Ranking Janelle Monáe, Jennifer Hudson and Bilal's Prince Tributes At the BET Awards

Ranking Janelle Monáe, Jennifer Hudson and Bilal's Prince Tributes At the BET Awards
Source: AP
Source: AP

BET was throwing a lot of shade surrounding their Prince tribute going into their award show Saturday.

It started back in May, when Madonna and Stevie Wonder attempted to send Prince off into the night with a struggle of a rendition of "Purple Rain." Pouncing on the internets' disappointment, BET tweeted what might be the most vicious award show-to-award show dig ever seen. 

"Yeah, we saw that," they tweeted. "Don't worry. We got you."

The stakes were high, to say the least. But the BET Awards largely delivered, delivering five separate performances throughout their nearly four-hour broadcast, with contributions from Janelle Monáe, Erykah Badu, Jennifer Hudson, Sheila E., Bilal and more. Stevie Wonder was welcomed back to redeem himself with the Purple One's fans after his Billboard flub. Still, the indispensable legend's contributions were hardly the best of the line-up. 

What follows is a ranking of the best performances of the night — starting with the most sigh-worthy all the way up the most ecstatic, tearful wins. 

7. Erykah Badu and the Roots

Source: BET

Being the first tribute out of the gate is not an enviable spot. Analog girl in a digital world, Erykah Badu, was tasked with breaking the ice on the tribute front. Unfortunately, her rendition of "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" fell surprisingly flat, and didn't benefit from her mystic rasp.

Watch her full performance via BET here.

6. Maxwell

Source: BET

R&B veteran Maxwell chose to update the words of the Prince-penned, Sinead O'Connor-performed classic "Nothing Compares 2 U" to reflect his passing. "It's been 7 hours and 66 days since you took your music away," he sang, later nodding to Prince's anti-streaming stance: "I went to the record store, Apple, Spotify too, and they told me 'Boy you'd better try to make some music, which you can't do — 'cause Prince is the truth!" 

Watch his full performance on BET's website.

5. Stevie Wonder and Tori Kelly

Source: Giphy

Wonder and Tori Kelly played Prince and Apollonia to sing the Purple Rain duet "Take Me With U." All the elements were in line: There was plenty of purple, a solid counterpoint with Wonder holding down the low end and Kelly nailing the high notes. But the chemistry just wasn't there.

Watch their full performance on BET's website.

4. Jennifer Hudson

Source: Giphy

Hudson came out just after Wonder and Tori Kelly, and immediately put Wonder and Kelly's performance into an unflattering perspective. She took on "Purple Rain," which she sang onstage during a performance of the Color Purple the day after his passing, and slayed it again. Hudson soared over all the high notes, inspiring chills with each one.

Watch her full performance on BET's website.

3. Bilal and the Roots

Source: Giphy

Any BET Award viewer that didn't know Bilal's name before Sunday night should know it now. The R&B luminary, who's held down the title of "your favorite R&B singer's favorite R&B singer" since the early '00s, perfectly channeled Prince's uncontrollably weird sexuality through his version of "The Beautiful Ones." His falsetto was flawless, and his writhing was on point.

Watch his full performance on BET's website.

2. Janelle Monáe

Source: Giphy

Electric lady Janelle Monáe collaborated with Prince on at least one occasion before he died, for her track "Givin' 'Em What They Love." She had previously described that opportunity as "an honor," to Billboard. "He's been so excited about my career, and I don't take that for granted," she said. Sunday, she did him proud, running through "Delirious," "Kiss," "Pop Life" and a machine gun-paced "I Would Die 4 U" in a pair of killer ass-less white pants.

Watch her full performance on BET's website.

1. Sheila E.

Source: Giphy

As all great award shows do, the BET Awards saved the best for last. Originally intended to be a collaboration between drummer and Prince's close confidant Sheila E. and multi-instrumentalist D'Angelo, when it came time to hit the stage, D'angelo was nowhere to be found. 

Sheila carried the entire performance herself, hitting "Housequake," "Erotic City," "Let's Work," "U Got the Look," Sheila's Prince-penned "The Glamorous Life," "Soul Salsa," "America" and "Baby I'm a Star." It was an exhaustive funk marathon, but the band kept it sharp through every transition and closed out the show in style.

Watch her full performance on BET's website.

Read more: 
2016 BET Awards Winners: Complete List of Who Took Home the Night's Top Prizes
Madonna and Stevie Wonder's Prince Tribute at the BBMAs Was Criminally Underwhelming
Bilal Gave an Epic Tribute to Prince at the BET Awards — The World Should Know His Name

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Tom Barnes

Tom Barnes is a senior staff writer at Mic focused on music, activism and the intersection between the two. He's based in New York and can be reached at tom@mic.com.

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