The VMAs, MTV's ever-shocking Video Music Awards turn 30 this year, which is about how old you'd have to be to remember when MTV played music videos.
But the triumph of pregnant teens, Snookis and the concurrent decline of the music industry has hardly made this annual pop-star bacchanal any less enjoyable. With One Direction hosting, Lady Gaga opening, Drake starting (from the bottom) and rumours of *NSYNC reuniting, it was bound to be fun.
It was also bound to be Justin Timberlake's night, with the former *NSYNCer clocking almost as much performance time as the rest of the artists on the VMAs bill, as he performed a lengthy medley of his similarly-lengthy string of solo hits. The reunion with his boy band was short and little underwhelming, but perhaps that's as it should have been, so as not to overshadow his considerable achievements since striking out on his own a little over a decade ago.
Timberlake's Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award wasn't one of those honourary awards for an over-the-hill artist, as he also snagged the Best Video VMA for "Mirrors," which he said was a tribute to his grandparents. "Don't get soft, we all have grandparents," he joked, before adding, more seriously, "My grandfather actually passed in December. I hope my grandmother's watching. This is for you, Granny."
But those aww emotions were in short supply during what is bound to be the most talked about song of the night -- Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop" which began as a bizarre, trying-too-hard-to-be-Gaga performance before segueing into a raunchy duet with Robin Thicke for "Blurred Lines." The crotch-rubbing with the blue-eyed R&B singer not only made Miley look bad, but managed to somehow make Thicke seem even creepier since he's nearly twice Cyrus' age. (It wasn't just us, either, Rihanna and One Direction looked similarly aghast.)
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Speaking of Gaga, she also tried to out-Gaga herself, but the fact that people on Twitter couldn't tell if the boos that preceded her performance of "Applause" were real or part of the shtick just goes to show how poorly she was received. Was it as bad as Britney's disastrous "Gimme More" a few years back? No, but Brit was going crazy at the time and Gaga has no such excuse. If her upcoming album "ARTPOP" bombs, expect to see a lot more rehashing of her VMA performance as a portent.
Macklemore also out-Gaga'd mother monster with his same-sex social activism. Onstage to accept an award for "Same Love," he said, "out of every single song I've ever written, to me this is the most important record out of all of them. To watch this song over the past year spread around the world is testament to what is happening right now in American at the forefront of equality. Gay rights are human rights," he added, "there is no separation."
Later, he performed "Same Love," an almost-spoken-word piece about the need for not just tolerance but acceptance of homosexual relationships, which got a nice boost at the end when -- surprise! -- Jennifer Hudson came out to help sing the emotional chorus.
Macklemore's other hit (or, given the success of "Thrift Shop," other other hit) "Can't Hold Us" won best hip-hop video, beating a much stronger collection of nominees including A$AP Rocky, Kendrick "the verse" Lamar and Drake.
But don't feel bad for poor Drizzy. Though Toronto's biggest musical export got saddled with the on-camera loser reaction shot by the VMA producers, the Junos have made him an expert in managing expectations after he lost every nomination the same year he hosted.
But no matter, Drake killed it where it matters -- nobody ever remembers who won a Moonman, but they do remember the performances. He stunned with his sung vocal on new track "Hold On, We're Going Home" before proving to one and all that he can be a badass rapper too, with a hard-hitting rendition of "Started From the Bottom." (And loved the part where he let the crowd rap back a line with cursing it in, forcing the producers to actually drop the volume on the audience itself.)
Maybe One Direction should have joined in on "Going Home," since the so-called hosts were barely there, forcing last year's host Kevin Hart to pitch in while fans of the Brit boy band will have to console themselves with giving them an undeserved "song of the summer" award for "Best Song Ever." Seriously, once that prize didn't go to either "Blurred Lines" or "Get Lucky," it ceased to matter. No wonder the crowd booed.
Oh, and where did Daft Punk's performance go? Colbert got screwed over for this?
Bruno Mars also showed up to perform "Gorilla" and win an upset VMA for best male video (presumably so Justin didn't take home everything) while Katy Perry closed the show with the boxing-themed "Roar," which mentions both the eye of the tiger and floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee, hopefully bringing in some royalty money to Survivor and Muhammed Ali.
Speaking of roaring, Kanye West didn't win or bum-rush the stage, instead performing an intense and artistic take on "Blood on the Leaves" that reminded us that when he's not being an ass, he's one of the greats of our time. As for his nemesis Taylor Swift, she won again, for "I Knew You Were Trouble" and thanked the boy who inspired the song who was, if VMA camera operators are to be believed, One Direction's Harry Styles. (She was also unwittingly caught on camera telling them to "shut the fuck up," in a very GIF-worthy moment.)
So another VMA is over, having managed to honour a deserving artist (JT), spark some socially conscious conversation (Macklemore) and some not-at-all socially conscious conversation (Miley). Really, that's about as good as MTV and viewers could have hoped for.