The 2020 BET Awards marks the 20th anniversary of the awards show. The annual event first kicked off in 2001 as a way of celebrating Black excellence and achievements in music, acting, sports and all venues of entertainment, and has kept its mission statement going strong since.
Along the way, the exciting awards show has provided viewers with some truly unforgettable moments — both from some truly unexpected live performances and with some emotional, powerful speeches that struck a chord with audiences.
Whether it was music legends like Beyoncé stealing the spotlight (year after year) or actors like Jesse Williams delivering impassioned calls to action and activism, the BET Awards have always provided fans with indelible memories.
In celebration of 20 years of the BET Awards and the network’s 40th anniversary, ET is looking back at some of the greatest, wildest, most entertaining celebrity appearances from the show’s two-decade history.
1. Michael Jackson Honors James Brown (2003)
In just the third BET Awards ever, the show created a timeless moment in which the King of Pop presented The Godfather of Soul with the Lifetime Achievement Award, and could hardly contain his excitement over getting to honour the man who influenced him “more than any other entertainer.”
2. Destiny’s Child Comes Back in a Big Way (2005)
Not only did Destiny’s Child hit the stage for a steamy rendition of “Cater 2 U,” but they also pulled Terrence Howard, Nelly and Magic Johnson onstage to give quasi-lap dances. Beyoncé herself gave Howard a thrill, and the dazed look on the actor’s face cemented this moment in fans’ memories.
3. The Fugees Reunite (2005)
The Fugees put their famous feud behind them and reunited for a surprise appearance and wowed the crowd with an unannounced medley of their hits, “Ready or Not,” “Fu-Gee-La” and “Killing Me Softly.”
4. Beyoncé and JAY-Z Take the Stage (2006)
Two years after confirming the rumors of their romance, Beyoncé brought out her future husband, JAY-Z, for a steamy collaborative performance of her single, “Déjà Vu.”
5. Alicia Keys Brings R&B Groups Together (2008)
Not only did Alicia Keys slay her performance of “Teenage Love Affair,” she also helped honor the female artists and R&B groups who inspired her and paved the way by bringing out SWV, TLC, and the original members of En Vogue to join her on the stage.
6. Prince Takes Home the Lifetime Achievement Award (2010)
Always the prophetic revolutionary, Prince’s inspiring words when accepting the prestigious award ring truer now than they did at the time: “The future’s in your hands now and the world is really yours. There is a change in America that’s going on right now. Everybody can feel it. We’re going to be a beacon to the rest of the world.”
7. D’Angelo Owns the BET Awards (2012)
D’Angelo made his triumphant return to TV with his first televised musical appearance in 12 years at the 2012 BET Awards, and energized the audience with performances of his hits, “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” and “Sugah Daddy.”
8. Missy Elliott Steals the Spotlight (2014)
9. Rihanna Throws Money (2015)
Before taking the stage to introduce a sneak peek of the music video for her single, “B**ch Better Have My Money,” Rihanna won the award for “most gif-able moment” when cameras “caught” her having an argument with BET president of programming, Stephen Hill. The argument (which was later revealed to have been staged) ended with Rihanna throwing a fat stack of cash in his face before walking out onto the stage, and it quickly became one of the meme highlights of the night.
10. Nicki Minaj Hilariously Forgets What She Won (2015)
The only other moment from the 2015 BET Awards that could compete with Rihanna’s cash-attack was when Nicki Minaj took the stage to accept the Viewers’ Choice Award. Minaj — who also took home the award for Best Female Hip Hop Artist — had absolutely no idea what she had won, and laughed awkwardly as she had to ask the audience what award she was accepting.
11. Beyoncé Fires Up the Stage With Kendrick Lamar (2016)
Making an unannounced appearance to kick off the 2016 BET Awards, Beyoncé pulled off a tour de force involving a giant pool of water, an army of backup dancers, a whole lot of fire and a surprise appearance from Kendrick Lamar, making it one of the most incredible awards show opening numbers of all time.
12. Jesse Williams’ Passionate Black Lives Matter Speech (2016)
When the Grey’s Anatomy star — and outspoken political activist — was honored with the BET’s Humanitarian Award, he used his time onstage to deliver a passionate, fiery, political speech addressing police brutality, systemic racism, cultural appropriation and discrimination. The powerful address earned a standing ovation from the crowd and a lot of support on Twitter. It also sparked a laughable, poorly worded petition trying to get him fired from Grey’s Anatomy — calling his remarks “hate speech against law enforcement and white people” — which failed spectacularly.
13. Eminem Goes Off on Donald Trump (2017)
Eminem came out swinging against President Donald Trump in a passionate, pre-recorded freestyle performance, filmed in a parking lot. The rapper didn’t hold back and unloaded on Trump for his rampant tweeting, his controversial statements about protesting NFL players, and his courting of white supremacist voters.