Award shows generally fall into one of two categories: highbrow and hella long (see: the Oscars and the GRAMMYs) or wild and frivolous (see: all the MTV Awards). But with categories ranging from music to acting to humanitarianism, the BET Awards have given us a little from column A and a little from column B and we’re here for it.
From a Civil Rights speech for the social media age to legendary side-eye, the BET Awards often act as both the predictor—and the pulse—of our cultural obsessions. Here are eight of the buzziest moments from the BET Awards that people are still talking about.
When Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar gave an epic surprise performance
Anytime Beyoncé shows up to perform at an awards show is a cause for celebration—and as she’s proven over and over, she is unparalleled in her theatrical, provocative and utterly mind-blowing live performances (see: 2014’s feminist manifesto, her 2016 Lemonade medley and, of course, the mother of all GRAMMYs performances earlier this year.) Her appearance at the 2016 BET Awards was particularly epic: she and Kendrick Lamar performed a rousing, euphoric, and technically mind-boggling performance of “Freedom” in a pool of water. Adding to the impressiveness? Beyoncé was in the middle of her Formation World Tour and had to immediately hop a private jet to the U.K. (which explains why her mom Tina accepted an award for her later in the night).
When superstars like Stevie Wonder and Janelle Monáe honoured Prince
After Madonna’s divisive Prince tribute at the Billboard Music Awards, BET tweeted, “Yeah, we saw that. Don’t worry. We got you.” That led to a shade-filled social media feud with Madonna (which, let’s be honest, Prince may have really enjoyed). With viewers’ expectations at an all-time high, BET opted for several tributes spread out over the entire broadcast with appearances by Dave Chappelle, The Roots, Erykah Badu, Sheila E., Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Hudson and the Purple One’s protégé, Janelle Monáe.
When Jesse Williams’s Civil Rights speech brought the house down
When accepting the 2016 Humanitarian Award, actor and activist Jesse Williams gave an inspirational and unforgettable speech that explored the realities of modern systemic racism, #BlackLivesMatter, police brutality, microaggression and the cultural appropriation and misrepresentation of Black art in pop culture.” Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real,” he said.
When Chris Brown delivered an emotional (and divisive) Michael Jackson tribute
A year after his brutal assault on Rihanna, Chris Brown performed a tribute to Michael Jackson, complete with a moonwalk. Most headlines focused on his sobbing rendition of “Man in the Mirror”—then, as now, audiences were split on the redemption of Chris Brown. (John Legend, who attended with then-girlfriend Chrissy Teigen, was one audience member who did not seem moved by Chris’s tears… wait for the 6:28 mark for John Legend’s less than enthused reaction.
When Nicki Minaj threw shade
Nicki Minaj is not someone who hides behind subtweets; if she is unhappy with you, she will make it known—often at an awards show. Before her iconic “What’s good?” toward Miley Cyrus at the 2015 VMAs, she made it clear that she did not appreciate comparisons to a certain other female hip-hop artist at the 2014 BET Awards. “What I want the world to know about Nicki Minaj is when you hear Nicki Minaj spit, Nicki Minaj wrote it. No, no, no shade, no, no, no.” Iggy, what’s good?
Stephen hill was bouta throw hands wit Rihanna lls pic.twitter.com/N5o1S0tR6A
— ️CAS (@CASComing) June 29, 2015
When Rihanna had money trouble
At the 2015 show to introduce her “Bitch Better Have My Money” video, there’s blink-and-you’ll miss it moment backstage with Rihanna. Talking to BET’s then-President of programming Stephen Hill, you can make out the words, “But why? This the f-ck why I hate coming to BET.” She then threw a stack of cash in Stephen’s face and walked on stage in the most boss way possible. The network insisted it was all staged, but we think RiRi seemed seriously annoyed.
When N.W.A. reunited for one night only
Years before Straight Outta Compton become a hit film, three of N.W.A.’s original members (Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and MC Ren) hit the stage to celebrate Dr. Dre’s influential hip hop cannon. The performance kicked off with “Straight Outta Compton” and included cameos by Snoop Dogg and Eminem.
When the BET Awards suffered their *own* Oscars-esque glitch
Taking a cue from the Oscars, the BET Awards had a major malfunction and listed this year’s winners—randomly chosen in their respective categories—nine days before the show will even air in North America. Better tune in June 25 to catch who the real winners are!