The 15th annual BET Awards, a celebration of black excellence in music, sports, film, and television, promised a series of “surprises” that even its hosts, black-ish stars Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, weren’t privy to.
Well, they certainly didn’t waste any time.
With L.A.’s Microsoft Theater bathed in a red glow—and the numerous African-American luminaries obscured by clouds of white smoke pumped into the venue—a line of tribal dancers marched toward the stage as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech blasted over the speakers. Then, a beam of celestial light dimmed to reveal Beyoncé in all her braided glory, her feet submerged in a foot of water.
“Tryina rain, tryna rain on the thunder, tell the storm I’m new,” she sang. “I’ma walk, I’ma march on the regular, painting white flags blue.”
Queen Bey’s performance of “Freedom,” off her dazzling visual album Lemonade, served as the shock opener—an impassioned anthem/plea touching on issues of slavery, black girl magic, and the Black Lives Matter movement. In the video, Beyoncé is accompanied by the mothers of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin, each displaying a photo of their slain son.
They weren’t present onstage Sunday night, but Bey did treat us to an absolutely stunning performance, complete with a water-kickin’ dance routine and a cameo by a fiery Kendrick Lamar, spitting lyrics scrutinizing the shackles of institutional racism. The world’s preeminent live performer and No. 1 wordsmith going toe-to-toe, splash for splash, was truly a sight to behold.Watch it here: