BET Awards 2021: Best Group upset

BET hails itself as the place that gives Black artists the stage and recognition mainstream award shows refuse to, even going so far as to hold an exclusive award show for Black women (Black Girls Rock). But when Silk Sonic—the Bruno Mars and Anderson.Paak collaborative—took home Best Group over Chloe X Halle, people questioned the sincerity of BET’s inclusivity. 

This is by no means a new conversation. The twenty-year-old entertainment company has always been criticized for reinforcing stereotypes and not celebrating Blackness in all its forms, especially when it comes to recognizing queer, trans, and differently-abled people. This was made especially evident again at last night’s award show that opened with the announcement that “Tonight is the night of Black women.”

With Taraji P. Henson as the host and Queen Latifah receiving the much-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award, it was a shock to say the least that Chloe X Halle didn’t win at least one out of their four nominations for Ungodly Hour. From the May 2020 release of the alluring and addictive pre-game anthem “Do It,” Ungodly Hour was nothing short of an era filled with opulently futuristic visuals and lyrics that resonate with the times in a nuanced and critical way. While their debut album The Kids are Alright was relatively safe and sweet, Ungodly Hour showcased the group’s maturation and the sharpening of their artistry. Chloe and Halle Bailey were heavily involved in the production and writing of every single track; a total of five songs (“Baby Girl,” “Tipsy,” “Overwhelmed,” “Wonder What She Thinks of Me,” and “Hazy”) were solely their creations. 

They also had to promote in the midst of the Pandemic, producing several visually engaging performances from the tennis court in their own backyard. They served live vocals, magnetic chemistry and playfulness oozing from every rif and run to keep the performances alive and interesting. They had the public by the throat, but when it came time to award their efforts, critical acclaim didn’t translate to trophies.

The duo’s sophomore project racked up twenty-one nominations between 2020 and 2021, but only won three (two at the NAACP Image Awards and one at Billboard’s Women in Music). “Do It” earned them their first entry on the Billboard Hot 100, sliding in at 83 in its first week. The album itself debuted at number 16 on the Billboard 200. This was enough to gather four nominations at the Grammys but not enough to secure any wins. Regardless, their impression on and contribution to R&B and the music landscape as a whole in 2020 is undeniable. 

Enter Silk Sonic, a duo consisting of industry powerhouse Bruno Mars and soul super-talent Anderson.Paak. The pair have been long-time collaborators but the group itself was officially conceived in February 2021. Their debut single Leave the Door Open dropped not too long after and was met with critical and commercial success. The deliciously enticing soul track slingshot its way into the top ten of several charts and spent two weeks at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in April and May. 

Regardless of its instant success and the established careers of each member, this is a group that is very much in its infancy. As of right now, there is no release date for their highly-anticipated debut album An Evening with Silk Sonic. There is no doubt that it will continue to shape 2021. However, the fact remains: it’s an era in the making.

For BET to miss the opportunity to award the year-long efforts of Chloe X Halle in favor of a group that has everything in terms of industry support going for them is odd if anything. It was the “night of Black women,” except in its most crucial moment. While Leave the Door Open stands out for its bourbon-sweet instrumentation and teasing vocal performance, it’s a master-class homage to ‘70s Philadelphia soul. Ungodly Hour on the other hand offers something new to the pop and R&B landscape, weaving the timelessness of soul while legitimizing the Gen Z experience, much like SZA’s Ctrl. It draws on its predecessors, yes, but showcases a quality of craft and sophistication that is nothing short of impressive for two young Black women in their early twenties. Why would BET not acknowledge that like everyone else?

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