Last year at the BET Awards, Chris Brown stomped and bawled his way through an emotional tribute to his idol, the late Michael Jackson. The performance earmarked a yearlong public plea for redemption that had plenty of highs and lows. On Sunday night, it was pretty clear that at least one audience had embraced the singer.
The 22-year-old was the uncontested man of the evening, collecting five trophies, including male R&B artist, video of the year and collaboration for “Look at Me Now” during the telecast, which aired live from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
“All my fans are everything to me,” Brown said while accepting the award for male R&B artist. “I know it’s been a long road. I just appreciate every blessing that’s been put in front of me.”
Later, he delivered a dance-heavy medley of tracks from “F.A.M.E.,” his first No. 1 album, and performed alongside buzzy up-and-coming rapper Big Sean. He even chided his own lack of poise when it comes to public speaking, something the audience got a laugh out of, given his meltdown on “Good Morning America” in March.
Although Brown’s appearance made for the rather awkward question of seating arrangements in case Rihanna would make an appearance — she didn’t, despite winning for female R&B artist -– their names did cross paths thanks to a major snafu.
As a fan presented the Coca-Cola Viewers’ Choice Award, Brown’s name was called as the winner (the show used tablet computers instead of traditional envelopes to reveal who had won), but then it was quickly changed to Rihanna.
“Well, this is awkward,” said Drake, who emerged from backstage to accept on behalf of the absent singer for their hit “What’s My Name,” amid gasps and muttering from the confused audience.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, host Kevin Hart bought out Brown to tell him he was actually the intended winner of the trophy, along with the FANdemonium Award. Talk about awkward — especially as a chunk of the audience had already began filing out of the venue.
The BET Awards have always been less about onstage drama and more about what surprises the network could cook up, and there were a few highlights throughout the night, including Anita Baker performing with Mary J. Blige and a passionate, posthumous tribute to Teena Marie, Gill Scott-Heron, Nate Dogg and Clarance Clemons.
The BET stage, as Brown demonstrated, is the place to begin a much-needed comeback narrative.
Former Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland sent tongues wagging with a steamy performance of her No. 1 single “Motivation,” alongside crooner Trey Songz. After a handful of stalls for her serially delayed disc, “Here I Am,” it was no surprise that all eyes were on her for the performance, especially as her last BET showing came at the tail end of a number from her more famous ex-bandmate Beyoncé.
Not one to let her presence go unseen, Beyoncé this year was beamed in from her Glastonbury festival debut, where she delivered a charging performance of the new single “End of Time.”
With her new album, “4,” getting off to a slow start –- none of the singles have cracked the top 10 –- the closing slot was a much-needed promotional push.
Despite being a continent away, the singer managed to have the performance of the evening. In the Shrine, a section of the audience waved flags emblazoned with the letter “B,” and a slew of dancers gyrated below the big screen of her performance. Though satellite performances are nothing new for awards shows, she was the first artist to perform on the network via satellite.
Other winners included Wiz Khalifia for new artist and Kanye West for male hip-hop artist. Nicki Minaj was all laughs when she won for female hip-hop artist, as expected.
“Wow, I can’t believe I won. No, no. Not like that,” Minaj said as the audience roared in laughter. “What I mean is I didn’t expect to….When I say I can’t believe I won, I mean I can’t believe I get to share this with [Lil Wayne], who saw me rapping on the steps.”