The MTV Video Music Awards used to be THE awards show to watch. You could count on crazy outfits, wacky antics and indelible musical performances that would be etched in pop culture forever. Maybe to some people, the new generation perhaps, it still is that, but years of the same contrived antics and recycled outfits and young artists trying too hard have made me much more cynical. That said, I like to give credit where credit is due and leave myself open to the possibility that someone can surprise me.
+ The Machine’s rousing performance of “Dog Days are Over” came out of nowhere and made everyone stand up and cheer. This year, unfortunately, I can’t say that I was particularly impressed by anything, but there were still a few highlights that made me smile. Florence
Let’s just start with the most anticipated performance of the night which was the incomparable Lady Gaga. I wondered why she was opening instead of them building anticipation for it all night, but as soon as I saw her looking like Ralph Macchio in The Outsiders I knew she had something elaborate up her sleeve. The spoken intro was a bit too long, but it explained her theatrical/ performance art antics and props to her for staying in character all night (even though she got mixed up with the pronouns later in the show). The “You and I” performance itself was typical Gaga, raw live vocals, wacky unhinged piano playing and a guest appearance by Queen guitarist Brian May that made Dave Grohl smile. For some reason she’s a dancing fool and always feels the need to throw a section of choreography into every performance whether it’s needed or not, (this time it wasn’t) but all in all, it’s a memorable addition to the Gaga canon of performance art and was easily the most exciting performance of the night.
First runner up was Beyonce who set herself up as the anti-Gaga. For all the over-the-top innovation Gaga provides, B (refuse to spell it Bey, B-E-Y spells BAY!!!) served you good old fashioned stage performance. The glittery tuxedo with the baby bump covering cummerbund were reminiscent of a 1950’s nightclub singer. Even the song itself “Love on Top” felt like a throwback to a time before MTV even existed when G-rated love songs ruled the charts. But then she put a feminist twist on it showing off her pregnant stomach at the finish, once again proving that she can, in fact, do it all.
As for her husband, Jay-Z, who beamed adoringly from the audience, his performance of “Otis” with Kanye West was kind of over before I realized it was happening. I’m a fan of stripped down performance, but the problem with doing stripped down on a show this big is that it has to really be special for it to work (see: Bon Jovi doing “Living on a Prayer/ Wanted Dead or Alive”). For all the energy Jay and Kanye brought out with them, they probably could’ve used the unnecessary dancers from the Gaga performance to add a layer of excitement to it. They basically came off like they were just sitting in the audience in jeans and asked to perform and the last minute. Not their best.
Also going for stripped down was Adele, with an intimate set for “Someone Like You.” I love Adele and that is probably my favorite track on 21, but as over played as “Rolling in the Deep” is I was hoping she would do that song or something more upbeat and exciting. She sang well, but wasn’t in her best voice (I couldn’t tell if was from nerves or emotion). Let’s hope at the Grammys, where she is sure to be a multiple nominee, she can come up with a fun medley or something and not end up being this generation’s Nora Jones. The “Rolling in the Deep” video won a bunch of technical awards as well which was really generous because, let’s face it, it’s a great song, but the video is essentially her singing to a couple hundred glasses of water in an empty house.
Pitbull featuring Ne-Yo and Nayer (Is that her name?) performed their hit single “Tonight.” It was nice to see Pitbull get a spot on the big show since he’s been keeping butts shaking on the dancefloor for most of the past decade, and the performance was fun. Still not sure who Nayer is, and why she actually got a “featuring” credit for a contribution that could have been made just as effectively by a computer, but whatever. Get your money girl. (Next time though buy an outfit that doesn’t look like you got it from Apollonia in the 80’s).
There were also two tribute performances last night that came off very differently. First, there was Britney looking healthy and happy for the most part even though she refuses to spend money on good hair (fake or otherwise), who was given the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award. It’s no secret that I’m not her biggest fan and I think her contribution to pop music and popular culture are WAY overblown, but she has been through a lot and managed to maintain some semblance of sanity and is still around recording music which is more than I can say for a lot of wannabe pop stars.
Despite the fact that she hasn’t had a video worth discussing (ever?) in ten years, I didn’t have a problem with her receiving the award. For all of her haters and naysayers she still has legions of fans and if MTV wants to congratulate her (or themselves for creating the hype surrounding her in the first place), that’s their prerogative (see what I did there?). I actually felt bad for Brit, because the whole tribute was hijacked by the two other divas involved. Gaga, who presented the award in “character” as Joe Calderone, did most of the speaking (and Spears looked a little scared) and then Brit was further dissed by having to introduce Beyonce, which was worse than having Kanye come out and interrupt and say that B deserved it more. (Although if he had he would’ve been right…Again. No offense
). The little girls dancing to her hits was cute though and only slightly inappropriate (who puts a nine year-old in a red cat suit? Oh yeah, the network that brings us Taylor and Teen Mom. Never mind.) Jersey Shore
The other tribute for the late Amy Winehouse was thankfully more tastefully done. Russell Brand was funny and sincere in his speech remembering his friend. The clip of her singing with Tony Bennett was touching and apropos, focusing on her talent and Bruno Mars’s heartfelt rendition of “Valerie” was a winner. It would’ve been nice to see Adele (who looked like she was on the verge of tears) be apart of the tribute as well, but I guess that too will probably be saved for the Grammys.
That was pretty much it, not the most memorable show ever, but not the worst ever either. There were several things that left me scratching my head after the show was over. Like if MTV celebrated its 30th Anniversary this year why wasn’t that mentioned on the show? Who is Tyler the Creator and what was the point of the “future” Beastie Boys? What was that Chris Brown, lip-synching, crouching tiger/ flying pop star performance about? Was it some kind of tribute to the 90’s or something? Also, was Kevin Hart the host or not? Why do Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez look like two ninth grade besties who just realized they’re lesbians? And don’t even get me started on Cloris Leachman being DTF.