Millions and millions of Obama references, right here
So: an awards show where everyone gets to do full versions of their songs, where the camera doesn’t jerk around spasmodically, where the lifetime honoree types get like a half-hour of screen-time, and where everybody in the crowd seems ecstatic to be there. Learn, MTV! (Best audience member, throughout the show: Ne-Yo. No contest.)
8:00: Usher gets the big epic opening slot, emerging from a lit-up dry-ice chamber like he was Han Solo coming out of carbonite or something. He’s got the Michael Jackson-looking black vinyl clothes, and he’s dancing on an extremely slow-moving conveyor belt singing “Love in This Club,” lip-syncing so blatantly that he lets the track speed all up. Usher is such a weird dancer; every move is so crisp and defined, like he’s an incredibly well-designed animatronic mannequin. It’s sort of breathtaking whenever he shows up on live TV; like, he’s really doing all this stuff. No Jeezy. I love that heartbeat-dance thing near the end of the song. I have no idea how anybody’s supposed to follow this.
8:05: Weird alphabetization on the who’s-here roll-call: Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy are under L and Y, respectively, but Queen Latifah is under Q. Are we supposed to think her real last name is Latifah?
8:07: DL Hughley, back from mini-dread Studio 60 purgatory, is hosting. He makes Obama jokes and kind of bombs.
8:09: Oh good Lord, Terrence Howard has a guitar, and he’s awkwardly musically flirting with Jennifer Hudson. They give Best Male R&B to Chris Brown, who is too classy to throw that “A Milli” freestyle in Ne-Yo’s face. He’s the second person of the night to rock one of those Michael Jackson Members Only-looking jackets.
8:14: Young Jeezy, with fireballs exploding and American flag backdrop and no hypemen, does, “Put On,” maybe my favorite song of the year. He delivers it a whole lot better than he did at Summer Jam a few weeks back, but he could still use some work. Kanye, complete with badly amplified Autotuner, either flubs his verse or tries to make it more dramatic by repeating the first line a couple of times. Inept censors silence like half the verse. Kanye gets so amped up onstage.
8:18: Horrible chirpy midget comedian Kevin Hart and Scary Spice are out to present an award; they must already be running out of famous people. They give Best Male Athlete to Kobe Bryant, who isn’t here because he’s too busy trying to figure out how Shaq’s ass tastes. Why do they have athlete awards again?
8:25: Keyshia Cole, precariously perched on a high-ass column and wearing drag-queen levels of eyeshadow, sings “Sent From Heaven” and rips it. Then someone takes her dress away, and she’s wearing biker shorts and singing “Let It Go,” not sounding quite as good. Lil Kim runs out and yells a bunch.
8:30: It’s the Boyz N the Hood cast reunion, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Morris Chestnut and Nia Long all out to present something. But where’s Ice Cube? And why don’t any of them on have Cross Colours or high-top fades? None of these people turned out to be that cool, huh? They’re present Best Female Rapper, and only two of the five nominees actually released albums in the past year. Missy Elliott, who isn’t one of those two artists, wins, and she’s not there to accept it.
8:35: Ne-Yo, looking almost absurdly dapper, sings “Closer,” basically a disco song, with laser-lights going off all around him. This guy is a total ham; he’s like a drunk guy at a party making fun of Usher’s dancing. (A drunk guy who can really dance, which makes it even better.) We also get an interlude with mimes dancing for some reason.
8:40: LL Cool J and Ashanti give Best New Artist to The-Dream. Fuck that guy. I’m really, really surprised Soulja Boy didn’t get it. Dream’s not there to accept; I’m sensing a pattern here.
8:47: Alicia Keys, debuting a new Bettie Page-looking haircut (or wig; I can never tell), sings “Teenage Love Affair.” I like this song a lot, but she needs to stop doing choreographed dances starting right now. She just looks silly. We’re having a weird moment right now where every male R&B singer is a better dancer than every female R&B singer. (Actually, now that I think about it, that’s pretty much every moment.) Oh, but she introduces SWV! And now En Vogue doing “Hold On”? What the fuck? And now the two surviving members of TLC (we’re all pretending that reality show never happened, thank God), singing “Waterfalls.” This is so awesome. If Alicia Keys wants to keep interrupting her performances to bring out random surprise guests, that’s absolutely OK with me.
8:53: Someone from Reno 911? Really? She thinks we should all adopt white babies, and she gives Best Male Rapper to Kanye! Whoa, that’s sort of an upset. Kanye brings Wayne up to the stage and spends his entire acceptance speech complimenting him. Aw!
9:03: T-Pain has a top hat and a circus backdrop, which doesn’t bode well. His backup dancers are dressed like lions and mimes and unicorns. Doesn’t he realize everyone hates this shit? And now the guest-star cavalcade: “Low” with Flo Rida, “The Boss” with repulsive-ass Rick Ross, “I’m So Hood” with incoherent-screaming DJ Khaled, on-fire Big Boi, and even better Ludacris. Hey, they picked the two best verses from the remix! Nice! This actually worked out.
9:09: More awkward flirting, this time from Derek Luke and Gabrielle Union. And they give Best Video to UGK! Nice! It’s not a Grammy or anything, but that still needed to happen. Bun getting choked up is always going to kill me.
9:20: It’s the token gospel portion, with Marvin Sapp! DL Hughley calls him Warren Sapp, briefly confusing me. Maybe this is where all the raspy, intense grown-man R&B singers have gone: they’ve returned to gospel.
9:26: Mary Mary and Lisa Lisa (really!) give Best Gospel to Sapp. He thanks his church for letting him skip out on Bible class to be here for the awards. Lil Wayne will probably not do the same thing when he wins something.
9:37: Chris Brown gives a weirdly out-of-breath rendition of “With You.” I love this song. He’s dressed almost exactly like Usher was earlier tonight, except he’s got a giant white bow-tie on, which pretty well encapsulates the differences between Chris Brown and Usher right there. Then Ciara comes out, and they pretend to fuck while “Take You Down” plays and Rihanna grins uncomfortably in the audience.
9:42: It’s a total random-ass gaggle of minor celebrities onstage now: David Banner, Solange, Cassie, Soulja Boy, some other guy. I guess they couldn’t figure out where to put the rest of these guys. They tell us to vote (Soulja Boy: “It’s up to yoouuuu!“), and they give best collaboration to Kanye and T-Pain. T-Pain walks all slowly for some reason. Kanye says that we’re blessed to be in the presence of a genius like T-Pain.
9:50: John Legend is somehow even boring when he’s presenting awards. He’s here to give some lifetime achievement award to Al Green. The video package has a whole lot of Green talking about his music, which is something I could probably watch for hours.
9:54: Tribute time! Jill Scott sings “I’m Still in Love With You,” doing sort of glossily relaxed version and sounding pretty good. Anthony Hamilton sings a fired-up old-school “Tired of Being Alone,” wearing an unbuttoned shirt and everything, and just kills it. Maxwell returns from the dead with short hair to sing a buttery falsettoed-out “Simply Beautiful”; that guy sure knows how to work a stage.
10:06: Al Green thanks the academy, seeming to realize halfway through that there’s no academy, and gives a particularly batshit acceptance speech. Then he sings “Let’s Stay Together” and “Love and Happiness,” and his ad-libs might be even better than the actual vocals. In the audience, T-Pain does the robot. Bryan Barber does the same soul-singer shtick he did in the “Int’l Players Anthem” video, and Ludacris possibly hits on Lil Kim. The audience shots here are just amazing. BET gives very, very significant screen time to its lifetime achievement award winners, which is a great thing.
10:26: Terrence and Rocsi, who still can’t replace Free and AJ, present the Viewer’s Choice award alongside some goofy contest winner. For the second year in a row, Wayne wins, and it’s a little bit less of a surprise this time. He brings a horde of people up onstage with him, including Kanye and (I think) his mom.
10:30: DL Hughley makes a joke about Young Buck crying.
10:32: Rihanna must be amped for the opportunity to sing something other than “Umbrella” at an awards show. She sings “Take a Bow” and actually sounds great doing it. I never would’ve expected Rihanna to make a convincing R&B singer, but there it is.
10:43: BET CEO Debra Lee and Queen Latifah give a humanitarian award to Quincy Jones, whose acceptance-speech ramble is maybe even better than Green’s. He talks about getting stabbed at age seven, he quotes a student of Tolstoy (?), and he says he knows what’s going on with technology. This segment is nice and all, but it could stand to be a little shorter.
10:58: Ashanti makes DL Hughley uncomfortable while introducing Nelly, who does that crappy “My Js” song with Jermaine Dupri and Ciara. Ciara steals the show even more completely than she does in the video. Then he does the even worse “Party People” with Fergie. Nelly’s whole staying-relevant thing just isn’t going to work if the girls on his tracks keep upstaging him.
11:00: Diddy and Lauren London give Best Female R&B to Alicia Keys, who manages to avoid introducing, like, a reunited Compton’s Most Wanted.
11:09: T-Pain is now onstage in a fake laboratory, still wearing a goddam top hat. “Yo, it’s your boy T-Pain, the mad scientist. What we gon’ do right here is we gon’ make the perfect rapper. [Hunches over instrument panel.] He gotta have tattoos. He gotta sell a million a week. Everything he spit gotta be hot fire. And oh yeah, he gotta be from New Orleans. It’s aliiiive!” Wayne has about a million better songs than “Got Money,” and I’d love to see him pull some big defiant statement like he did with “Gossip” at the Hip-Hop Awards last year, but that intro was funny enough to justify anything. T-Pain also helps out on “Lollipop” and plays hypeman on “A Milli.” This is just a straight-up victory-lap. He ends the show thusly: “Nothin’, nothin’, you ain’t saying nothin’. Hip-hop is alive. Don’t worry, I got it.”