This time last year, the BET Awards left viewers with indelible moments that included Beyoncé’s.

Epic performance of “Freedom” with Kendrick Lamar (and four tons of water), actor Jesse Williams’ impassioned speech about social activism and multiple star-studded Prince tributes featuring The Roots, Erykah Badu, Stevie Wonder, Sheila E and more.
 While it can be a difficult proposition to top yourself, this year’s BET Awards came close -- thanks to a series of riveting performances, stirring tributes, a couple of welcome trips down memory lane and rapper Remy Ma ending Nicki Minaj’s seven-year win streak. And at the end of the four-hour marathon inside Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theater -- marking comedian Leslie Jones’ debut as host -- an absent Beyoncé emerged as the night’s big winner.
 The new mom of twins claimed five statuettes -- including album of the year (Lemonade) and best R&B/pop female artist -- out of her leading seven nominations. Bruno Mars, coming in with five nominations, took home his first two BET Awards for best male R&B/pop artist and best video (for “24K Magic” tied with Beyoncé’s “Sorry”). Also joining Mars and Beyoncé in the winner’s circle were Kendrick Lamar (best male hip-hop artist), and three more first-time winners: Solange (Centric Award for “Cranes in the Sky”), Chance the Rapper (best new artist and best collaboration for “No Problem” featuring Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz) and Migos (best group and also best collaboration for “Bad and Boujee” featuring Lil Uzi Vert).
 Noting that he received his first Soul Train Award on BET for his featured role on B.o.B.’s hit “Nothing on You,” an eloquent Mars t
 hanked BET for showing me “nothing but support and love.” He also gave a special shout-out to former BET president of programming Stephen Hill, who exited the company in March. “No matter where you go, you’ll find success,” said Mars of Hill, who was spotted in the audience. “You have too much soul, too much passion.” 
 Mars himself displayed plenty of both emotions during rousing opener “Perm,” a track from his album 24K Magic. Part James Brown and part church revival rolled into one -- coupled with the singer’s signature fancy footwork -- the performance had the whole house on its feet. It also set the bar for the rest of the evening. Keeping the audience out of its seats with their own standout performances were French Montana and Swae Lee (“Unforgettable”), Chris Brown and Gucci Mane (“Party”), Migos (“T-Shirt,” “Bad and Boujee”), Mary J. Blige (“Set Me Free,” “Love Yourself” with A$AP Rocky) and Future joined by Lamar on “Mask Off.” Perhaps one of the evening’s biggest surprises was Tamar Braxton’s powerful, throw-the-mic-stand-down performance of her latest single “My Man.” By the end, the singer had the audience erupting in a cheer-filled ovation.

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