Beyonce, SZA and Busta Rhymes were among some of the big winners at Sunday night’s BET Awards ceremony, highlighted by legendary hip-hop performances and a surprise Migos performance, but also marred by awkward moments and glitches.
The 2023 BET Awards, held Sunday at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, also included forgotten lyrics during Patti LaBelle’s tribute to Tina Turner, a Shaggy performance abruptly cut off by a commercial and a live acceptance speech delivered via a mom’s cell phone.
As for the awards (which seemed to be an afterthought at this ceremony), Beyoncé and SZA won the most awards, with three each. Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” and SZA’s “SOS” were tied as winners for Album of the Year. SZA was also named Best Female R&B/Pop Artist, while SZA’s “Kill Bill” took the prize for Video of the Year. Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” got the Viewer’s Choice Award and BET Her Award.
Drake won two awards from his seven nominations: Best Group, for his team-up with 21 Savage, and Best Collaboration, for being a featured artist with Tems on the Future song “Wait for U.” Chris Brown and Usher won in a tie for the award of Best Male R&B/Pop Artist. Kendrick Lamar won the prize for Best Male Hip-Hop Artist. None of these winning artists attended the ceremony.
The event seemed to be competing with the Academy Awards for being the longest awards ceremony that could stretch past three hours. During most of the bloated ceremony (which clocked in at nearly four hours—235 minutes, to be exact), only a small fraction of the awards were actually handed out on stage. Most of the winners were no-shows, including big winners Beyoncé and SZA. And by the time the event dragged past the scheduled three-and-a-half hours, there was a noticeably large number of empty seats, indicating that many of the attendees had left the building.
The show seemed like less of an awards event and more like a hodgepodge of performances in desperate need of better direction for a live event. The ceremony (in its 23rd year) had no host due to the Writers Guild of America strike. The show was simulcast on BET and other Paramount-owned networks, including BET Her, MTV, and VH1. Internationally, the ceremony was simulcast on BET Africa and BET France. In the United Kingdom, the 2023 BET Awards was made available on My5, Sky On Demand, and BET Pluto, which is where the show could also be seen in Brazil.
One of the reasons for the show running overtime was at one point, the 2023 BET Awards could have been named the Busta Rhymes Awards. Longtime rapper Rhymes, who received the BET Lifetime Achievement Award, was given nearly 30 minutes on stage, including a rambling 12-minute acceptance speech followed by him performing a medley of some of his hits. Bia, Coi Leray, M.O.P., Rah Digga, Scarlip, Spice, Supercat, and Swizz Beatz were among the artists who paid tribute to Rhymes as guest performers during the medley.
In his acceptance speech, Rhymes briefly broke down in tears and then gave the expected thank yous to his family, friends, and colleagues. He called for the music industry to do better in how hip-hop artists are represented.
“We’re going to stop these petty beefs that we be doing in rap,” he said. “Y’all messing up the bag. Y’all messing up the energy.”
Rhymes added that executives also play a role in what gets promoted: “It ain’t all got to be about the ass shaking and how much drugs we sold and how much dudes we tied up and how much drugs we doing.”
At one point in his long-winded speech, Rhymes said, “I really wish I could keep talking. It took so long for them to give me this [award]. I’ve got so much to say.”
Coco Jones, one of the few award winners who showed up at the ceremony, took home the prize for Best New Artist. In her emotion-filled speech, Jones thanked BET, God, and Jesus.
She added, “I remember when I did [the BET show] ‘106 & Park’ with y’all when I was 16, in them tight little gray skinny jeans and my sneakers. It’s been a long journey. Thank you, guys, for rocking with me the whole time.”
She also thanked “my culture, who has stood beside me” and “my team for taking a chance on me.” Jones concluded, “And for all of my Black girls, we do have to fight a little harder to get what we deserve. Don’t stop fighting. … We are deserving of great things.”
Latto won the award for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist. In her acceptance speech, she thanked God and the other nominees in the category.
“This is the year of women,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll see an all-female tour.”
The award for Video Director of the Year went to Teyana “Spike Tey” Taylor, who was not in the audience but did give her speech over cell phone when her mother, Nikki Taylor, went on stage to get the award on Taylor’s behalf.
Things got a little awkward as Nikki Taylor nervously dialed the phone while calling her daughter, and there seemed to be some technical issues before Teyana Taylor was shown on the phone’s screen.
“The quality of being thankful. That’s what this moment is about,” the director said in her brief speech.
Throughout the ceremony, various artists performed in a tribute to hip-hop and its 50th anniversary this year. This tribute included an unannounced Migos performance of “Bad and Boujee” with members Quavo and Offset performing in public together for the first time since Migos member Takeoff was murdered in a fatal shooting in November 2022. Other big names in the hip-hop tribute included Big Daddy Kane, D-Nice, Fabolous, Fat Joe, Ja Rule, Jeezy, Kid ‘N Play, MC Lyte, Percy “Master P” Miller, Remy Ma, The Sugarhill Gang, and Tyga.
Kid Capri was the DJ for the ceremony. MC Lyte was the ceremony’s announcer. Big Daddy Kane singled out the late Biz Markie as an influential person in his career.
Patti LaBelle paid tribute to Tina Turner, who died May 24th, by singing Turner’s 1989 hit “The Best.” LaBelle was often off-key and at one point forgot the lyrics. “I’m trying, y’all,” LaBelle told the audience before recovering for the rest of the song.
Shaggy performed outdoors from an unidentified Sandals resort but he was abruptly cut off by a Sandals commercial. There was no explanation for the interruption.
Dr. Garrick Beauliere was introduced on stage as the recipient of the Shine a Light Award, and he barely got to speak. It was in stark contrast to the long speech that Rhymes was allowed to give later in the ceremony.
The nominations and winners were selected by the BET Voting Academy, a group of professionals and influencers in the entertainment industry and media, according to BET. The names of these voters are not revealed to the public. The only BET Award category that is open to voting from the public is the Viewer’s Choice Award, which is voted for online. A complete list of winners of the 2023 BET Awards can be found on the show’s official website.