Last night was the 31st annual MTV Video Music Awards, brought to you by State Farm, Covergirl, Trojan, Kia, Verizon and more. In our preview last week, we mentioned the increasing emphasis on interactivity at the awards, but my goodness was last night an absolute social media assault sponsored by sponsors. The criticism of every MTV generation is of its ever-decreasing attention spans, but even as someone who has relished each and every Taco Bell VMA Big Box I consumed this week, it felt like this year’s VMA weren’t meant to be watched but #watched .
It wasn’t a bad show. It wasn’t a great show. After last year’s all-time classic VMAs, this year had a lot to live up to that it flat-out couldn’t. Not unlike the 1998 Video Music Awards, 2014’s installment had a handful of cool moments spread across a telecast that was mostly forgettable. Nobody was reunited, reinvented or revolted, it was ultimately an alright award show. Anyone referring to it as the “worst VMAs ever” (and plenty on Twitter did last night) needs to revisit the miserable floating experiment of 2004 where everyone looked miserable, or more recently the 2012 VMAs that were booked opposite Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention that absolutely nobody was at. 2014 was significantly better, so let’s look at what memories we’ll be taking away to be edited in-between Howard Stern as Fartman and Madonna kissing Britney for future VMA montages.
The big winner of the night was Beyonce who walked away with four Moonmen (back to their original design, dropping last year’s KAWS redesign) including the lifetime achievement honors, the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. While she did close the night with an almost 20 minute long show-stopping performance medley of her last album, we didn’t get a full career-retrospective like Timberlake gave us last year, meaning Destiny’s other children were absent. However, it was still a family affair as she was joined by husband Jay-Z and daughter Blue Ivy after the performance to happily silence all the rumors of the couple’s split.
Not to take anything away from the sheer imagery and showcase of stamina that Beyonce gave us, but the portion of her performance that was a bootylicious barrage also capped off the night’s other big theme: butts. From Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” excerpt opening the show to Iggy Azalea backing up and not falling off the stage to Usher’s shoulder seemingly getting into a donnybrook with Minaj’s posterior, a big focus of the night was the backend of the music industry. Saddest of all was this would have been the perfect time for a Sir Mix-A-Lot cameo, but it was not to be.
As for the awards themselves, the most memorable acceptance speech came from Miley Cyrus who, instead of taking the podium herself to accept the award for Video of the Year for “Wrecking Ball,” had a runaway teen give a prepared statement to draw attention to the plight of runaways, especially in America. It was a rare moment of social conscience for the VMAs, something also seen earlier in the show when Common came out to present Best Rap Video and instead spoke substantially about what’s going in in Ferguson and hip-hop’s role in drawing attention to what’s happening across America.
Otherwise, the only thing that really stands out about the awards themselves is that Lorde took home “Best Rock Video” for a song that doesn’t feature any guitars, and Drake won “Best Hip-Hop” honors for a song that doesn’t contain any actual rapping. In Drake’s absence, Common “accepted the award on Drake’s behalf,” which is hilarious considering they were beefing over Serena Williams just three years ago.
But if time heals all wounds at the VMAs, it also seems to bring out the biggest smiles. The people most excited to be there were the veterans who’ve been to quite the number of ceremonies before. Snoop Dogg and Gwen Stefani came out to start the show, celebrating its return to LA and not mentioning the cops who attempted to arrest Snoop at the same event 20 years prior. Usher, who has been performing at the VMAs since the 1998 pre-show, performed with a full band that can only be described as Miami Sound Machine-esqe. Later in the telecast Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels had a bit of physical fun introducing Best Pop Video, and Jimmy Fallon delighted the often stuffy crowd with a surprisingly smart “Hug Cam” gag.
The aforementioned crowd is a big part of what made last night so weird. A big part of the show encouraging new technology made the live crowd seem almost distracted from the show, which in-turn was distracting itself. Maroon 5 were making their long-awaited Video Music Awards debut performance with the night’s outdoor concert, but the takeaway was how the entire crowd was holding up their phones and iPads to take video of it, which they proceeded to do for the entire song. Also distracting were the crowds during the pre-show’s Fifth Harmony and Charli XCX performances that seemed more interested in taking selfies with the performance behind them than watching the actual performance.
Also weird was a Robin Williams tribute, without introduction, that was just a brief, wordless slideshow. At least 2012’s MCA tribute contained an “RIP MCA” at one point. While the sentiment was there, its inclusion was just bizarre.
Still, in addition to our aforementioned accolades, the pretty good performances from Sam Smith, Taylor Swift, and especially Nicki Minaj kept the show above failure. Minaj in particular gave us the best visuals with the snake-themed (albeit snake-less) “Anaconda,” and later recovered from a costume change wardrobe malfunction to finish the show’s kickoff alongside Ariana Grande and Jessie J. But when these awards are revisited, the big takeaways are going to be the repeated use of Vine (ending the VMA’s love affair with Twitter) and the shamefully shameless commercialism that included Covergirl giving away fictional awards during the commercial break live on location as if they were a part of the show.
Congrats to Beyonce. Now, Vine about Trojan.