We all have fun debating winners and losers at the VMAs. (Well, some of us do. Fine, I do. Me, right here, the guy with the byline.) But really, what people usually end up talking about after the show is over are the performances—who played what, with who, and on what kind of flying trapeze contraption. And no performance is bigger than the show opener, traditionally reserved for the most high-profile guest, the one who holds (or at least makes a claim for) the title of Biggest Pop Star of the Moment. Past openers of recent years have included Justin Timberlake, Rihanna and Eminem, all at the height of their powers—as well as Britney Spears, distinctly NOT at the height of her powers, but a conversation-prover just the same.
Who, then, should get to lead it off the VMAs this year? Well, there’s no extremely obvious choice, so we had to get creative with a couple of our fantasy openers, but these are five acts (or combinations of acts) whose capable hands we’d feel fairly comfortable leaving the big first number in.
BEYONCE / JAY-Z / KANYE WEST. We start with just the Queen B, performing whatever her latest single is at the time (COUNTDOWN COUNTDOWN LOVE ON TOP COUNTDOWN) in typical grand fashion. But because Beyoncé’s in a minor dry spell hit-wise, she gets handicapped with an eventual Jay-Z appearance, and the two perform an always welcome rendition of “Crazy in Love.” After Jay’s rap concludes, the music cuts, and Kanye enters to thunderous applause, as he and Jigga finish the set with whatever their big Watch the Throne single is. (Hopefully they’ll actually have one by then.)
LADY GAGA / BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. Incredibly, despite arguably being the biggest pop star in the world for the past three or four years, Gaga has never opened the VMAs. Perfect time for her to do so, with a room-rocking performance of “Edge of Glory,” featuring some sort of overblown (and perhaps technology-enhanced) tribute to late saxophonist Clarence Clemons during the song’s saxophone solo. At which point, of course, out comes Bruce Springsteen, leading to a Bruce / Gaga duet on a verse or two the latter’s favorite song by the former, “Thunder Road”—or perhaps “Dancing in the Dark,” with the two replicating Bruce’s immortally awkward dance with Courtney Cox from the song’s video at the end.
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE. It’s time. You know it’s time, we certainly know it’s time, and hopefully—hopefully—he knows it’s time as well. It’s been five years, a full half-decade, since he and Timbaland absolutely slayed as the opening act of the 2006 VMAs, and the moment is right for him to take front stage once more. Start with a verse and chorus or so of a new song—hell, he and Danja can write it on the way to the Nokia Theater if need be—then run it into a medley with a little “Rock Your Body,” a line or two from “Senorita,” and another “SexyBack” closer. By performance’s end, he’ll be one of the five biggest pop stars in the world again. (Of course, this might all be moot if he ends up hosting the whole shebang instead.)
JUSTIN BIEBER / SELENA GOMEZ. Aside from a karaoke performance or two, we’ve still never seen pop’s Royal Couple in Waiting perform together. With Selena starting to break out of Disney territory and into a legitimate Top 40 threat, and The Bieb long since there, why not make it happen on MTV’s biggest night? Have him start with a slowed-down version of “Baby,” and have it go quiet on the chorus, as Selena emerges from out of nowhere to sing the hook amidst cheers of unparalleled high-pitchedness. Then Bieber can do backup on a verse or two of Selena’s “Love You Like a Love Song” as well as a fair bit of roboting during the chorus. End things with a passionate-but-tasteful-embrace, and pop history has officially been made. (Also worth considering if Gomez is unavailable: Rolling Bieber into Timberlake’s comeback. Two generations of triple-threat pop star! Both named Justin!)
ADELE. Yeah, she doesn’t fit the profile for the kind of artist you’d normally consider as a VMAs lead-in, and her music doesn’t exactly fit the bill for the sort of Get the Party Started vibe the awards are generally looking for from their first performance. Still, there’s no question that 2011 has belonged to Adele so far, and that she’s the artist that everyone would want to see on the awards, at some point or another. MTV might not have another option that makes more sense than just putting her first. Of course, it couldn’t just be a straight performance of “Rolling in the Deep”—it’d either have to be reinvented somehow (A capella? Gospel choir? Rap/metal version?) or include a celebrity duet partner (Chester from Linkin Park? Amy Winehouse? Her douchebag ex-boyfriend?) at some point. But if the opening slot is traditionally reserved for the Biggest Star of the Moment, it should by pop divine right be Adele’s to turn down.
Are we missing anyone obvious? Does Katy Perry’s nine nominations give her right of first refusal? Do you think Rebecca Black would absolutely kill? Let us know about it in the comments section.