This year, the MTV Video Music Awards found its way back to New York City, but instead of using Radio City Music Hall as its classic venue, the show took place at Madison Square Garden for the first time. In recent years, the VMAs has not had a traditional host and this year was no different. Comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele were in character as social media mavens (because if you know anything at all, you know the best place to watch an award show is on Twitter) but none of their antics, most of which were impossible to follow, seemed to connect with the audience. Other stand-in hosts included MTV’s own Nicole Byer from Girl Code, comedian Jay Pharoah with his great impressions throughout the show, and lastly DJ Khaled, who kept the energy going with his signature catchphrases.
Rihanna was this year’s recipient of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award and she did something different then all the recipients before her and treated us to four different themed performances throughout the show, each showcasing a different style of music she has perfected. She opened the show with a medley of her hits from her pop era. Dressed in light pink from head to toe, she sang “Only Girl In The World,” “We Found Love,” and “Where Have You Been.” Her second performance of the night was a tribute to her culture and homeland in which she brought a traditional Caribbean bashment party to the stage performing all her reggae influenced hits such as, “Rude Boy,” “What’s My Name,” and her recent hit “Work.” Later in the show, she performed her more mellow party records “Pour It Up,” “B*tch Better Have My Money,” and her latest single from ANTI, “Needed Me.” She ended things off with her crowd favorite ballads, “Stay,” a slowed down version of “Diamonds,” and her next single “Love on The Brain,” fully taking in the opportunity to show how much her vocals have grown since she was first introduced to us in 2005. To end things off with a bang, Drake presented Rihanna with her award, giving a speech that sounded more like a love letter. He expressed, “I’ve loved Rihanna since I was 22 years old.” He also so spoke on what makes Rihanna a great artist: “She succeeds by doing something that no one in this industry does by just being herself.” After a sweet embrace between the two, Rihanna expressed her excitement by showing love to her country of Barbados, her friends, family, and fans and her disbelief that at only 28 years old she is lucky enough to accept such an award.
Now as we all know, MTV always keeps us on our toes with surprise antics and this year it came in the form of Kanye West taking to the stage to talk about whatever it is he wanted. He walked out to his song “Famous” which contains the infamous line that has reignited the Kanye vs. Taylor Swift beef and stood as the crowd chanted “Yeezy.” Highlights from his six and a half minute “speech” include saying “I see you Amber,” to his famous ex girlfriend Amber Rose, expressing his hope to win video of the year but it being okay if he lost to Beyoncé, shouting out his wife Kim Kardashian West, and finally debuting his new video for his song “Fade.” The video is a performance piece starring singer Teyana Taylor in what could almost be a tribute to Jennifer Beals in Flashdance. In true Kanye fashion, he has to leave us somewhat bewildered as the video ends with Taylor becoming a cat woman, with her fiancé Iman Shumpert of the championship winning NBA team the Cleveland Cavaliers and their 8-month old daughter “Junie” surrounded by sheep.
In addition to winning eight of the 11 Video Music Awards she was nominated for, and passing Madonna for acquiring the most VMAs ever, Beyoncé completely turned the stage into her own personal concert with a full on recreation of her visual album Lemonade. She eased us in starting with her song “Pray You Catch Me” and followed up with “Hold Up” carrying her signature baseball bat from the video and smacking the camera to the floor. She continued with “Sorry” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself” throwing on a fur coat and aggressively performing as flames and sparks surrounded her. She closed her performance with “Formation” filling the stage with an army of female dancers and ending in the formation of the symbol for woman.
Britney Spears also returned to the VMA stage to perform her new single “Make Me” featuring G- Eazy. This performance was her first performance on MTV in almost 10 years since the cringeworthy performance of “Gimme More” at the VMAs in 2007. Other performers included Nick Jonas who performed his new song “Bacon” with Ty Dolla $ign and Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj who gave a lackluster performance of “Side to Side” off Grande’s album Dangerous Woman. Newbies to the VMA stage, The Chainsmokers and Halsey performed their number one hit “Closer” and rapper Future gave an excellent performance of his hit song “F*ck Up Some Commas.”
Seemingly missing from the VMA stage this year was any form of Rock or Alternative music. It seemed to be a show for only the “who’s who” in pop culture right now. Also many of the awards were not given out on camera. Those lucky enough to take the stage to give speeches were DNCE for Best New Artist, Fifth Harmony for Best Collaboration, and Beyonce for Video of the Year and Best Female Video. Drake also won for best hip-hop video but missed his chance at an acceptance speech because he was “stuck in traffic.”
Our U.S. Olympians Michael Phelps and “Final Five” gymnasts Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian and Aly Raisman (minus Gabby Douglas, who was absent due to an injury) were lucky enough to take the stage and introduce some of the musicians for the night. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte was also there in spirit as Jimmy Fallon impersonated him in a platinum blonde wig while singing Justin Biebers “Sorry.”
All in all, the VMAs did not disappoint. What they lacked in variety and a host they made up for in electrifying performances and a who’s who of celebrity presenters. For a complete list of VMA winners, and video clips head over to MTV.
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MTV Video Music Awards Recap: Featured image courtesy of MTV