The BET Awards, throughout the years, has delivered some of the most memorable moments in awards show history thanks to the show's hosts, performers and presenters.
From Beyoncé's array of captivating performances — who could forget her explosive "I'm here!" on-stage debut? — to the likes of late legends like Michael Jackson, James Brown, Prince and Rick James making their marks, Black talent has never looked better. As we inch closer to this year's show, we take a look at the moments that we can't stop replaying from years past.
2003 was an explosive year for the BET Awards as some of the most respected names in Black talent hit the stage on the same night. One of the most memorable moment of the event was Michael Jackson's unexpected pop-up to present "genius" James Brown with the Lifetime Achievement Award. The King of Pop grew emotional while sharing how Brown's music had affected his own craft. "I couldn't refuse to give this award tonight because nobody has influenced me more than this man right here," he said.
Today, Beyoncé is heralded as the greatest performer alive — and rightfully so. Before earning this title, though, a freshly solo Yoncé blazed the 2003 BET Awards stage with an explosive rendition of her breakthrough smash single, "Crazy in Love." Marking her BET Awards solo performance debut, she entered on a giant ramp designed in the likeness of her name and reenacted the choreography and looks from the song's iconic music video. It's safe to say we all personally witnessed the birth of a superstar.
Prior to his untimely death, a 56-year-old Rick James took to the 2004 BET Awards stage to perform "Fire & Desire" alongside late powerhouse vocalist Teena Marie. At the end of the performance, the "Super Freak" singer delivered one of the most memorable lines in the show's history while presenting an award: "I'm Rick James, b***h!"
Always representing for plus-size women, Mo'Nique opened the 2004 BET Awards with a curvy-girl-centric rendition of Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love." To prove she delivered the goods, Queen Bey was on her feet the entire time cheering her on louder than anyone else.
Lauryn Hill, Pras and Wyclef Jean made Fugees fans' dreams come true at the 2005 show when, after disbanding to pursue solo endeavors, they reunited to perform their greatest hits. Let's all put it into the universe that this can somehow materialize one more time in the near future.
Speaking of reuniting, after slaying the music industry as solo acts, Destiny's Child members Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams came together once more to perform their single "Cater 2 U" taken from their last original studio album, Destiny Fulfilled. Upholding their reputations as one of the most captivating girl groups in history, the ladies added a bit of spice to their ballad performance in the form of an impromptu lap dance. The ladies chose Terrence Howard, Nelly and Magic Johnson as the lucky receivers, and let's just say they enjoyed the moment — Mr. Howard, particularly.
Though they performed together at the show in 2003, more eyes were on Beyoncé and Jay-Z this time around. Bey had just wrapped up her role as Deena Jones in the Blockbuster hit Dreamgirls, and her then still rumored romance with Jigga was beginning to make headlines. In an attempt to seemingly quell the rumors, the two made a sultry appearance during the 2006 BET Awards with Jay patting his lady on the derrière during her performance of their collaboration "Déjà Vu." If that wasn't enough, Bey caught the Holy Ghost, soon after, singing pitch perfect on her back. Iconic.
Following her brother Michael Jackson's shocking passing, Janet Jackson took to the 2009 BET Awards stage to break her silence. The notoriously private songstress closed the show with a few words about how his death had changed her life and the lives of his fans. "To you, Michael is an icon," she said. "To us, Michael is family. And he will forever live in all of our hearts."
The show, which aired just three days after Jackson's death, was quickly transformed into a short tribute show, dedicated to remembering his life.
It's a rare occurrence that artists are given the opportunity to honor their ultimate idols while they are still here. This was the case in 2010 when the likes of Alicia Keys, Janelle Monáe, Esperanza Spalding, along with music legend Patti LaBelle, paid tribute to Prince. While the "Purple Rain" singer cheered them on from the front row, the ladies delivered what many considered to be the best performance of the night, with LaBelle throwing her shoes off as she belted out her solo. Fun fact: Prince actually caught one of her pumps and held it up in the air to show he fully approved of their set.
Rihanna is a meme in motion, or "a mood," as some would say, today — and this is nothing new. During the 2015 BET Awards, just before she hit the stage to tease the video for her single "B***h Better Have My Money," a backstage cameraman captured her throwing a wad of cash at Stephen Hill's face. The moment, though clearly staged, was arguably the most "Rihanna" moment in awards show history.
Diddy delivered a performance many did not know they needed during the 2015 show when he reunited his Bad Boy Family for a nostalgic throwback set. Featuring the likes of Lil' Kim, Ma$e, French Montana and more artists who've been involved with the Bad Boy brand throughout the years, the set was definitely one to remember.
Jesse Williams, while accepting the Humanitarian Award during the 2016 show, delivered one of the most passionate and unapologetically Black speeches in recent memory. Centering around the importance of Black lives, the actor's words fully resonated with Black and marginalized viewers. While it quickly became a viral moment on social media in the weeks that followed, Williams' words proved to rub some people the wrong way, with many boldly starting a petition to have him fired from Grey's Anatomy with them dubbing his timely rant as "racist." Ultimately, Shonda Rhimes and ABC did not even entertain the thought, and he continues to be a vocal advocate for Black rights.
In true Beyoncé fashion, the singer opened the 2016 BET Awards as a complete surprise to viewers. What they were about to witness was unlike anything seen on any awards show stage, ever. In the iconic performance, Bey danced in a shallow pool of water while performing her Lemonade cut "Freedom." The uplifting performance ended with the unexpected addition of the song's featured artist, Kendrick Lamar, who joined Yoncé in a final kick in the water before the closing note.
The 2019 BET Awards airs on Sunday, June 23, at 8:00 p.m. on BET.
(Header photos: Caulfield/WireImage for BET Entertainment)