Let’s get real for a moment: awards shows have gradually grown more and more dull and, having worked in media and covered nearly every awards show red carpet and ceremony for the past decade, I (and the Nielsen ratings) can assure you: year over year, less and less people are even watching.

At this present moment of social distancing, especially, the tradition of splashy, hours-long gatherings of the biggest and brightest stars (who are also showing up less and less) just…sort of feels like a relic of the past.

But as the BET Awards proved on Sunday night (June 28), there’s still plenty of opportunity to tweak the traditional format and create some excitement again and, left to their own devices, our music superstars can still provide true buzzworthy spectacles even in a time of quarantine.

Chloe X Halle have been demonstrating how to do it (REFERENCE) for weeks now, as they’ve promoted their stellar sophomore record Ungodly Hour directly from their house – specifically their tennis court, which has made its appearance in performances and photo shoots, resulting in a kind of inside joke at this point every time they start sprucing it up for another big moment.

To be fair, it helps that Chloe and Halle already happen to harmonize like a pair of angels sent down to Earth to make Beyoncé proud (and also for Halle to star in The Little Mermaid, coming soon), but they’ve also managed to turn their TikTok-friendly choreography and Aaliyah-meets-2020 fashion-forward performances into a real “thing” during isolation, establishing themselves as one of the more consistently clever at-home performers. (And no, that’s not to detract from everyone else who’s simply trying to make do at home with a microphone in their living room.)

For the BET Awards, the girls successfully translated their futuristic “Forgive Me” and “Do It” aesthetics into one joint performance – complete with a fun little dance battle at the very end between their two personas.

And then there’s Thee Stallion herself, Megan, who evidently watched Mad Max, scrolled through some photos of Wasteland Weekend and said: fuck it, let’s make this a Hot Girl post-apocalyptic movie.

There just isn’t enough praise to be heaped onto this triumph, which will go down as one of the best performances of 2020: not only is it one hell of a way to debut her new single “Girls in the Hood” and her smash Bey-mix of “Savage” (ᵒᵏᵃʸ) live from a performance standpoint – and that body, my God, Thee Stallion indeed! – but it smartly references The World In Which We Live Today, from the dancer’s face masks to the Black Lives Matter imagery scattered throughout the desert scenes. (It also gave me a bit of Ciara‘s “Work,” importantly.) Those final seconds of the outro, with that bad-ass, souped up rock edge to the track as she drives away on some hellish mobile into the desert? Just fucking cool. (Also,
side note, shout out to her appearance as a judge on HBO Max’s Legendary – she’s a joy to watch everywhere, evidently.)

And that’s not to take away from the other performers of the digitally curated night, including our beloved Idol-turned-Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson‘s stirring “Young, Gifted & Black” performance, which doubled as a preview of her turn in the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect. Incredible, obviously. Also, Beyoncé appearing in her grey room and giving us a “Bootylicious”-era look while accepting the 2020 BET Humanitarian Award. A stun!

If anything, these performances in particular – as well as plenty of fantastic drag queens doing digital revues over the past few months, support your local queens – inspire hope in live entertainment and big-budget pop spectacle at a time when none of us are (or, well, should be) attending concerts anytime soon. Here’s hoping that even more of our faves continue to push themselves creatively like this at a time when we could all certainly use the escapism.

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us vs. the world 🖤🕸 #BET

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Photo credit: Juan Veloz / Julian Dakdouk