Hey, BET, who the heck is Lionel ‘Ritchie?’

No one will blame you if you didn’t make it through all three hours and 48 minutes of this year’s BET Awards, but Nicki Minaj almost made it worth sticking with the entire messy, drawn-out production.

During her acceptance speech for best female hip hop artist — a category that’s had its lean years because there hasn’t been always been a consistent stream of popular female rappers to compete for the title — Minaj leveled an insult at fellow nominee Iggy Azalea that was so thinly veiled it could have been wearing Rihanna’s Naked Dress from the CFDA Awards.

Rapper Nicki Minaj accepts Best Female Hip-Hop Artist onstage during the BET Awards in Los Angeles. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for BET)
Rapper Nicki Minaj accepts Best Female Hip-Hop Artist onstage during the BET Awards in Los Angeles. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for BET)

“You guys this is always very, very emotional for me because this is my fifth year winning this award, and I don’t take it for granted,” Minaj said. “I really don’t. I thank God that I’ve been placed in a position to represent women in a culture that is so male driven. And I want you to know this. I’m working on an album called the ‘Pink Print,’ but that’s not a plug, but it’s a plug. But my point is, what I want the world to know about Nicki Minaj is when you hear Nicki Minaj spit, Nicki Minaj wrote it.”

Minaj cocked her head and pursed her lips. Ears perked up in the crowd. Where was this going? Minaj grabbed the mike, turned on her heel and flipped her hair, clearly doing an exaggerated mimic of Azalea.

“And, no, no no, no, no. No shade,” Minaj added, despite the fact that she was casting an entire forest’s worth of shade.

Azalea, whose song “Fancy” has been the No. 1 song on Billboard’s Hot 100 since June 7 (she’s spent 16 weeks on the chart), has been criticized as inauthentic for the accent she adopts to perform — some have gone as far as saying she stole Charli Baltimore’s flow. But Minaj implying that Azalea doesn’t even write her own rhymes would make Azalea the prevailing Wizard of Oz of hip hop. Minaj basically stood up and said live, on national television, that Azalea’s act is nothing but a charade. It certainly casts doubt on the assertion Azalea spits in the very first line of “Fancy:” “First things first, I’m the realest.”

Whoops.

It’s not as though the curtain hasn’t come down on Azalea before; when she performed “Fancy” live on “Dancing With the Stars,” we saw a prime-time example of code-switching. Azalea, who is Australian, wasn’t in time with her backing track, and, in the middle of a live performance, switched from her “hip hop voice” to her real one, saying, “I’m so sorry, there’s something wrong with my ear.”

Azalea is the only the second artist after the Beatles to have her first two songs occupy the top two spots on the Billboard chart simultaneously, with “Fancy” at No. 1 and “Problem” at No. 2. “Problem” is by Ariana Grande but features Azalea. Minaj’s insult probably won’t do much to change that, but it’s certainly fun to talk about, especially since she provided some much-needed entertainment for a show that couldn’t seem to get its act together.

The network saw fit to honor Lionel Richie with a lifetime achievement award, complete with a three-song tribute from John Legend, Ledisi and Yolanda Adams, and your typical talking head documentary-style commentary on the Commodores. After his acceptance speech, Richie concluded the salute to his work with a performance of “Easy” and “All Night Long.” All of which would have been perfectly standard had BET not screwed up Richie’s name. In the super titles, BET identified him as the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award — sort of. BET actually identified “Lionel Ritchie” as the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. It wasn’t as bad as John Travolta’s “Adele Dazeem” moment, but it was emblematic of the production quality of the show.


Performances — not acceptance speeches, performances — were cut short without warning in favor of commercials, and the end of the show, when it finally came, was marked with a much-hyped and promoted “special performance” by Jay Z and Beyoncé, which might as well have been a commercial for their “On the Run” tour. BET aired tour footage of Jay and Bey performing “Partition” — Jay now has a verse on it.

No one expected them to take a break from touring for a three-minute appearance on BET’s little dog and pony show, much less slog through the entire evening, but Beyoncé’s tour performance was noticeably flat. Beyoncé is known for giving a live show that seems impossibly high-energy and intense, but compared to footage from the Mrs. Carter Show World Tour, the chanteuse appeared to be phoning it in. The “Partition” set was obviously cribbed from the scenes she filmed with the Crazy Horse Paris dancers for the music video, but in a rare and unexpected turn, the music video version was actually better.

She was still magnetic, because come on, she’s Beyoncé, but if the footage sent to BET is any indication, Mrs. Carter appears to be a little off her game.

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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