Even though Janet Jackson did not perform at the 15th annual BET Awards Sunday night, her Ultimate Icon: Music Dance Visual Award tribute is still easily one of the most memorable moments as it boasts Ciara, Jason Derulo, and Tinashe recreating some of Jackson’s best choreography.
Other notable highlights include the 20th anniversary celebration of Diddy’s Bad Boy Records and an unforgettable acceptance speech from Smokey Robinson.
Here is our list of favorite moments:
1. Stars Bring Janet Jackson’s Moves to Life - The pressure was on for Ciara, Jason Derulo, and Tinashe to deliver during the highly-anticipated tribute to Janet Jackson, the recipient of the Ultimate Icon: Music Dance Visual Award, and they did. Ciara, who has been compared to Jackson since her 2004 debut, handled the bulk of the homage, tackling a medley that included many of Jackson’s most impressive routines for “If” and “Rhythm Nation.” Ciara transformed into Jackson. During a point in the “Rhythm Nation” sequence, when she turned to the crowd and flipped her long curly hair out of her face, she bore a striking resemblance to the superstar. Tinashe kicked off the tribute doing the moves from Jackson’s heralded solo video, “Pleasure Principle,” and Derulo danced to more of Jackson’s pop hits. When Jackson accepted her award, she said that when she made Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 album 25 years ago, she hoped that “the world would be a better place,” but acknowledged that today “there’s even more to be done.”
2. Diddy Delivered Surprise Bad Boy Reunion – Diddy’s brief stint in jail last week for getting into an altercation with his son’s UCLA football coach didn’t hamper arguably the best surprise reunion in the history of the BET Awards. The Bad Boy roster was in full force Sunday with appearances from many of its biggest acts of the 1990s – Faith Evans, Mase, the Lox, 112, Lil Kim, and even a video projection of the late Notorious B.I.G. blasting through their staple hits. Lil Kim’s emergence from an elevator below the stage in time to perform her verse from “All About the Benjamins” was an explosive highlight. The set also received an assist from Pharrell Williams, who joined Diddy to premiere a new song, “Finna Get Loose.”
3. Smokey Robinson Told Young Stars to Check Their Egos – As if performing and also having Tori Kelly, Robin Thicke, and Ne-Yo cover his music flawlessly wasn’t moving enough, Robinson’s humble acceptance speech for his Lifetime Achievement Award honor is what truly amazed the crowd. The “Tears of a Clown” singer and songwriter advised his successors to stop being full of themselves. “There are so many people who wish they had one person who they felt loved them, and for you to become self-absorbed because millions of people around the world love you … is ridiculous,” he said. “You should be thankful. It’s a blessing.”
4. Nicki Minaj Introduces Mama Minaj – When accepting her Best Female Hip-Hop Artist award, Minaj brought a special woman on stage with her, her mother, Carol Maraj. “I wanted to bring my mommy up,” Nicki told the audience. “It’s the first time the world gets to see her.” Nicki then turned to her mother and thanked her for her support. It was just one of Nicki’s many moments of the night that also included her endearing hug with boyfriend Meek Mill after they performed “All Eyes on You” and later her interruption of her own Viewer’s Choice Awards acceptance speech to ask, “What was this award for?” She explained that she was confused because she was backstage when the category was announced.
5. Sam Smith Stunt Double Accepts His BET Award - Sam Smith received the Best New Artist honor, beating out Rae Sremmurd, Tinashe, and Fetty Wap. Even though he was not in attendance to personally receive the award, his trophy was in good hands. Co-host Anthony Anderson accepted on Smith’s behalf, wearing an outfit modeled after the pop singer. Anderson wore a slim fitted, royal blue suit, ankle-length pants, loafers without socks, and a pompadour wig. Anderson joked that Smith did not attend because he is white and thought he had no shot winning a Black Entertainment Award.
6. Rihanna Previews “Bitch Better Have My Money” Video – BET used the entire weekend to premiere several new music videos on their pre-shows, but Rihanna introduced a one-minute clip of “Bitch Better Have My Money” during the broadcast. In the theatrical short, Rihanna portrays a villainous character who kidnaps a woman.
7. Former Twitter Foes, Tamar Braxton and K. Michelle Make Amends – After performing their own solo records, Braxton and K. Michelle unite to sing a cover of Patti LaBelle’s “If Only You Knew” before being joined by the iconic soul singer. At the end of the song, Braxton and K. Michelle hugged while holding hands with LaBelle, who commended the Supreme Court for its ruling in support of same sex marriage.
There was plenty more action. Alicia Keys joined The Weeknd for a special duet of “Earned It,” Donnie McClurkin paid respects to the late gospel luminary Andrae Crouch singing “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,” and Anthony Hamilton and Gary Clark Jr. remembered the late Percy Sledge, B.B. King, and Ben E. King. Additionally, the cast of Empire, Kendrick Lamar, Janelle Monae, and Fetty Wap also graced the stage.