Beyoncé kicked off Sunday’s BET Awards with a surprise performance featuring Kendrick Lamar and multiple background dancers of her song “Freedom,” dancing in a pool of water to the song’s heavy beat.
At one point, Lamar and Beyoncé kicked the water and danced in sync, drawing a heavy applause from the audience. The performance was followed by a string of jokes by hosts Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson, including a riff on the Broadway play “Hamilton” mixed with Desiigner’s hit song “Panda” and other songs.
But the rest of the BET Awards will play like “The Prince Tribute Show.”
Multiple performances honoring Prince will take place at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. The Roots, Erykah Badu and Bilal will be the first batch of performers to pay tribute to Prince, while Sheila E. will close the award show honoring the man to whom she was once engaged. Stevie Wonder, Janelle Monae, Jennifer Hudson and Tori Kelly will also honor the Purple One during the three-hour-plus show airing live on BET.
The tributes to Prince come a month after he was honored at the Billboard Music Awards by Madonna and Wonder, which was met with criticism online. Quickly following it, BET tweeted: “Yeah, we saw that. Don’t worry. We Got You.”
Muhammad Ali could also be honored Sunday’s awards, though the network didn’t announce official plans to pay tribute to the icon, who died June 3 at age of 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Prince died of an accidental drug overdose on April 21 at age 57. His half brother, Alfred Jackson, attended the BET Awards and walked the red carpet.
Other performers to hit the stage Sunday include Alicia Keys, Maxwell, Usher, Future, Desiigner, Fat Joe, Remy Ma, French Montana and Beyoncé’s mentees, the duo Chloe x Halle.
Drake is the leading nominee with nine, while Beyoncé and Rihanna have five nominations each. It was not clear if Drake would attend the BET Awards; his representative did not respond to an email asking if he would go to the show. Rihanna won’t attend as she is on tour in Europe.
All three superstar acts are nominated for video of the year: “Hotline Bling,” ”Formation” and “Work” will battle Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” and Bryson Tiller’s “Don’t” for the top prize.
Beyoncé and Rihanna will compete with one another for best female R&B/pop artist, along with Adele, K. Michelle and breakthrough singer Andra Day.
Spike Lee, Taraji P. Henson, Jamie Foxx and Jussie Smollett will present awards. Samuel L. Jackson will receive the lifetime achievement award and “Grey’s Anatomy” actor and activist Jesse Williams will earn the humanitarian award.
Other multiple nominees include Chris Brown and Future.
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