Inside the Virtual BET Awards and How They Pulled It Off

The #BETAwards not only reimagined what a virtual performance can be, but what award shows could look like even post-pandemic.

6/30/2020 12:54:00 AM

The BETAwards not only reimagined what a virtual performance can be, but what award shows could look like even post-pandemic.

BET executives Connie Orlando and Jesse Collins reveal how they delivered such high-quality performances from hip-hop's biggest stars.

at 7:00 a.m., the day before the awards).In spite of delivering a series of what looked like professional-grade music videos, Collins and the team emphasized to artists and their teams that these were in fact still performances, and needed to look and feel like such. Which is why he required the artists to perform with a microphone, as well as record original vocals instead of using their already recorded and released records. And while these performances did come with a higher-than usual price tag for an award show gig, Orlando says that saving on a venue and hiring smaller crews due to social distancing allowed the cost of the show to actually be lower than what it would have been for a traditional set up.

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Plus, Collins says this year’s budget was all about reallocating, saying, “Money that would have gone to a venue and the costs that come along with an audience, we were able to put more of those dollars on the screen. I’ve been doing this a long time, and that allowed us to do stuff that we’ve never been able to do before.”

Among those things was allowing Megan Thee Stallion to film in a desert. “Normally, going outside [for a pre-COVID award show performance] is a real challenge, really expensive, and rarely happens -- and also often doesn’t fit with the overall show, so it just feels like an outlier,” says Collins. But now, because of how the BET Awards redefined a virtual performance, they were able to pull it off in a way that felt seamless and game-changing all at once. “I feel like it was an arrival statement for her as an artist, and those are always great things for a show to be a part of.”

Other highlights for Collins included the Black Lives Matter package that came out ofKeys’ performanceof the recently released"Perfect Way to Die" (it was Alicia’s idea to have the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other lost Black lives written in chalk on an empty street) as well as the “Fight The Power” remix that kicked off the show. Following a commanding a capella intro from Keedron, Public Enemy, Rapsody, Nas, Black Thought, Flavor Flav, and YG all delivered compelling versus in a visual creative directed by

Mike Carson.“Because they were all shot separately, we did not want to open the show where it just looked like everyone was in their living rooms,” says Collins. [Carson] just made it what we were trying to establish right away: it was a message, it was energetic and it was socially distant -- but wasn’t Flava Flav on his couch, nobody would have wanted to see that version.”

And even though the show wrapped less than 24 hours ago, already, Orlando and Collins are beginning to rethink the future of award shows in general. “There are some conventional things that everybody thought an award show had to have,” says Collins. “Showing those reactions from celebs and cutaways are a staple, and for the moment I just don’t know if they’re as important as we thought they were. That’s the feedback I’m getting from artists, managers and viewers on Twitter."

He also mentions that dealing with artist conflicts has forever been a trying piece of putting together an award shows, saying, “they’ve got a festival or a doctors appointment, or there’s not enough time to pull it together or the creative that they want can’t be executed in a physical space -- this takes that out [of the equation].”

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And while Collins acknowledges that post-pandemic, award shows may return end up returning to “normal,” he isn’t taking the idea of a hybrid off the table, saying that this year’s BET Awards showed him that artists and fans alike are most interested in a performance or even a speech that is not only visually stunning, but also comes with context. “The messaging [of the show] was on point and everyone received it -- and now we have to do what Beyoncé said, and vote like our life depends on it, or none of it matters.”

Adds Orlando: “This challenge turned into an opportunity to set the bar for others to think differently. I love that this event is something everyone can look at and think, ‘Ok, itcan Read more: billboard »

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