The 2011 BET Awards aired Sunday night, and everyone is going to be talking, tweeting and debating about the winners on Monday morning.
Wait a minute, who are we kidding? This wasn't the Oscars or Emmys. (Have you ever heard a star introduced as a "BET Award-nominated actor?" Yeah, neither have we.) The moments of Sunday night's show that will dominate hashtags and watercooler chatter are the ones that vied for their place in Kanye-mic-grabbing, Patti LaBelle-shoe-tossing, Chris Brown-bawling black pop culture history.
And, as usual, most of them didn't involve the transfer of a silver star on a stick from one brown hand to another.
Instead, our memories of the 11th annual production will, as always, be about the spectacle. (Check out The Root's picks for most memorable BET Awards moments from past shows.) This year's program was a two-hour musical reality show with standup comedy commercials, starring the celebs we love or love to hate, against the backdrop of the distinct personality of the network we love or love to hate even more. In this grand tradition, the awards themselves were no more the purpose of the event than a lukewarm cup of coffee or a chicken Caesar salad is the purpose of a much anticipated first date.
So, to dispense with the formalities of a recap: Chris Brown won big, snatching up best male R&B artist and viewer's choice for the song "Look at Me Now" (we think so, at least … read on for the confusion), and shared best collaboration with Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes for "Look at Me Now." Diddy Dirty Money took home the prize for best group. The hip-hop artist awards went (surprise!) to Nicki Minaj and Kanye West.
Wiz Khalifa was deemed best new artist and gave a speech that was touching in its sincerity and simplicity — especially from someone who we haven't heard talk about much besides his two favorite colors. Marsha Ambrosius won the Centric Award (which was announced at the preshow, never explained and a total mystery to everyone). And radiant Patti LaBelle was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award, reminding us why by performing the best of all the tributes herself. (For a full list of nominees and winners, check out BET.com.)
But what we're celebrating at The Root aren't the winners but the highlights of the show with which anyone aspiring to be (pop) culturally literate this week will need to be familiar.
Most awkward moment: Well. We guess this is what happens when you replace good old paper envelopes with tablets for the first time, and hand the technology over to a random young viewer to announce the Coca-Cola Viewers' Choice Award. It went something like this: "And the winner is Chris Brown. [Insert crazy, panicked face] Oh! No, Rihanna, 'What's My Name?' [Insert crazy, panicked face again] OK, actually, Drake."
For a minute you hoped it was a joke. But no. In black households across America, viewers wondered whether poor Tiffany Green would decide to be homeschooled rather than face her friends after the flub. And then, about 15 minutes too late, host Kevin Hart came on to announce that the winner was Brown after all, and informed us that the mistake was "awkward." Yeah, we could tell.
Runners-up: Taraji P. Henson opened with a poorly delivered Anthony Weiner sexting joke that made us more uncomfortable than the congressman's press conference.
It seemed like bad etiquette to leave Drake out of the Rick Ross performance when he was clearly available, 18 feet away in the audience.
And Nicki Minaj couldn't even convince herself, let alone the audience, that she was truly surprised to win best female hip-hop artist, so after a few fumbling moments, she just yelled something about how she used to rap on a staircase.
Biggest laugh: The most hilarious scripted moment had to be the spot-on Real House Husbands of Hollywood spoof (complete with Bravo-quality drama and beverage tossing), but host Hart cracked up the audience with spontaneous observations on everything from Busta Rhymes' vest ("What are you wearing, a brain?"), to Ne-Yo's head ("Take me to your leader") and Sean Combs' excessive nicknames ("When you're grown, be grown").
Biggest redemption(ish) story: We thought Chris Brown had gotten himself back in the public's good graces (as much as one can after beating his girlfriend) with last year's tearful BET Awards tribute to Michael Jackson and/or his own vulnerable side. But some Good Morning America dressing room vandalism and insolent tweeting later, his image among people not in love with him remained in need of a little touch-up before this year's show.
And Sunday night, fans were treated to Breezy Redemption, Take II. Actually, between all his awards and performances, the program might have been renamed The Chris Brown Show. This meant plenty of material for the segment of the population that is not in love with him. In response to his comment, "Public speaking is not my strong suit," The Root contributor Mychal Denzel Smith tweeted, "Life is not your strong suit, Chris Brown."
Most disturbing moment: There's still no competitor for the time Lil Wayne sang about wanting to have sex with every woman on earth while his daughter and her friends pranced around in the background, but who approved the poorly scripted and scarcely rehearsed segment in which Nicki Minaj sexually harassed little underage Justin Bieber? We thought the bad Bieber joke was going to be about him not being black. We wish. Instead, he announced, "I'll be 18 next year," to which Minaj replied seductively, "Justin, can you drive? Can you handle curves?" Hopefully one of the cameras at the show belonged to To Catch a Predator.
Best music-history moment: This title goes to the tribute to Lifetime Achievement Award winner Patti LaBelle. The star was positively beaming during the entire performance by Marsha Ambrosius, Cee Lo Green and Shirley Caesar. But what in the world was Cee Lo thinking during the segment, which involved a four-syllable piece of profanity? We suppose that BET, which wasn't great with censoring during the entire performance, can be excused for being clumsy with that one. It sort of came out of nowhere.
Most questionable clothing choices: Apologies to anyone who is omitted here. There was a lot going on. Chris Brown started things off with jean shorts, a white T-shirt and something sparkly, and the stars' attire went swiftly downhill from there: Rick Ross' Versace-disguised-as-Coogi cardigan-slash-jacket with a bare chest and gut exposed; Laurieann Gibson in a transparent T-shirt with a black bra; Lil Wayne in jeans so skinny and saggy all at once, they'll never be understood by anyone over 21 and without gold teeth; Kimberly Nichole's tutu.
Plus, in a show that was sadly lacking in shirts, Kelly Rowland compensated by dressing like she was going to a funeral — a very conservative one.
Biggest tearjerker: Putting aside concerns about the kids' too-grownness and whether this family is going to take over the entire world, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith both looked like they were going to cry when their two little ones thanked them in their acceptance speech for their shared Young Stars Award. And if that didn't get you, this will: Willow was wearing a Fresh Prince T-shirt.
Worst hair: Farming this one out to Twitter to keep our hands clean: One @JaynieceCarter observed, "I thought Free was Madame CJ Walker with that hot comb hairstyle." And @Swinfrey took the award for Tweet of the evening with, "Mashonda's spirit did that to Alicia Keys' hair." Ouch.
Most ambivalent moment: It was hard to know how to feel about the Humanitarian Award going to Steve Harvey. First thought: Excessive talking is now considered philanthropic? Second thought: OK, the radio-show host-comedian-author has done quite a bit of important work in the areas of mentoring and black business, but really, more than any other famous black person this year?
In conclusion: Thank God he didn't cry like he did at the BET Gospel Awards. And, as @Sistertoljah tweeted, "I respect the work Steve Harvey does with those boys, but I hope he doesn't teach them to give girls bad advice."
The biggest upset: There wasn't one. But with all that this year's awards gave us to talk about, who needs a surprise? For better or worse, BET did it again. We'll be back next year.
Jenée Desmond-Harris is a regular contributor to The Root.