What do you get when you cross a Michael Jackson tribute with the BET Awards? Tonight, you got a disjointed event that, alas, didn’t quite evoke the spirit of the late King of Pop, despite a last-minute appearance by his sister Janet.
The annual BET ceremony, which honors black singers, actors, and athletes, happened to fall a few days after Jackson’s death. So the stage was set for an emotional tribute to the man without whose video work BET arguably might not exist. But promises by BET for an impromptu, deeply felt night faded as the show teetered between the usual overly lit, overcrowded, overtly self-promotional awards-show fare and too many knee-jerk nods to Jackson. And the complicated presence in the audience of Jackson’s father, Joe Jackson, did not appear to stir the Shrine Auditorium.
There were moments, to be sure, at the beginning and the end, when the almost four-hour event had the potential to be moving. Host Jamie Foxx began with a good-humored reenactment of Jackson’s moves from the “Beat It” video, dressed in a red-leather jacket and a white glove. Throughout the night, he and other performers including Keri Hilson sampled Jackson’s iconic clothing -- an ongoing series of fashion winks. And Foxx’s early words about Jackson were clearly from the heart: “We want to celebrate this black man. He belongs to us and we shared him with everybody else.”
New Edition brought potential to the opening of the show, too, with an enjoyably sloppy Jackson 5 medley. They didn’t make magic of “ABC” and “The Love You Save,” but they suggested that the night would be loose enough to allow genuine moments to sneak into the cavernous hall.
Much later, Janet Jackson’s sudden appearance onstage before the finale was powerful. “To you, Michael is an icon,” she said in her brief remarks. “To us, Michael is family. He will forever live in all of our hearts. On behalf of my family and myself, thank you for all of your love.” After she left the stage, Foxx and Ne-Yo sang a sweet, poignant duet of “I’ll Be There.”
But BET clearly didn’t have enough advance time to perfect the balance between the homage and the already planned ceremony. The thanks and appreciation for Jackson from almost all the winners sat awkwardly with performances such as “God in Me” by Mary Mary and “Ave Maria” and “Angel” by a wind-blown Beyonce, who was wearing a translucent, insect-like Scarlett O’Hara dress.
Without a doubt, though, the musicians who want to more thoroughly celebrate Jackson will have many, many, MANY more opportunities in the coming days, weeks, months, years, and, yes, decades.
About Viewer Discretion
ContributorsKatie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.
Sarah Rodman is a TV and music critic for the Boston Globe.
Meghan Colloton is a Things to Do and Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.
Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.