Keep­ing it real, keep­ing it solid

From Ken­drick La­mar to Phar­rell Wil­liams, the show is elec­tric and all- in­clu­sive.

Los Angeles Times - - POP WEEKEND - By Mikael Wood mikael. wood@ latimes. com Twit­ter: @ mikaelwood

More of­ten than not, awards shows work to keep the out­side world out­side, their ob­jec­tive to cre­ate a kind of safe space for the self­ab­sorp­tion that keeps Hol­ly­wood run­ning. Not the BET Awards. Broad­cast live Sun­day night from the Mi­crosoft Theater in down­town Los An­ge­les, the ca­ble net­work’s 15th- an­niver­sary blowout felt proudly con­nected to re­al­ity from the get- go, be­gin­ning with a f ierce per­for­mance by rap­per Ken­drick La­mar, who stood atop a bombed- out po­lice car to de­liver his song “Al­right” as tat­tered Amer­i­can f lags waved around him.

Up next were the show’s hosts, An­thony An­der­son and Tracee El­lis Ross, who men­tioned Rachel Dolezal in a comedic bit about the ex­pe­ri­ence of African Amer­i­cans in show busi­ness. And then came the evening’s first pre­sen­ter, Laverne Cox, the pi­o­neer­ing trans­gen­der ac­tress who stars on “Or­ange Is the New Black.”

Hear that sound? It’s the iHeartRadio Mu­sic Awards slip­ping ( fur­ther) into blink­ered ir­rel­e­vance.

BET’s open­ing salvo ric­o­cheted through much of the rest of the nearly four- hour show, in which ma­jor awards went to La­mar ( for male hiphop artist), Nicki Mi­naj ( fe­male hip- hop artist) and Ter­rence Howard ( best ac­tor).

The Weeknd f lexed a new­found gravitas in “Earned It,” per­formed here as a duet with Alicia Keys. An­thony Hamil­ton and Gary Clark Jr. were taste­ful but deep- feel­ing in a trib­ute to Percy Sledge, Ben E. King and B. B. King.

And Smokey Robin­son, ac­cept­ing a life­time achieve­ment award, prac­ti­cally took the crowd to church with a stir­ring, ser­mon- like speech in which he warned his fel­low celebri­ties of the dan­gers in be­com­ing “self- ab­sorbed and haughty.”

Per­haps they were pay­ing at­ten­tion too: Other win­ners and per­form­ers men­tioned the re­cent killings in Charleston, S. C., and last week’s Supreme Court rul­ing on same- sex mar­riage.

Not ev­ery­one at BET looked be­yond more in­su­lar mat­ters, of course.

Per­form­ing his hit kissoff with an un­print­able ti­tle, Big Sean ex­uded his usual petu­lance, the big- timer lord­ing his suc­cess over the woman who let him go.

Chris Brown and Tyga were equally bratty ( if sig- nif­i­cantly less con­vinc­ing) do­ing their duet “Ayo.” And R& B singer Keyshia Cole got in a de­light­fully shame­less plug for her com­ing al­bum while on­stage os­ten­si­bly to high­light the work of up- and- com­ers.

There was also a long se­quence mark­ing the 20th an­niver­sary of Bad Boy Records, the once- pow­er­ful hip- hop la­bel founded by Sean “Diddy” Combs, who on Sun­day brought to­gether a hand­ful of acts — in­clud­ing Mase, Lil’ Kim, 112 and Faith Evans — for an un­cut dose of late-’ 90s nos­tal­gia.

But even that re­union had an elec­tric­ity of­ten lack­ing in sim­i­lar award shows like the Gram­mys, es­pe­cially when Phar­rell Wil­liams — fresh from a gig Satur­day at Eng­land’s Glastonbury Fes­ti­val — turned up to join Diddy for a sur­pris­ingly hard- edged new song.

Known for his ef­fer­ves­cent hit “Happy,” Wil­liams at BET was inspired to touch down on solid ground.

Pho­tog r aphs by Chris Pizzello I nvision / As­so­ci­ated Press

SEAN “Diddy” Combs gets nos­tal­gic for ’ 90s.

AC­TRESS Laverne Cox, a trans­gen­der pi­o­neer.

HON­OREE Smokey Robin­son stirs au­di­ence.

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