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BET Awards: Will Smith performs new song, ‘You Can Make It’

Will Smith stood in a circle of fire — joined by Fridayy and the gospel choir Sunday Service — to make the live debut of his latest single, “You Can Make It,” at the 2024 BET Awards.

“I don’t know who needs this right now,” Smith opened his set. “But I am here to tell you, you can make it.”

Midway through, Kirk Franklin joined, and then two rapped together. “Nobody gets an easy ride,” Smith, who is in the midst of his comeback from slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars two years ago, told the room.

“There is wisdom in that fire. Dance in your darkest moments.”

Will Smith performs during the BET Awards on Sunday, June 30, 2024, at the Peacock Theater in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello/AP Photo)

Megan Thee Stallion opened the show by emerging from an egg — a metaphor for her a new musical rebirth — before diving into with an energetic medley of her new singles “Hiss” and “Boa.”

“BET, Where my girls at?” she said, shouting out Victoria Monét and Coco Jones in the crowd before launching into “Where Them Girls At” — a track that’s been an immediate fan favorite since Friday’s release of her third studio album, “Megan.”

The show, airing live from the Peacock Theater in Los Angeles, is being hosted by Oscar-nominated actor Taraji P. Henson for a third time. Her opening monologue was a performance, Henson rapping “It’s about us,” in a loose parody of Kendrick Lamar’s “Not Like Us.” The diss track became Lamar’s fourth No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 this year — and was released in the midst of his recently reignited, once-dormant feud with Drake.

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“No beef in here tonight,” she joked, “Can we say plant-based?”

The first award of the night, best international act, was presented by actor Colman Domingo. It was given to Tyla, the Johannesburg , South African amapiano superstar.

“This is very heavy, guys,” she joked about the weight of the award. “Thank you to BET for always pushing the culture.”

Monét, who earlier this year won the Grammy for best new artist, made her BET debut with “On My Mama.” She wore a letterman jacket that matches her backup dancers — who soon exited the stage and cut the track sort. Monét walked to the back of the stage, revealing a white blazer, signaling a shift. Canadian producer and rapper Kaytranada appeared.

Moments later, Monét returned to the stage wearing a white suit, performing her latest single, “Alright” — and then did another costume change mid-song, revealing a two-piece set and performing in front of a rain stage. It was a full set in a few minutes — setting the bar for all to follow

Usher accepts the award for best male R&B/pop artist during the BET Awards on Sunday, June 30, 2024, at the Peacock Theater in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello/AP Photo)

Usher, who will take home the lifetime achievement honor later Sunday, won best male R&B/pop artist.

“I’m really happy to still be part of the fight,” he said in his acceptance. “Damn I sound old,” he joked before shifting gears to acknowledge all of the fathers in the room. “Far too often do we get to this moment and we are able to say to our mothers, ’Look, mom, I make it. We don’t get a chance to say, ‘Enough dad, I did it.’”

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Then Sexyy Red took the stage, performing her smooth bedroom ballad “U My Everything” before moving to another stage and a costume change — tackling “Get It Sexyy” in front of an LED screen depicting the White House and dancers dressed like the secret service.

The show took a tonal shift when VanVan and Heiress Harris, two child rappers, their empowerment anthem “Be You” in a school room set. Harris is the daughter of rapper T.I. and singer Tiny Harris.

Other performers will include Lauryn Hill and her son YG Marley, Childish Gambino, Ice Spice, Tyla, Chlöe, Jones, Keke Palmer, Marsha Ambrosius, Summer Walker, GloRilla, Latto, Muni Long and Shaboozey.

The BET Awards are airing live on BET and several other channels, including Comedy Central, Logo, MTV, MTV2, Pop, TV Land, Nickelodeon at Nite and VH1.

Drake leads the nominations, just like he did last year. Those include an album of the year nod for his eighth studio album, “For All the Dogs.” One of the awards he’s up for is the music video for “First Person Shooter,” his collaboration with J. Cole that may have been a catalyst for his recent beef with rapper Kendrick Lamar.

Nicki Minaj follows with six, including for album of the year for her highly anticipated “Pink Friday 2” release. Two of her nominations were for her song with Ice Spice, “Barbie World,” part of the blockbuster “Barbie” soundtrack.

J. Cole, Sexyy Red, SZA and best new artist Grammy winner Victoria Monét tie with five nods; 21 Savage, Beyoncé, Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, Tyla and Usher boast four each.

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Usher is being honored a year after the Busta Rhymes took home the lifetime achievement award at last year’s ceremony and Sean “Diddy” Combs the year prior. The R&B superstar is an eight-time Grammy winner who recently ended a two-year Las Vegas residency, “Usher: My Way” at the Park MGM. In February, he released his first solo album in eight years, and in August is scheduled to kick off a 24-city U.S. tour titled “Past Present Future.”

Usher’s 2024 Super Bowl halftime performance drew acclaim and included guest appearances by such stars as Alicia Keys, H.E.R., Jermaine Dupri, Lil Jon and Ludacris. His album “Confessions” has sold more than 10 million units in the U.S., ranking it among one of the best-selling music projects of all time. It launched No. 1 hits such as “Yeah!” with Ludacris and Lil Jon, “Burn” and “Confessions Part II.”

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