Sunday night's 12th annual BET Awards show, which took place at the Shrine Auditorium and was broadcast nationwide on BET, will be remembered for a lot of terrific live musical moments, each very different from the rest. Though the awards themselves were won by a fairly predictable collection of artists in attendance (Kanye West and Jay-Z, the latter's wife Beyonce, Chris Brown and others), it was the unscripted -- but very rehearsed -- live songs that earned the buzz.
1. The first came courtesy of Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music posse and the ubiquitous summer jam "Mercy" -- you've probably heard it even if you don't know it. Performing in front of a stage-set model of a Lamborghini, rappers Big Sean, Pusha T, 2 Chainz and Kanye West filed out one by one to deliver the song. That was all pretty rote. It wasn't until West moved into his hit "Cold" that things got great. The music dropping, the rapper moved into a thrilling freestyle on "New God Flow" that culminated in a foot-stomping breakdown.
2. Anytime an artist is able to jab at West without him going bananas is impressive, and Jay-Z got the Chicago rapper good during the pair's acceptance speech. It was a funny few minutes: The two rappers walked up to the stage after learning they'd won the night's biggest award, Video of the Year, for "Otis" from their collaboration "Watch the Throne." Jay-Z stepped to the mike to accept first, blamed the L.A. traffic for missing West's "Mercy" performance and apologized to him. West acted upset, but he wasn't.
Then, as West started talking, Jay-Z abruptly interrupted him: "Excuse me, Kanye, I'm gonna let you continue, but ..." -- to huge laughter. It was a poke at West's much maligned interruption of Taylor Swift's acceptance speech during the MTV VMAs, when he jumped onstage while she was thanking everyone for the award to suggest that Beyonce should have bested Swift for the award. West, standing next to Jay-Z on Sunday night, protested the joke with a good-natured defense: "I was trying to defend your girl!"
3. Speaking of Jay-Z and Beyonce, the two looked as regal and majestic as royalty as they won a grip of awards, including Beyonce's win for best female R&B artist. They make a perfect front-row couple -- no small feat considering they were sitting next to Kanye West and his new girlfriend, Kim Kardashian. The camera was never too far from any of them, nor did it neglect Nicki Minaj, who was sitting next to Kardashian. Talk about a front row.
4. Two different tribute performances lighted up the Shrine's stage on Sunday: the first was to the late disco queen Donna Summer. Beneath a huge disco ball (of course), the vocalist Chante Moore ran through a solid if unmemorable version of "Bad Girls." But it was later in the show, during a tribute to Whitney Houston, that things got deep. Particularly during Whitney's mother Cissy's version of Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." It's too deep for words, in fact. Watch it here -- and make sure you stick around for Chaka Khan.
Really, that's the only word you need to say to anyone who's ever heard or made love to his classic album "Voodoo." D'Angelo, who's been off the radar since the early '00s, did his first televised performance in 12 years on Sunday night, and it was riveting.
Leading in with "How Does It Feel," the great track from "Voodoo," the Atlanta-based singer, who has a new album coming later this year and who performs a highly anticipated gig at House of Blues on Wednesday night, was as charismatic and filled with music as before. With a falsetto as graceful as Al Green's, the performance felt like going to church. He then glided back to the piano for a new song, which was equally funky. The artist looked great, as well. In fact, when the camera cut to Beyonce standing and singing along during D'Angelo's set, you could almost feel Jay-Z shift uncomfortably in his seat -- no small feat.