BET Awards 2024: Usher is honored, Will Smith returns, and the election is top of mind

 Usher accepted the lifetime achievement award at the 2024 BET Awards — even if the superstar mused it might be a bit early.

The Grammy winner stayed on his feet as a parade of artists performed his hits — Childish Gambino kicked it off with “U Don’t Have to Call,” joined by Keke Palmer, who took the lead on “You Make Me Wanna...” Coco Jones appeared in the audience for a sultry rendition of “There Goes My Baby,” serenading Usher and his wife Jenn Goicoechea.

Summer Walker hit the stage for “Good Good,” Tinashe did “Nice & Slow,” Marsha Ambrosius tackled “Superstar” and Chlöe performed “Good Kisser.” Teyana Taylor and Victoria Monét teamed up for “Bad Girl,” mirroring Usher and Beyoncé’s choreography from their performance of the song. Latto brought the energy for “Yeah!” In some ways, the homage underscored the women who carried much of the night — dominating the performances.

After introductions by Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, Usher accepted the award from music executive L.A. Reid.

“Getting here has definitely not been easy, but it has been worth it,” Usher began his lengthy speech, reflecting on his career, which has spanned over three decades. He questioned the timing, saying, “I’m still running and gunning and I still love this (expletive) like I did when I was 8 years old,” he said.

Much of his speech couldn’t be heard by audiences at home because it was censored.

“I forgive each and every person who had anything to say negative about me because it only motivated me to be who I am,” he said at one point.

Earlier in the night, Will Smith stood in a circle of fire — joined by Fridayy and the gospel choir Sunday Service — to make the live debut of his latest single, “You Can Make It.”

“I don’t know who needs this right now,” Smith opened his set. “But I am here to tell you, you can make it.”

Mid-way through, Kirk Franklin joined, and then the two rapped together. “Nobody gets an easy ride,” Smith, who is amid his comeback from slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars two years ago, told the room. “There is wisdom in that fire. Dance in your darkest moments.”

The forthcoming presidential election was a huge topic of conversation throughout the show. After Childish Gambino presented Killer Mike with the Album of the Year award for “Michael,” the rapper used his acceptance speech to address his Grammys arrest and voting.

“Technically, I was not supposed to be here. I was put in handcuffs, and I was marched out of the building. But I want to tell you, look at God. ’Cause I’m back, baby. I’m back and I’m winning,” he said in his speech. Killer Mike was arrested at the Grammys earlier this year over a physical altercation he said was caused by an “over-zealous” security guard; he was not charged over the incident.

“They going to tell you who we vote for is important,” he continued his speech, “And it is who we vote for on the big stage. It’s important, but it’s more important you know who your city council person is, who your prosecutor is.”

Megan Thee Stallion opened the show by emerging from an egg — a metaphor for her new musical rebirth — before diving into an energetic medley of her new singles “Hiss” and “Boa.”

“BET, Where my girls at?” she said, shouting out Monét and Jones in the crowd before launching into “Where Them Girls At” — a track that’s been an immediate fan favorite since Friday’s release of her third studio album, “Megan.”

Taraji P. Henson hosted the show at the Peacock Theater in Los Angeles. Her opening monologue was a performance, Henson rapping “It’s About Us,” in a loose parody of Kendrick Lamar’s “Not Like Us,” which he released amid his reignited feud with Drake.

“No beef in here tonight,” she joked, “Can we say plant-based?”

Tyla, the Johannesburg, South African amapiano superstar, won two honors on the show, starting with best international act.

Later in the night, she’d take home the award for best new artist. “This is crazy,” she said. “I just want to dedicate this one to Africa.”

Monét, who earlier this year won the Grammy for best new artist, made her BET debut and set a high bar for performances, condensing a full set into a few minutes with three costume changes and a pair of songs, “On My Mama” and “Alright.”

Then Sexyy Red took the stage, performing her smooth bedroom ballad “U My Everything” before moving to another stage and a costume change — tackling “Get It Sexyy” in front of an LED screen depicting the White House and dancers dressed like the Secret Service.

The show took a tonal shift when VanVan and Heiress Harris, two child rappers, their empowerment anthem “Be You” in a schoolroom set. Harris is the daughter of rapper T.I. and singer Tiny Harris.

Best female R&B/pop artist went to SZA and best actress to Regina King, both of whom were not in attendance; the BET HER award went to Monét for “On My Mama.” She brought her mother up to accept it.

Country musician Tanner Adell brought her “Buckle Bunny” and her new song, “Cowboy Break My Heart.” GloRilla emerged from above, descending to join her dancers for “Yeah Glo!” and “Wanna Be” — the latter of which saw a surprise appearance from Megan Thee Stallion. Shaboozey kept the country coming with “A Bar Song (Tipsy)” and was joined by rapper J-Kwon, who appears on the track, creating an unexpected and rewarding collaboration across genres.

Lauryn Hill closed the night, beginning with “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and going into “Lost Ones,” before introducing her son YG Marley for his reggae tracks “Survival” and “Praise Jah In The Moonlight.” Best of all: Wyclef Jean appeared, and the trio — in front of a full band — performed Fugees’ “Fu-Gee-La.” Pras, the third member of Fugees, was not present. The rapper, who was accused of multimillion-dollar political conspiracies spanning two presidencies, was convicted in April.

The 2024 BET Awards have arrived, taking over the Peacock Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday (June 30). Hosted by Taraji P. Henson for the third year, the BET Awards feature performances from Childish Gambino, Chlöe, Coco Jones, Keke Palmer, Marsha Ambrosius, Summer Walker, GloRilla, Ice Spice, Latto, Ms. Lauryn Hill & YG Marley, Megan Thee Stallion, Muni Long, Sexyy Red, Shaboozey, Tanner Adell, Tyla, Victoria Monét and Will Smith. Usher will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award four months after his Super Bowl halftime show performance, which set a new record for the NFL broadcast, pulling in 129.3 million viewers.

Before the show, everyone from Rapsody to Doechii to Kevin Gates to Shaboozey to Remy Ma to the legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (of the duo Jam & Lewis) walked the red carpet at the Peacock Theater. Henson – who previously hosted the show in 2021 and 2022 – also made a splash on the red carpet. Billboard spoke to many of the stars as they prepared for the big night.

Drake has the most nominations at the 2024 BET Awards with seven nods, closely followed by Nicki Minaj with six nominations. J. Cole, Sexyy Red, SZA, Monét, and Beyoncé have five nominations apiece, while 21 Savage, Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, Tyla, and Usher have four nominations. 

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