The 2021 BET Awards, held Sunday at Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theater, marked a triumphant return to a fully live show, with a vaccinated audience in attendance. From Queen Latifah being honored with the 2021 BET Lifetime Achievement Award to Swizz Beatz, Method Man and several Ruff Ryder OGs delivering an emotionally captivating tribute to the late DMX, the show this year lived up to its commitment to uplift and empower relevant Black voices.
Among the many highlights were performances from Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Baby, Roddy Ricch and Silk Sonic. But it was Tyler, the Creator, H.E.R. and DaBaby who took the broadcast to greater heights with their highly choreographed, visually arresting turns on stage .
Fresh off the release of his sixth studio album, “Call Me If You Get Lost,” Tyler, the Creator was electrifying with “Lumberjack,” which employed a hurricane-like scene utilizing treadmill technology to give the sensation that strong gusts of wind were blowing the artist and his money away. This came after Tyler opened the performance, his first on the BET Awards stage, being chauffeured in a mint-green classic Rolls Royce. Connie Orlando, BET’s EVP of specials, music programming and music strategy, tells Variety, “Tyler knows exactly what he wants. He has a vision for how he executes and he walks into the room with that and he’s very intent. He talks to the director, he talks to everybody to bring what’s in his head to life.”
DaBaby also delivered a dizzying performance for his track “Ball If I Want To,” which featured mid-air acrobatics in the form of high-flying dunks and the seamless incorporation of a slew of dancers and his trademark diapered baby. “We have a brand new set,” Orlando says, “so you start thinking, ‘What’s the most we can do?’ You want to be able to lower and lift and fly … that all goes towards the visuals of the performance and the artistry. So we were intentional about building a set that had no rails, that we could envision anything and do anything on.”
Production values for H.E.R.’s performance of “We Made It” matched the heavenly tone of her music and utilized mid-air hydraulics in having the artist descend from the ceiling while playing the drums, before she picked up the electric guitar and proceed to shred. The BET production team wanted to be sure that H.E.R.’s talents were on full display. “H.E.R. plays five instruments — it’s amazing,” says Orlanda. “So how do you show that? How do you elevate a performance where everyone sees the amount of amazing talent of these artists? That’s what we did.”
The BET Awards featured more than 15 performances, but one in particular made news — Cardi B’s onstage reveal during the Migos’ appearance that she and husband Offset are expecting their second child. To that end, Orlando adds that, following a year of uncertainty and isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic, the BET Awards made good on a promise from a year ago. “We delivered that it would be the biggest night in Black culture — we did that,” she says. “Artists showed up and showed out. They were excited about it… It’s just a beautiful thing.”