At the 2022 BET Awards, singer-songwriter Brandy proved that she is one to keep her promises. Last month, via Twitter, she promised to “murk this dude in rap at 43 on his own beats and then sing his ass to sleep.” “This dude” being rapper Jack Harlow, who stumbled into being mentioned in the same sentence as Brandy after an interview he did in May on Hot 97. When quizzed on his music knowledge by the hosts, Harlow admitted that he didn’t know that Brandy and artist Ray J are siblings, and failed to recognise one of Brandy’s most iconic records. Fans were upset and disappointed by Harlow’s ignorance of Brandy’s music considering his presence in Black culture, and took his lack of music knowledge as an affront to the same genres he now capitalises off of. When Brandy got wind of Harlow’s Hot 97 blunder, she made good on the aforementioned promise by dropping a freestyle diss over his song First Class. Then, at the BET Awards, she performed the diss track alongside Harlow.
Brandy put on an amazing, fervorous performance; some would even say she out-rapped Harlow on his own song. This comes as a surprise to no one — except maybe Harlow — since Brandy is one of the most respected artists in Black music. Harlow clearly doesn’t know much about Brandy, and yet he was still able to use her for credibility and clout. He used Brandy to stop himself from being a punchline (Black Twitter had been ridiculing him for weeks) and BET let him.
Harlow, a rapper who is still new to the scene (his debut song dropped in 2015 and his first hit in 2020), was nominated for the BET Award for Best Male Hip-Hop Artist. Yes, Harlow is a white man who was a contender for an award made for Black people. The BET Awards was established by the Black Entertainment Television network to celebrate the achievements of Black people in music, acting, sports, and other fields of entertainment.
Harlow clearly doesn’t know much about Brandy, and yet he was still able to use her for credibility and clout. He used Brandy to stop himself from being a punchline... and BET let him.
An award show like the BET Awards was established because Black people are constantly left out of predominantly white institutions, such as the Grammys, and so their efforts go ignored and unrewarded. In theory, when a space like the BET Awards is created, it should be an unapologetically Black space. It is not supposed to be a space where a white artist, such as Harlow, can gain ground with Black audiences by pulling a legendary Black artist as a feature to reaffirm their presence in the culture.
But the issue isn’t just with Harlow, the responsibility also lies with BET and their constant need to platform white artists, especially over Black women and queer entertainers. It’s not about whether or not non-Black artists are worthy of recognition — sure, sometimes they are — it’s whether their work should be elevated over Black art in spaces that were made to centre and celebrate Blackness in a world that refuses to. Brandy is a renowned artist, one that many of us (like me) grew up listening to. And yet, Brandy has not won a BET Award, despite being a staple in Black music.
After her performance on the BET Awards stage, Brandy expressed on Instagram that she would love to have been recognised from the awards. While I loved watching Brandy rap and hold her own on that stage, I found myself disappointed, not by her, but by BET’s failure to give her her own moment. Brandy should’ve had her own performance and a solo stage. Instead, BET used her as a prop to give Harlow street cred’ and to justify his presence at the awards. While Black women artists, like Jazmine Sullivan and Tems, were rewarded at the BET Awards, their wins served as a glaring juxtaposition to Harlow’s presence. On a night where BET had a white man perform on a Black stage, and gave respect to the late Kevin Samuels, a misogynist who targeted Black women, it’s almost unsurprising that Brandy wasn't given her due respect.
On a night where BET had a white man perform on a Black stage, and gave respect to the late Kevin Samuels, a misogynist who targeted Black women, it’s almost unsurprising that Brandy wasn't given her due respect.
This isn’t the first time that the BET Awards has chosen to platform white people over Black artists. Justin Timberlake has been nominated for eight BET Awards. In 2015, Sam Smith won the BET Best New Artist award over multiple Black artists — including Tinashe. Justin Bieber was nominated for the same award in 2010, and BET’s President of Music Programming and Specials, Stephen Hill, explained in a statement that, “Bieber has crossed the color [sic] boundaries the same way that hip-hop has crossed the boundaries the other way for a number of years.” He went on to say, “He’s had rhythm in his music. He makes the type of music our audience likes.”
Brandy also makes music that everyone likes, but when it comes to Black artists, our music is copied and emulated more than it is celebrated. Award shows have always shown that they believe our music sounds better coming from white mouths (case in point: this year’s Grammys awarding Best Reggae Album to a white group). They never fail to recognise artistry when a white face is behind it. In 2017, Adele won a Grammy for Album of the Year, beating out Beyonce, which many attributed to racism as the Grammys has a long history of lauding white artists over Black ones. This is why we need spaces like the BET Awards for Black artists to get their due. Black artists also make music that diverse audiences like, but they are rarely rewarded in the same way. Why is BET so willing to accept and welcome white people into Black culture and give them accolades while there are so many Black women, like Brandy, who are being overlooked? Despite her long-spanning career, Brandy has only been nominated for a BET Award once, and after only a few years into his career, Harlow has garnered four nominations.
I hope that BET comes to understand that there is no need to elevate white art in Black spaces, and as Brandy’s new album rolls out, she will be given a deserved solo stage to shine, not one where she has to play second fiddle to a white man.