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It’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to admit to being surprised by an awards show, but The 2014 BET Awards was full of just that this year: surprises. It wasn’t just the great music performances this time around (though there were a lot of standouts), but the sense of playfulness and bold and subversive sense of humor that kept my interest throughout. The recipient of the Lifetime Achievement award, The Commodores’ own Lionel Richie, was referenced constantly by awards winners and by Rock himself.

A big winner last night, Skateboard P himself Pharrell Williams, his infamous 10-gallon hat shrunk down to about 4-gallon, kicked the night off with his hit “Come Get It Bae,” joined up on stage by cheerleaders from Bae University. While “Bae” got the crowd moving, it wasn’t until surprise guest Missy Elliot showed up halfway through to perform her song “Pass That Dutch” that the audience lost their minds. Even from my house, the air was thick with excitement as the duo stepped off the stage and made room for host Chris Rock.


Hiring Rock had to be the best decision BET made that night because his fast and unrelenting humor worked magic the whole evening. His opening monologue jumped around from Solange’s elevator fight with Jay-Z to Dr. Dre’s $3 billion deal with Apple all the way to Donald Sterling, and he didn’t miss a beat getting there. Ever the smart ass, Rock took every opportunity to dig at whatever celebrity was in his reach, calling out Paris Hilton for “getting her Kardashian on” in a white dress and revealing that the main draw for audiences watching “Scandal” is having another white president, not the presence of Kerry Washington.

Rock even took his hosting duties one step further with a pre-recorded skit where he shows up at a monster truck rally to promote the BET Awards. He winds up quizzing the predominantly white audience on black culture (finish this sentence: “Started From The Bottom…”). When BET hired this guy to host, he clearly invested a lot of energy into what could’ve been another by the numbers gig with a few lukewarm jokes.

Rock’s sense of humor spread like a virus through the presenters, some successful (Gabrielle Union and Regina Hall deconstructing the myth behind the “Felon Bae” meme) others not so much (Gary Owens and Mike Tyson make a horrific double act)   

The night kept moving when Lil’ Wayne hopped on stage and performed two songs from “Tha Carter V.” His high-energy set of “Krazy” and “Believe Me” served to remind us just how many words you still can’t say on TV because the majority of it was censored by the network. Regardless, Weezy and his backing band hopped around and  brought the thunder for a while before giving way to John Legend. The R&B crooner serenaded the audience with “You and I,” then accompanied guest vocalist Jhené Aiko on her song “The Worst.” Legend and Aiko crooning together was a great change of pace, with the young songstress neatly complimenting Legend’s more established sound.

No one was prepared for the severity of either Chris Brown’s or Usher’s performances later in the night, both of which will be endlessly compared. While word is still out on who has the better moves, Breezy only gave the crowd an extended version of “Loyal,” while Usher pulled out the jukebox for his, playing songs from all across his career. There was room on the BET stage for both pairs of dancing feet, but Usher trudged all over Breezy’s footprints in the process.

BET award winner Nicki Minaj and Jennifer Hudson both wowed with elaborate candy-colored set-pieces, playing hits “Pills and Potions” and “Walk It Out,” respectively and August Alsina performed alongside fellow singers Trey Songz and a re-emerging Breezy (Apparently their beef is in the past?). But the real treat of the night came in the form of a tribute to R&B legend Lionel Richie, who was serenaded by none other than the returning John Legend, followed by Ledisi performing “Brick House” and Yolanda Adams belting “Jesus Is Love.” Truly a humbled and experienced man, Richie accepted his award, but not before reminding the world that “Soul is a feeling, not a color.”

In short, there really was a lot that surprised me about this year’s BET Awards. The humble nature of artists like Richie and Pharrell Williams giving credit to those who came before them, to the unexpectedly pointed and hilarious hosting job from Rock, and the vast majority of performances, including a 90s tribute from the likes of groups Troop and Silk, being top caliber. All of those pluses didn’t negate Robin Thicke‘s latest heavy-handed and, at this point, admittedly creepy attempt to woo ex-wife Paula Patton through song. He needs to stop while he still has his youth.


Check out the list of nominees/winners below! (Kendrick, Daft Punk, and Eve got robbed)


Best New Artist:

August Alsina (Winner)

Ariana Grande

Mack Wilds

Rich Homie Quan

ScHoolboy Q


Best Gospel Artist:

Tamela Mann (Winner)

Donnie McClurkin

Hezekiah Walker

Tye Tribbett

Erica Cambell


Best Actress:

Lupita Nyong’o (Winner)

Gabrielle Union

Oprah Winfrey

Angela Bassett

Kerry Washington


Best Male Hip-Hop Artist:

Drake (Winner)


J. Cole


Kendrick Lamar


Video of The Year:

Pharrell Williams for “Happy” (Winner) 

Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z for “Drunk In Love”

Chris Brown for “Fine China”

Drake for “Worst Behavior”

Beyoncé for “Partition”


Best Male R&B/Pop Artist:

Pharrell Williams (Winner)

August Alsina

Justin Timberlake

Chris Brown

John Legend


Lifetime Achievement recipient: Lionel Richie


Best Group:

Young Money (Winner) 

A$AP Mob

Daft Punk

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis



Viewer’s Choice:

August Alsina feat. Trinidad James for “I Luv It” (Winner) 

Jhené Aiko for “The Worst”

Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z for “Drunk In Love”

Drake for “Worst Behavior”

Pharrell Williams for “Happy”


Best Female Hip-Hop Artist:

Nicki Minaj (Winner)

Iggy Azalea


Angel Haze

Charli Baltimore

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