Discover more from Queue Points Mag
Patti LaBelle Didn't Need Her Background Singers at the BET Awards, She Needed A Lifeline
Here are Jay Ray's thoughts on the three ways that Patti LaBelle was set up to fail during her Tina Turner tribute at the 2023 BET Awards.
Doing a musical tribute performance is a coveted role during an awards program. For an artist who’s living, you get to have them watch you perform some of their finest work. For an artist who’s no longer living, it’s an opportunity to remember them for what they’ve accomplished and how much of an impact they have made in music.
It’s not easy to do.
Patti LaBelle is a legendary singer known for her powerful vocals and impressive stage presence. DJ Sir Daniel has written about LaBelle's status as an icon of hip hop.
Tina Turner was an icon. Ms. Turner’s performing career spanned five decades from the late-1950s - late-2000s, and is distinguished by a singular fact - she didn’t become a mega star until the 1980s; 26 years into her already historic career. We discussed Turner’s career at length on episode 102.
Queue Points Mag is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
LaBelle was set to perform a musical tribute to Tina Turner during the 2023 BET Awards.
That’s not a bad choice. LaBelle and Turner are from the same musical generation, and both women are rock stars in their own right. So after a night of performances that mostly centered #HipHop50, a tribute to Tina Turner would be a nice break in the tone of the night.
Unfortunately, it was a moment to remember, but not in the way we would have hoped.
Ms. LaBelle couldn’t see her teleprompter with the lyrics, making for a repeat of the, viral, “where are my background singers?” moment at the most inopportune time - tributing one of the most beloved Black women performers of all time, the Queen of Rock & Roll, Tina Turner.
You could see the BET Awards audience laughing. What happened wasn’t fair to Ms. LaBelle, who, at 79, wouldn’t be expected to learn songs in such a short amount of time needed to perform the tribute.
Here are three ways Patti LaBelle was set up to fail:
1. Picking Patti LaBelle for the tribute.
The 2023 BET Awards was a hip hop celebration, and selecting Patti LaBelle for the tribute was a missed opportunity. This moment could have been used to draw a bridge between the work of Tina Turner and the new generation of performers. It would have also given some of the new women an opportunity to show what they were made of by performing some of Turner’s biggest hits.
Picking LaBelle was a safe bet that didn’t pay off.
2. Poor Song Choice
“The Best” is one of Tina Turner’s best known songs, and it’s a great tune. But, in America, it’s the 1980s equivalent of a Tiktok hit. Many Americans only know the hook. Why? “The Best” wasn’t a Top 10 American hit, but a huge song internationally. It’s from Turner’s record Foreign Affair which didn’t even crack the Top 20 in the US, but hailed as Turner’s big transition into being an international superstar.
Also, “The Best” has a lot of lyrics. It would have been better to select one of Turner’s more well known American hits, “Proud Mary” or “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” Both songs are sing songy enough that LaBelle wouldn’t have had to do much work.
3. Production Issues
Ms. LaBelle is almost 80 years old, and in order to ensure a top shelf performance, you have to be certain the performer is set up for success. If the choice is made for the artist to perform a song they don’t fully know, you have to have all of the things in place.
Clearly, LaBelle couldn’t read the teleprompter with the lyrics. It’s been rumored that because people were standing it obscured her view. This should have been thought of early. She needed contingency plans in place that weren’t available to her. That’s unfortunate.
What happened was a mistake that Ms. LaBelle was pushing through - “I’m trying y’all…” she said exasperated on live television. This time, the background singers stepped in to help, but it wasn’t the help she needed at that moment.