The MTV Video Music Awards went down in Brooklyn last night, and despite the presence of several of pop’s most volatile talents—Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Riff Raff might have been in the audience there somewhere maybe—nothing truly unpredictable happened. All more or less went according to plan, nobody (that we know of) got kicked out, and for maybe the first time in award show history, the program went well under its allotted time. Good thing, too, for those of us impatiently waiting to catch up on our DV-R’d episodes of Breaking Bad.
Still, even if the show was short on unforgettable moments, that’s certainly not to say it was as dull as last year’s snoozefest. Here are ten of the more memorable parts of last night’s show, absolutely none of which are the five-years-too-soon-to-be-even-remotely-interesting Danity Kane reunion.
1. The stars were out
The major problem with last year’s show was that outside of Taylor Swift, One Direction and Rihanna (and Ri’s gossip pal Katy Perry in the audience), the evening was severely lacking in star power, with most of pop’s real sluggers taking the year off from the VMAs. This year, all those big’uns were again accounted for, but so were Drake, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, Kanye West and Bruno Mars. Some big names again passed on the ceremonies–Bieber, Beyonce and Britney among them–but on the whole, no one could say the lineup was lacking for pop-star punch this time.
2. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis still had the biggest night of anyone
They didn’t win Video of the Year, but they were the only two-time winners during the main show (for Best Hip-Hop Video and Best Video with a Social Message), and also got a centerpiece performing slot to do latest single “Same Love” with guest vocalist Mary Lambert. Consequently, you got to see a whole lot of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis last night–not always the best thing, as the Mack’s speechifying could certainly use some fine-tuning, but you definitely left the night thinking they were the one newer artist who could really hang with the real megastars in the building. Plus, one of them got the ultimate endorsement from A$AP Rocky: “The white boy can spit.”
3. “Blurred Lines” got the shaft
Robin Thicke’s summer-dominating hit (11 weeks and counting at #1 on the Hot 100) got shut out of the awards proper, losing in all four categories it was nominated for. That was unfortunate, but understandable–the awards are obviously more about social media popularity contests than industry rewards for true artistic achievements. What was much tougher to stomach, though, was Thicke’s performance of “Lines”—which should have been a main-event showing for by far the biggest song of the year—being relegated to a one verse-and-chorus duet with Miley Cyrus, with Thicke giving the focus to a performance of his execrable, Kendrick Lamar and 2 Chainz-featuring second single “Give it 2 U,” which isn’t even the best single with that title Thicke’s been involved with. Shameful for all involved.
4. Daft Punk’s much-hyped cameo was a whole lotta nothin’
If you’ve followed any form of entertainment news the past few weeks, you surely know about the Colbert Report appearance Daft Punk was supposed to make a few weeks ago, which ended up being canceled due to a conflict of interest with the VMAs, where the robot duo was supposed to make a surprise appearance. Well, that appearance finally happened, to the surprise of no one, but that was just it–an appearance. I don’t know what we expected from the robots–lord forbid they actually make an attempt to perform music on any level–but all they did in their cameo was silently co-present an award with more vocal collaborators Pharrell and Nile Rodgers, and then unknowingly get featured in the world’s most inappropriate reaction shot during Austin Mahone’s Artist to Watch acceptance speech. Thanks for showing up, guys!
5. Louis from One Direction wore a Joy Division “Love Will Tear Us Apart” shirt
And consequently, Netflix streams of 24 Hour Party People among pre-teens hit what had to easily be an all-time high. Cool. Looking forward to that “Atrocity Exhibition” cover during the next world tour, guys!
6. Rock officially ceased to exist
It seems like every year, the VMAs go further out of their way to illustrate just how dead rock is as a popular music genre, but last night was beyond the pale even by their standards. Not only were there no rock groups present at the ceremonies (and certainly no performers), but even the token Rock award was presented in the pre-show, and went to “Up in the Air” by 30 Seconds to Mars–a band that’s at least a half-decade past their peak in popularity, and was never all that good in the first place. For once, a self-righteous Dave Grohl rant about artistic integrity or what have you would actually have been somewhat refreshing.
7. The graphics department stole nearly all their cues from Vampire Weekend
Appropriately enough for the first-ever Brooklyn-set Video Music Awards, just about all the credit cards for the evening seemed like stills swiped from the lyric video to Vampire Weekend’s “Step,” down to the use of the band’s trademark Futura font. Fine by us, though it’s surprising that by the time the band actually showed up as presenters—awkwardly singing the opening bars to One Direction’s “Best Song Ever”—they didn’t try to assume credit and get some traffic funneled to their Vevo account or anything.
8. Kanye West would only give us his silhouette
Kanye’s performance of single “Black Skinhead” was preceded by a verse and chorus or so of Yeezus album track (and fan favorite) “Blood on the Leaves,” while Yeezy was mostly visible only in silhouette behind a screen. Then the song ended, and he came out behind the screen and launched into a riotous, audience-galvanizing performance of “Skinhead.” Actually no, that’s just what should have happened—what really happened is that Kanye’s performance ended anti-climactically with “Leaves,” contradicting earlier reports of a “Skinhead” performance, and we never got to see the man behind the curtain. What the hell, ‘Ye? If we didn’t know better, we’d say that giving the fans what they wanted wasn’t your first priority as a recording artist.
9. Eminem announced a new album
Following this year’s trend of high-profile albums being kept totally under wraps until they can be announced via nationally televised commercial at marquee programming events, Eminem finally let slip about his long-rumored new album with an ad previewing the release of new album MMLP2—either some badass chemical compound we forgot about from 7th grade science or a sequel to his most popular album to date—on Nov. 5th. That’s good news, but what’s even better news is that from the music played in the commercial, it would appear one song on the album prominently samples Billy Squier’s “The Stroke,” which is just the greatest song. Looking forward, Em.
10. A JT performance for the ages was tainted by some crappy sound tech work
Justin Timberlake’s performance prior to accepting the Video Vanguard Award (MTV’s amorphous Lifetime Achievement designation) was a fairly awe-inspiring display, taking JT all across the Barclays Center and all through his career, touching on just about every one of his major hits over the course of 15 minutes (sorry, “Summer Love” fans) and even including a long-rumored (and long-overdue) ‘N Sync reunion. It should have been beautiful, a benchmark performance in the show’s history, but it was horribly marred by a distorted, muffled audio feed, which made the entire gig—and Justin’s vocals especially—sound like they were coming via a 32 kbps mp3.
Even at that shitty sound quality, the performance was undoubtedly a highlight of the evening—proving, as Justin pointedly claimed during his “Sexy Back” snippet, that he “still runs this bitch”—but it’s hard to include it as one of the all-time classic VMA moments when the entire thing brought back painful memories of listening to shitty Pink Floyd rips on Winamp almost 15 years ago. Always good to see you though, Joey Fatone.