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Standing Ovations for Will Smith, Killer Mike, Usher

Standing Ovations for Will Smith, Killer Mike, Usher

Standing Ovations for Will Smith, Killer Mike, Usher

In between the explosive performances and touching speeches, the BET Awards were evangelized with an emotional performance by Will Smith, a killer speech by Killer Mike and host Taraji P. Henson reminding viewers to get out and vote in the upcoming presidential election.

Performing in a circle of fire backed by the Sunday Service Choir and R&B singer Friday, Smith rapped his new song “You Can Make It,” seeming to address the rough patch he experienced personally and professionally after slapping Chris Rock at the Academy Awards two years ago. “I’m here to tell you, you can make it,” he told the audience at the Peacock Theater at the top of the performance, which ended with this message: “Dance in your darkest moments.”

Rain poured down during the redemption performance on Sunday, which also featured gospel star Kirk Franklin and his words of courage and wisdom. “Nobody gets an easy ride, we all have a cross to bear, but there’s wisdom in the fire, and every moment is an opportunity,” Smith said. “Embrace the journey.”

The Grammy-winning rapper and Oscar-winning actor earned a standing ovation from the audience, including actress Ms. Pat. Henson was excited as she introduced Smith, calling him “my brother.”

Mike also provided one of the show’s emotional and charging moments after winning album of the year for Michael — a similar award he won at the Grammys in February but was detained moments later following a scuffle with a security guard outside Arena in Los Angeles. The new win comes days after prosecutors in the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office elected not to file charges for the incident.

Killer Mike

“Technically, I was not supposed to be here. I was put in handcuffs and I was marched out of this building. But I want to tell you, look at God, because I’m back, baby. I’m back and I’m winning. And I want to tell Black people that because of BET, I’m back. Not because no white person calling nobody. A Black man runs his business. A Black company put this show on and they got my Black ass back in here. Thank y’all,” Mike said, earning a loud applause from the crowd.

“A lot of people [are] going to say, ‘Who was he? Why did he get it?’ I am a representation of one of the finest things God has ever made, and that’s one half of the Black family, Black men and women, I am you. Whether you young, whether you’re old, whether you like me, whether you don’t like me, I’m absolutely you. And this win is absolutely ours,” he continued.

Mike also got political: “They’re going to tell you who we vote for is important, and it is. Who we vote for on the big stage is important, but it’s more important you know who your city council person is, who your prosecutor is. And if you don’t like the people running, run your Black ass to the poll and run yourself.”

Henson reminded viewers throughout the night to vote, even appearing in a recorded video with Vice President Kamala Harris. At one point, Henson turned extremely serious. “They are trying to bring the draft back — who do you think they’re going to draft first? I’m not trying to scare us. I’m trying to inform us,” she said.

“I’m talking to all the mad people that don’t want to vote,” she added.

The actress kicked off the show rapping over Kendrick Lamar’s Drake diss track “Not Like Us,” wearing a red hoodie, jeans and grillz in her teeth.

“I’m rooting for all of us — heavy on the us, heavy on the all. No beefing here tonight. Can we stay plant-based?” she said to laughs from the audience.

Female acts dominated the night in performances, with best new artist winner Tyla, Sexyy Red, Megan Thee Stallion, GloRilla and Ice Spice shining. The duo of five-year-old VanVan and eight-year-old Heiress Harris — the daughter of Grammy winners T.I. and Tiny – had the show’s cutest moment when they performed the anthem “Be You” on a stage replicating a classroom. 

And when Victoria Monet — who also had a winning performance — collected the BET HER honor for “On My Mama,” she brought her mother to the stage and encouraged the women in the room to continue to work together. “I just want to say that we really need each other. We need to support each other. We need to collaborate with a happy face. So anybody in this room that is a Black female artist, I would love to collaborate and make that anthem that’s going to break the internet together,” said Monet, who also won video of the year.


Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Women also joined forces to honor Usher through various performances as he earned the Lifetime Achievement Award, months after headlining the Super Bowl halftime show during his 30th year in music.

KeKe Palmer was in top notch form as she brought his “You Make Me Wanna” music video to life onstage, and Coco Jones was a vocal powerhouse while singing “There Goes My Baby,” even dancing in front of Usher and his wife during her performance. Teyana Taylor sang “Bad Girl” while Monet danced beside her, Tinashe was seductive during “Nice & Slow,” Chloe brought the energy during “Good Kisser,” Latto rapped Ludacris’ verse on “Yeah!” and Summer Walker sang “Good Good,” her collaboration with Usher. Childish Gambino kicked off the tribute  — with what seemed to be the help of a technical device to smooth out his voice — for a sensual performance of “U Don’t Have to Call,” while Marsha Ambrosius sang “Superstar” though she struggled with the opening riff. 

Usher warned the crowd that he “likes to talk” and gave a 14-minute speech, some of his words cut off as he began to curse to fully express himself.

He removed his glasses as his words got serious — mentioning his father’s missteps and honoring the supportive men who stood behind him, including executives and producers Babyface, L.A. Reid, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Jermaine Dupri and others.

Usher also called on the crowd to forgive those who have wronged you. “We gotta be willing to forgive. We gotta be willing to be open. I’m telling you — you’re standing before a man who had to forgive a man who never showed up, ever, and look at what I made with it,” Usher said as the audience cheered. “Look at what I was able to usher in. That’s what’s real and that’s what makes us human.”

Lauryn Hill closed the nearly four-hour show with multiple performances: She celebrated her classic 1998 album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill; she joined her 22-year-old son, YG Marley, as he performed his TikTok hit “Praise Jah In the Moonlight”; and she reunited with Wyclef Jean for a (sort of) Fugees reunion (sans Pras) with a performance of “Fu-Gee-La.”

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