The 2019 BET Awards took place Sunday night in Los Angeles — but the show quickly turned into a D.C. lovefest.
Host Regina Hall, a Washington native who attended Immaculata College High School, kicked off the telecast with a parody of Beyoncé’s Netflix film “Homecoming,” which featured the superstar’s groundbreaking Coachella concert and rehearsals. In Hall’s case, the film was called “Homegrown” and showed Hall behind the scenes working on a D.C.-themed performance.
“When BET asked me to host this year’s BET Awards, I immediately thought, ‘No,’ ” the actress said in a voice-over. “Then I thought about it: Why not? It would be a chance for me to teach people — especially the younger generation — about Washington, D.C. The Washington, D.C., I grew up with.”
In between picturing “inspirational” quotes from famous Washington residents, from reality star Blac Chyna (“I’m always sexy. You gotta stay sexy.”) to former mayor Marion Barry (you can probably guess which quote), Hall grilled her backup dancers on their D.C. knowledge. “I’m so confused, why does she have a baton? Only people who have batons in D.C. are police,” Hall complained of one dancer, and evicted another who thought Hains Point was a club. One performer got in trouble for playing an actual drum. “We don’t do snare drums in D.C. It’s buckets,” Hall explained.
After a pre-show prayer that invoked Junkyard Band’s “Sardines,” the camera cut to Hall in a Beyoncé’-like cape and crown and marching band, similar to the opening of “Homecoming.” Hall was joined by members of two legendary D.C. go-go groups: James Funk of Rare Essence and Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliott of Experience Unlimited. They all came together for an electrifying rendition of E.U.’s Grammy-nominated 1988 hit “Da Butt” (while also sampling Rare Essence’s “Do You Know What Time It Is?” and Chuck Brown’s “Run Joe”), along with a cameo by D.C. native and Howard University alum Taraji P. Henson.
The audience loved it (Tyler Perry, John Legend and Mary J. Blige all danced in the crowd), and as the song ended, a large screen read “GO-GO MADNESS” and the hashtag #DontMuteDC.” The latter references a recent local dispute in which an electronics store, long known for playing go-go music outside, had to remove its speakers after a complaint from a resident in a luxury apartment nearby. The hashtag was created; more than 80,000 people signed a petition called “Don’t Mute DC’s Go-Go Music and Culture”; protests took place; and the story made national news. Soon, the decision was reversed.
“That performance literally just made my heart smile. Beyoncé would be proud, Regina,” presenter Yara Shahidi (of “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish”) said when she took the stage.
Hall appeared later for a brief slideshow photo tour. “I want to give you a piece of the Washington, D.C., I grew up in. When I grew up, D.C. was Chocolate City,” she said. “Now with gentrification, it’s White Chocolate City.”
She offered pictures of Hogates, a former restaurant that is currently the site of a fancy hotel on the Wharf, and 14th Street, now lined with expensive bars, artisan ice cream shops and pricey furniture stores. (Formerly, Hall added, the area was “where the ladies of the evening used to get their cardio.”)
Then Hall showed a photo of the White House. “Who remembers when we used to live here? The family was black, they had a black dog … it was an amazing time,” she said. “Now we got children in cages.”