Last month BET responded to Madonna‘s controversial Prince tribute at the Billboard Music Awards in a single tweet that said, “Yeah, we saw that. Don’t worry. We got you.” They’ve since deleted it, but last night (June 26) we got to find out if they could deliver on that promise.
The night kicked off as Beyoncé took time out from her world tour to make a surprise performance, singing “Freedom” alongside Kendrick Lamar.
And while Beyoncé thrashing about in water and strobe lights would normally be a story in itself, and even though she was the big winner of the night, winning Best Female R&B/Pop Artist, Video of the Year, Coca-Cola Viewers’ Choice Award, and the Centric Award, the night belonged to one man: the late, great Prince.
In between gongs being handed out to Nicki Minaj (Best Female Hip-Hop Artist), Drake (Best Male Hip-Hop Artist), and Bryson Tiller (Best Male R&B/Pop Artist), were performances honoring the Purple One, who died in April aged 57. Proving, if proof were needed, just how influential his music was, the tributes featured new artists as well as more established musicians and Prince’s peers.
Dave Chappelle introduced The Roots and Erykah Badu, who kicked things off as they sang funky Sign o’ the Times number “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker,” and were followed by Bilal, who nailed “The Beautiful Ones” complete with Prince’s falsetto and writhing around on stage.
Stevie Wonder and Tori Kelly took a more upbeat approach, harmonizing on Prince and Apollonia‘s duet “Take Me With U” from the Purple Rain movie.
And just when you thought you’d seen “Purple Rain” covered in every possible way, Jennifer Hudson stole the night with an emotional take on the rock anthem that got everyone in LA’s Microsoft Theater to their feet.
And, as if to emphasize Prince’s influence on his own work, R&B singer Maxwell morphed from his own extremely Prince-esque track “Lake by the Ocean” into “Nothing Compares 2 U”, a song made famous by Sinead O’Connor (and then sung by Madonna in her less-than-warmly received tribute).
The tributes ended with former Prince protégé Sheila E performing another medley, but it was Janelle Monae who performed a medley of “Delirious,” “Kiss,” “Pop Life,” and “I Would Die 4 U” so energetic it came closest to watching Prince himself on stage.
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