Sunday’s (June 27) telecast of the 21st annual BET Awards gave Black women their flowers and crowned Black men (mainly Lil Nas X) as kings to celebrate their contributions to music.
The awards show’s theme of celebrating Black women (and their edges) held throughout the evening’s performances, from Megan Thee Stallion bussing it down to “Thot Shit” to H.E.R. descending to the stage like an angel for “We Made It” to Jazmine Sullivan picking up our feelings with her enchanting Heaux Tales medley.
Tone Stith and Mereba smoothed things with short snippets of “FWM” and “Rider,” respectively, at the BET Amplified Stage, which we don’t include in our overall ranking.
Here’s how we rank the 16 performances from Culture’s Biggest Night, from worst to best.
16. Moneybagg Yo!, “Time Today”
Moneybagg Yo! certainly had time today to party with a live rendition of his lead single from his Billboard 200 No. 1 album A Gangsta’s Pain. But it wasn’t as rich as the Benjamin Franklins that flashed on the screen and on the stage.
15. DaBaby, “Ball If I Want To”
DaBaby was outbabied at his own performance with the giant baby figure. Staying true to the “Ball If I Want To” music video, the self-proclaimed Billboard Baby took a break from topping the charts and decided to top a gym class rope-like braid, where elsewhere in P.E., a group of older men were shooting hoops.
14. Roddy Ricch, “Late At Night”
While the evening skyline came alive within the Microsoft Theater, the backdrop and dazzling backup dancers outshined Ricch’s vocals that were so Auto-Tuned at times, they were as crystalline as the lights behind him.
13. Lil Baby & Kirk Franklin, “We Win”
Franklin reminded the BET Awards that it was Sunday by bringing church to the stage with a beaming cobalt blue-wearing gospel choir for his and Lil Baby’s Space Jam: A New Legacy anthem “We Win.” But the rapper’s particularly mellow demeanor was a stark contrast to the gospel legend’s bold presence and lackluster in comparison to the choir’s energy. Considering the powerful performance Lil Baby brought to the 2021 Grammys with “The Bigger Picture,” he could’ve had that same impact on BET and ultimately fell short.
12. Migos, “Straightenin” & “Type Shit” with Cardi B
One of rap’s biggest groups is officially back, but Migos’ explosive performance of “Straightenin” from their Billboard 200 No. 2 album Culture III underwhelmed and overshadowed their dancers who actually worked the stage (if you could actually spot them). Regardless of their shiny matching outfits, Cardi B’s crystal baby bump cutout saved the day with one of the biggest surprises of the evening — she’s expecting her second child with Offset!
11. DJ Khaled feat. Megan Thee Stallion, DaBaby, Lil Baby, Lil Durk, “Every Chance I Get” & “I Did It”
DJ Khaled, whom Justin Timberlake heralded as “the best A&R guy,” certainly did his job of bringing the stars together — even if they didn’t quite align. Lil Baby looked more alive in his performance of “Every Chance I Get,” thanks to the 5-hour Energy-stamina of Khaled’s voice, while Megan bodied her verse on “I Did It,” with a surprise appearance of H.E.R. on guitar, to carry the team to victory with the absence of Post Malone.
10. Andra Day, “Strange Fruit” & “Tigress & Tweed”
Following her Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated and now BET Award-winning performance as Billie Holiday in The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Day resurrected her film role on the BET stage. Her version of Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” which, for some fans, served as a chilling reminder of Holiday’s dual fight against racism and for the right to perform this song, showcased what Day brought to the table in her constant portrayal of the late jazz singer before she held her own on “Tigress & Tweed.”
9. City Girls, “Twerkulator”
The City Girls counted down to Hot Girl Summer with their fiery “Twerkulator” performance, Yung Miami and JT leading the pack with a Bring It On level of coordination and persistence that would school DaBaby’s boys on the court any day.
8. Silk Sonic, “Leave the Door Open”
The one-and-only song we will ever hear from Silk Sonic received the fully-vaccinated, full-swing club experience with masked-up fans. Of all the swanky live renditions of “Leave the Door Open” Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak have offered at awards shows, from the Grammy Awards to the iHeartRadio Music Awards, this one was the most live at a time where the world itself is opening its doors back up again.
7. Jazmine Sullivan, “Tragic” & “On It” feat. Ari Lennox
With the help of Rep. Maxine Walters and Ari Lennox, Sullivan reclaimed her time on stage with an enchanting and titillating display from her Heaux Tales EP, which won album of the year at the 2021 BET Awards. Her brown velvet and mesh bodysuit, paired with the backup dancers’ silky jackets and spandex bodysuits, brought a different kind of texture on top of her R&B vocals. Plus, her and Lennox’s chemistry took fans’ breath away as they sang our deepest desires into existence.
6. Tyler, the Creator, “Lumberjack”
Tyler weathered the storm of his first BET Awards performance of “Lumberjack,” the lead single from his latest studio album Call Me If You Get Lost. The Rolls-Royce pulled up, the Black boy hopped out, and he blew fans away with the same mighty gust included in his stellar on-stage set-up.
5. Griselda, Busta Rhymes, Method Man, The LOX, and Swizz Beatz, “Get at Me Dog,” “Hood Blues” “Where The Hood At?” “Slippin,” “What’s My Name,” “Ruff Ryder’s Anthem,” “ Party Up (Up in Here)” and “The Prayer IV”
The ultimate East Coast rap pack came together to commemorate the legacy of DMX, who passed away in April, and collectively brought back the late rapper’s bark. From actor Michael K. Williams’ frightening demeanor during “Slippin” and “What’s My Name” to the group’s humbling finale of “The Prayer IV,” emotions ran high and arms were raised high in the form of an X during the tribute.
4. Megan Thee Stallion, “Thot Shit”
With a black latex cut-out bodysuit and matching knee-high boots, Megan was ready to star in her own Black Widow film with her edgy “Thot Shit” performance. But the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t ready to handle her twerking superpowers — due to the enviable strength of Meg’s knees — and her shine that cuts like the giant diamond projected above her. As the rapper has long championed women, especially Black women, throughout her music, she’s always ready to take charge and lead the fleet into Hot Girl Summer.
3. Rapsody, Monie Love, Lil’ Kim & MC Lyte, “Ladies First” & “U.N.I.T.Y.”
Rapsody and Monie Love put the lifetime achievement award recipient first in their show-stopping cover of Queen Latifah’s rap hit “Ladies First.” The sisterhood spectacle exemplified what Culture’s Biggest Night was all about — celebrating Black women — while tracing the trail the Queen herself blazed for them. Lil’ Kim, alongside MC Lyte, brought “U.N.I.T.Y.” to the tribute with her ultracool jazzy rendition of Latifah’s Grammy-winning song, before giving a touching message to the teary eyed Latifah: “We are here today to give you your flowers…. Thanks for paving the way for us.”
2. H.E.R., “We Made It”
The Grammy- and Oscar-winning artist, who also happened to celebrate her 24th birthday the day of the 2021 BET Awards, floated down to the stage like a rock angel — drum set, fringe white pants and all. The 360-degree camera angle of her electric guitar solo with the reflection of the disco ball in the middle of the stage was the sheer essence of what Jill Scott christened a “flawless” “shero,” and how the world of music has truly began to revolve around H.E.R.
1. Lil Nas X, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”
From lap dancing on the devil in the official “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” music video to becoming an ancient god amongst men, the name of the game is Lil Nas X and he does not come to play. During the highlight of the night, which touched on the Phrygian mode of the song in an ancient Egyptian display, the gold-gilded rapper-turned-pharaoh lit up the BET stage in a way that would enrage King Tut for stealing his thunder and throne.