Final performance: Ne-Yo and Jamie Foxx singing “I’ll Be There.” As noted earlier, Ne-Yo is the one best equipped to sing a Jackson tribute, and he handles himself well here – a graceful close to an otherwise lengthy, tired and overstuffed award telecast. We'll give this one an A, and wish that the telecast would have done some grander tributes to the fallen King of Pop.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: WireImage

Comments () | Archives (60)

Yikes. Must've been a slow news day.

The entire show was horrible and a shame to be called a tribute to MJ.

Lil Wayne and his daddy should be band from BET! That performance was horrible and to have young teenagers up their with his crew was just ridiculous. No wonder todays youth are so corrupt. RIP MJ

With the world watching... CNN going "LIVE" from red carpet... BET blew it big time!

jamie foxx on hosting bet awards: wow, i can't put it into words, but i'll try!!! um, wonderful, excellent, fantastic, marvelous, splendid....i really don't know what word to use to describe the great job he did -- from all the michael jackson outfits, the humor, the moon walk, his sensitivity, those special academic honors -- just everything!! i can't imagine anyone doing a better job!!
thank you, jamie!

Maybe this show put in perspective how good MJ really was. Total genius.

Totally agree with your assessment. At points I felt like the music itself had died - especially with the Soulja Boy routine. I wondered if his pants would fall off ... and his singing was so off-key - wow. Wonder what Joe Jackson was thinking about the whole sloppy mess?
I was feeling really sad about the entire event - thinking about the difference between mourning and celebrating - and that people weren't quite ready to celebrate just yet. When Janet took the stage, I was completely choked up. She showed such courage and grace in the face of this tragedy - Michael would have been proud. The final performance of I'll Be There was the perfect ending. Left me with the feeling that he really always will.

hey, just wanted to say mike just died. bet had to do what they could to change the shoe within 4 days. it was a tribute i think he would ejoyed even though it was not as extravagent as it should have been. i think everyone did really good to keep the momentum and the show was as good as it could have been without practice. the performances were nice but i think they should have got jason weaver to sing a tribute to mj. overall it was a nice award show, it was as good as it could have been. and you guys shouldnt be so critical of the show, because you arent the performers who had to put this together last minute.

I really enjoyed the B.E.T. awards it was a great tribute to michael jackson because he truly is a legend. Also I want to congratulate Alicia keys on her award love ya

Todd Martens, are you crazy? You gave Drake, Lil Wayne and Cash Money: “Best I Ever Had” and "Every Girl." a C+ and then Ciara: “Heal the World.” a B, then totally misgraded Ne-Yo: "Lady in My Life." with a B-. Drake and the clan should have been given F's and Ciara non singing behind should have been given a D-. The Ne-Yo set was on the the best sets in the production. This is the problem with today's music. Firstly too many young artist have years to go before they should be able to record. I've spent 20+ years in the music business and have recorded with some of the best in the business. i.e: Miles Davis, 2PAC, BBD, and Beyonce. True artists like Will Downing spent years simply doing background vocals before doing there single records. Nowadays anybody with $500 and a computer can record a records. And the total enviorment of the industry shows the inexperience. And then you have music critics who have less experience than the artist. Let's keep it real. Most of the artist in the BET show should have been given D's to F's.

I wish Chris Brown could have been there to tribute Mike he would have put it down!!!....

What about just enjoying the music and the experience!!! It was fun!

drake didnt leave his stool because he tore his ACL a couple of days ago

Horrible show, not much more to say, get rid of rap and bring back true pop.

the show was a total disgrace. and C+ for Drake, Lil Wayne and Cash Money? Not only was it a terrible performance, it was insulting on so many levels. Have some class, BET.

i'd like to say my condulences to the mj family much love as for the performances they were wacked but the best of the night goes to the o'jays for such a beautiful performance.now why can't todays music be as yesterdays?

much love to the mj family we will miss u mj you were a blessing and very beautiful role model to all .

Jay Z, please give AutoTune back to Lil Wayne...he needs it BAD. That Drake, Wayne, and whoever else, was awful.

Lil Wayne is cussin like crazy, all while Drake had like 5 kids on stage next to him, and Lil Wayne kept rappin about "roll model"...haha...the irony. F-

If BET found putting together an appropriate tribute show for the greatest entertainer in the world a huge challenge, they should have taken their usual route. The show was an absolute disgrace and embarrassment to Michael Jackson's memory. There were a few highlights, such as Maxwell's performance and the Jaime Foxx/Neyo duet. The tribute to the legendary OJays was epic. Even Beyonce and her gauze covered hoola hoop nightgown was a huge disappointment. I only watch BET once a year, which is for the awards, but I think that I may reduce that to never.

I thought the entire show as a whole was amazing with the range from pop, old school, new jack, R&B, & rap. Also, Joe Jackson and his out of touch/senile behavior compared to Janet's humility.....BTW, is Todd Marten's a big a jerk as he appears, white dude, right?

Jamie did a good job hosting and some of the performances were quite good (ojays, new edition, jay-z, beyonce, maxwell, ne yo) but the rest (ESPECIALLY the embarrassing lil wayne/cash money set) should have been cut. They could have gotten some kind of usher, chris brown, neyo, timberlake -MJ tributes or something...

The show overall was decent. It had some very memorable moments, but also too much filler. This could (and should) have been the year that the BET awards finally came into their own. They dropped the ball.

Like the rest of the world I have been in mourning over the loss of one of the greatest entertainers of all time.

So as I’m sure most people were, I was looking forward to the first award show to air since the loss of Michael Jackson – the BET Awards. And three and a half hours later I am thoroughly disappointed. It was awful. So disorganized.

I have written things this weekend that were more heartfelt and dignified than what I've heard. Paying tribute to one of the greatest icons in entertainment? I think not, the show is a travesty. With the exception of the O’Jays and Miss Ever So Humble and Classy Alicia Keys - these people are pathetic.

I totally feel that my grief and need to grieve with the rest of the world was not represented in the show. No one thus far has brought tears to my eyes or even a lump in my throat. That is what I expected. And I thought that some, I stand corrected, most of the show was downright disrespectful and ghetto!

And finally, finally at the end, Ms. Janet Jackson spoke briefly on behalf of the family. God bless you Jackson family. After that a somber rendition of ‘I’ll Be There’ was done. Finally, finally I felt some respect and honor was being given to the King of Pop. And the tears began. And then the show was over. Over! It left me wanting more. It truly, truly was a travesty and the weakest show I have ever seen especially for someone so iconic as Michael Jackson.

The loss of Michael Jackson is almost like a relative has died. He was such a part of all of our lives. He was bigger than music and entertainment. He was indeed a cultural icon who transcended any category anyone would try to put him in.

I have been so glued to the television and Internet watching everything Michael. Every time I see the video footage of a performance, I begin to feel I lost a part of my life in his death. This has had a more profound effect on me than I thought it would. I grew up with his music, practiced his dance moves, I wanted to marry him in the 3rd grade; I sported my sweater vest proudly with a bunch of buttons and rocked my Michael Jackson folder everyday to school! There is a realization of the impact his music and he as an entertainer had on me and everyone else the world over. He did leave his mark on the world, which is not something many people can say.

None of what I feel about Michael Jackson was represented in the BET awards. Shame on you BET! I know you were left with very little time to re-vamp your show but were there no performers available to sing/dance/speak? As large as Michael Jackson is I find it unbelievable that more could not be done.

May Michael’s soul rest in peace.

"The entire show was horrible and a shame to be called a tribute to MJ."

"the show was a total disgrace. and C+ for Drake, Lil Wayne and Cash Money? Not only was it a terrible performance, it was insulting on so many levels. Have some class, BET."

Both of these comments are spot on. Hastily thrown together or not, the show was an offensive embarrassment. Something that should've been a grand heartfelt celebration of a beloved icon was reduced to a heap of garbage. The swigging, gratuitous profanity and violent skit had no place in a tribute to Michael Jackson. BET failed tremendously and should be ashamed of itself for allowing that crap to be aired in MJ's name.

BET AWARDS were very fantastic, exciting, uplifting !!!!!
I enjoyed everyone. They were all great !!!
Thank you for bringing us the greatest Tribute to Michael Jackson - the greatest show on earth. I am very happy. I was told that Michael Jackson was the greatest show on earth, and now BET has given Michael Jackson the greatest show on earth. I feel blessed ~~~

Everyone was on one mind and one accord on the stage, in the audience, and in the viewing audience: I feel the presence of the Lord in a great way. Michael's soft, still voice relates and fits so well to the presence of the Lord.

Michael, I love you for all your beauty, majesty, and honor...

"The entire show was horrible and a shame to be called a tribute to MJ."
"Maybe this show put in perspective how good MJ really was. Total genius."
"the show was a total disgrace."

My thoughts exactly. It was terrible. And not one performance was 1/10 what Michael could bring. Though not much of a surprise, this is the best we got? This industry is in dire need of some raw talent.

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