TV review – What a party!

2014-07-06 15:00

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‘The black World Cup.”

That’s how comedian and host Chris Rock described the BETAwardsin his opening monologue, saying they represent black entertainment excellence.

“What happened in music this year? Well, Solange had a fight with Jay-Z in the lift ...” he proceeded, poking fun at pop’s highest-profile stars.

He also had some sharp words for rappers like Rick Ross, who he claimed will be the first rapper to die of breast cancer.

“Dr Dre got $3?billion, the man that made The Chronic and started NWA got $3?billion! They just dropped the A. It looks like the West Coast won, sorry Puff,” he quipped.

While celebrating black excellence in films such as The Butler, Rock said he believed Oprah Winfrey was cheated of an Oscar.

“That acting job was amazing ’cause she had to act like she was poor. There was one scene where she was stirring a pot of food for her man?...?you know they had to get a specialist to help her with that,” he said to wild applause.

The awards ceremony, dominated by music performances, didn’t disappoint and there were even some surprises. Pharrell Williams teamed up with the semiretired Missy Elliott to perform Come Get It Bae. Fresh out of prison, Chris Brown put on a show when he sang Loyal, supported by rappers Lil Wayne, Tyga and Travis Barker. It was decent enough.

John Legend’s You & I (Nobody in the World) was soulful and classy.

Usher delivered the performance of the night, starting with a medley of his old hits such as U Remind Me and Nice And Slow, building up to a thumping rendition of his latest hit, Good Kisser, and peaking with a high-energy dance routine to display his amazing showmanship, skill and precision – at 35, he still has it.

Beyoncé and Jay-Z gave the night a miss and instead performed via a recording on the weekend they opened their On The Run Tour in Miami.

One thing organisers will never manage to control is the awkward exchanges between presenters before handing out the gongs. Mike Tyson’s conversation with actor Gary Owen was cringeworthy – scripted or not.

The highlight of the awards is always the tribute segment. It was Lionel Richie’s turn.

Legend kicked it off with a tender rendition of Hello and the Commodores’ hit, Still.

Ledisi followed with an energetic version of Brick House. But it was gospel superstar Yolanda Adams who stole the show as she sang Jesus Is Love, bringing the Nokia Theatre to its feet, including Richie himself. (Sister’s got some range and power.)

Then Richie took to it on the grand piano to perform Easy and All Night Long. Two words: nostalgic magic. Although his low energy levels cannot be ignored.

And the oops of the night: when they spelt his surname “Ritchie”, which sparked a social-media firestorm.

The stage was colourful, vibrant and visually pleasing.

Thirteen years on, the awards are a well-oiled machine. It was a glitzy affair, so clearly budget was not an issue.

The combination of celebrity, star music performances and collaborations remain the winning formula for the BETAwards, which have picked up more viewers following a dip over the past few years.

But as a South African, it was disappointing that African nominees who were scheduled to perform didn’t get to shine on the big stage. Instead, they were only allocated slots at the BET Experience concert.

Also, the absence of crowd favourites like Lupita Nyong’o, who won the best actress award; and the first couples of black entertainment – Jay-Z and Beyoncé, and Kim Kardashian-West and Kanye West – put a damper on the proceedings.

The combination of gangsta rap and gospel songs may be jarring, but this is part of the black experience, the contradictions and juxtapositions that colour African-American life. For a TV show, it was as entertaining as it was touching.

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