F. Scott Fitzgerald famously remarked that there are no second acts in American life. Tell that to Kanye West, T.I., Chris Brown and Eminem, each of whom walked back into the spotlight from either self -or, in the case of T.I., legally-imposed - exiles at last night's BET Awards in Los Angeles.
West, the mercurial and flamboyant star behind massive party anthems like "Gold Digger" and Love Lockdown," kicked off the show in typically brash style. Dressed in a red suit and sporting a chain that would make Flavor Flav blush, West delivered a performance of his new single "Power" while standing atop an erupting volcanic set piece, backed by dramatic, flashing images thunder and lightning.
The rapper and producer has kept a low-profile in the wake of his ill-considered, open mike rant at last September's MTV Video Awards in which he dissed country songstress Taylor Swift. Having been holed up in Hawaii working on a new album set to drop this fall, 'ye felt the love from the fans who were glad to see him back.
T.I., the self-proclaimed "King of the South," made his first televised appearance since being released from prison in March on federal gun charges. Accompanied by drummer Travis Barker of Blink 182, Tip ripped through his new single, "Yeah Ya Know." Not content with just a comeback single, he also appears on "Hello Good Morning," a track by Diddy's newest discovery, Dirty Money, and is set to star alongside Matt Dillon and Paul Walker in the upcoming crime drama "Takers."
Eminem, whose last two albums sparked gossip that the caustic rapper had fallen off his game, returned with a strong performance of his defiant single, "Not Afraid," from his new - and critically-acclaimed album - "Recovery." The Detroit native, never known for his sunny outlook, has struggled with drug addiction, weight problems and feelings of loss over the death of his friend, the D12 rapper Proof. However, a slimmed down Slim Shady looks to be in top form. Hip hop world: the enfant terrible is back.
But perhaps the biggest comeback of the night belonged to Brown, the talented but troubled R & B singer now best known for beating up former girlfriend, pop superstar Rihanna, last year. The "Run It!" and "Kiss Kiss" singer, who was banned from last year's award show, led a moving tribute to his idol Michael Jackson, just days after the first anniversary of his death. Dressed like the King of Pop in his video for "The Way You Make Me Feel," Brown ran through a medley of some of the deceased star's biggest hits that included "Remember the Time" and "Billie Jean."
At the end of the performance, Brown segued into "Man in the Mirror" and, during the chorus of the song, dramatically broke down, apparently overcome by the words - and perhaps their application to his current circumstances. An adoring crowd cheered enthusiastically as he left the stage, collapsing into a hug with Jackson's brother, Jermaine.
Brown reappeared later to accept a fan award and thanked the crowd for their support and forgiveness.
"I just wanna say one thing,' he said. "I let y'all down before but I won't do it again, I promise. I love y'all, good night."
So take a bow, gentlemen. Your second acts are just beginning.