“Unfortunately, these names represent only a fraction of the black lives we’ve lost to the over 400-year-long pandemic called racism,” said Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. “We can’t allow this cycle of pain and oppression to continue any longer. It ends now. We will not lose.”
During the three-hour show (prerecorded remotely because of the novel coronavirus pandemic), nearly every artist addressed the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality amid the national reckoning over racial injustice. Host Amanda Seales started and ended the telecast by talking about Taylor, who was shot and killed by Louisville police in her apartment: “Breonna Taylor’s killers are still walking free,” she said to close the show.
Here are five things to know from the broadcast, which aired on CBS for the first time in addition to BET and had performances from Alicia Keys, John Legend, Jennifer Hudson and Chloe x Halle:
The show opened on the face of 12-year-old gospel singer Keedron Bryant, who belted out his viral song “I Just Wanna Live,” released after Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody: “I’m a young black man doing all that I can to stand / Oh, but when I look around and I see what’s being done to my kind every day, I’m being hunted as prey / My people don’t want no trouble, we’ve had enough struggle, I just wanna live, God protect me.” The song was followed by a remix of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” (the 1989 hit in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing”), as Chuck D and Flavor Flav joined with Jahi, Black Thought, Questlove, Nas, YG and Rapsody for an updated version referencing Black Lives Matter protests and a jacket with Colin Kaepernick’s No. 7.
Megan Thee Stallion’s performance
A completely remote award show means that each artist’s performance can look like an elaborate music video if they choose. And that’s exactly what Megan Thee Stallion — one of last year’s breakout stars — did for a medley of “Girls in the Hood” and “Savage,” the inescapable smash turned TikTok dance phenomenon. Megan went with a “Mad Max: Fury Road” theme, as she danced in the desert with a crew of backup dancers (some wearing masks) and sang on a spiked metal vehicle that dashed through the sand. Although there were only a few prizes given out during the show, Megan was the first winner, as she was awarded the best female hip-hop artist trophy.
DaBaby and Roddy Ricch’s performance
One of the night’s most powerful moments was at the beginning of DaBaby and Roddy Ricch’s Black Lives Matter remix of “Rockstar,” as DaBaby was shown on the ground with a police officer’s knee digging into his neck, evoking Floyd’s death. The performance continued with people in the background holding signs that said “Resist” and “Defund the Police” along with scenes of protests. The video ended with a voice-over of Zianna Oliphant, the 9-year-old girl whose tearful speech at a city council meeting in North Carolina went viral in 2016: “We are black people, and we shouldn’t have to feel like this. We shouldn’t have to protest because y’all are treating us wrong.”
Lil Wayne’s Kobe Bryant tribute
Lil Wayne was a huge fan of Kobe Bryant, so much so that he created a track about the Los Angeles Lakers superstar back in 2009 after he was inspired by a particularly impressive game. The rapper performed the song, simply titled “Kobe Bryant,” as the screen showed photos of the basketball star, who died in a helicopter crash in January alongside his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other people. “Heart goes out to Vanessa and the whole Black Mamba family,” Lil Wayne sang.
Michelle Obama and Beyoncé
The former first lady was the natural choice to introduce Beyoncé, the winner of the show’s Humanitarian Award — the two are longtime pals. “I am here today to talk about the queen. You know the one,” Obama said, and she raved about how Beyoncé supports young performers and also calls out sexism and racism when she sees it. “She’s always making us all a little bit better, a little more fierce. … To my girl, I just want to say, you inspire me. You inspire all of us.”
After a video about her Beygood charity initiative, Beyoncé appeared on-screen. “I want to dedicate this award to all of my brothers out there, all of my sisters out there, inspiring, marching and fighting for change. Your voices are being heard, and you’re proving to our ancestors their struggles were not in vain,” she said, encouraging everyone to “dismantle a racist and unequal system” and make sure to vote. “We have to vote like our life depends on it, because it does.”