The 2014 MTV Video Music Awards were a little bit like 2014 OVO Fest. We've been so spoiled in the past with high-drama antics and jaw-dropping performances, that anything short of unbelievable is a disappointment. There was the Britney bomb of 2007, the Kanye interruption of 2009, Gaga's meat dress in 2010, the Blue Ivy reveal of 2011 and most recently, Miley's 2013 foam finger. Eventually a year would come when there just wasn't anything all that shocking going on. This year was that year. Still, it's the VMAs, which means epic fashion hits and misses, celebrity gossip mongering and a few legitimately mesmerizing performances.
We broke down each aspect of Sunday's VMA broadcast, NOW-style.
The craziest things happened before the show even began. A boa constrictor bit one of Nicki Minaj's backup dancers in rehearsals for her Anaconda performance, for example. Former Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight was shot at a Chris Brown pre-VMA party, for another.
But there was nothing like that - thank Yeezus - on the night of. Taylor Swift didn't attempt to replicate any of the controversial bits of her Shake It Off video and Miley Cyrus told a red carpet reporter she's done with twerking. In the end, the most interesting live moments were PG. There was an early Nicki Minaj wardrobe malfunction, during which she clutched her split LBD together, revealing far less than her snake costume had done moments earlier. There was Cyrus staying put after winning the Video of the Year award for Wrecking Ball, instead sending up a man named Jesse to accept on behalf of all homeless and runaway youths, encouraging people to donate to the cause via Cyrus's Facebook page. Except for those people calling it a "publicity stunt," it was all pretty tame. (More people will donate money to homeless youth in LA today than they did before the "stunt," so I'm not sure what the harm is.)
Like any awards show, the VMAs kicked off with a red carpet special. Unlike any awards show, the celebrities are judged on how brazen their outfit is, and how well they can pull it off. Often, like this year, that results in a LOT of skin. The MVAs for celebrities are kinda like Halloween for teenaged girls: a judgment free naked zone.
Kim Kardashian West, Rita Ora and Demi Lovato took the plunge via cleavage-baring necklines. J. Lo has never look better (or more classic J.Lo) in a strappy, body-baring silver full-length with a slit cut to her ladybits. Amber Rose wore a chainlink "dress" that covered about as much as a G-string bikini. (To everyone pointing out that Rose McGowan already did Rose's dress back in 1998: Rose McGowan wasn't really that famous and definitely isn't now. Let's let the look be updated.)
On the other hand, Iggy Azalea's floor-length ice-blue gown, Gwen Stefani's hot-pink pantsuit, Miley's black bandeau and Nicki's snake-print mini were positively demure. But lest the carpet was getting too sartorially safe, late arrivals Katy Perry and This Is How We Do collaborator Riff Raff paid tribute to Britney and Justin's 2001 all-denim look in a bedazzled Canadian tuxedo (him) and jean dress (her). Genius.
Star power: NNN
Junos and Polaris Prize, don't take it personally. Drake, it seems, only shows up for the Grammys these days (or the Oscars, I'm sure, once he switches back over into acting). None of rap's big three made it onstage, except for Jay Z presenting an award to his wife. Instead, the night's largely unfunny host, Jay Pharoah, impersonated both Jay and Ye. But if the men were lacking star power, the ladies more than represented. With the exception of Rihanna, all of the majors were there: Beyoncé, Katy, Taylor, Miley and several Kardashians among them.
After a surprisingly convincing opening number by Ariana Grande, Jessie J and Nicki Minaj (the Anaconda bit, even without live snake, was incredible), the performances were hit and miss. Iggy Azalea, who looked nervous all night, failed to make a splash with Rita Ora during Black Widow. Sam Smith was beautiful and heartfelt. I don't know who 5 Seconds of Summer are and I'm not sure I want to. Beyoncé on the other hand, was Beyoncé (we'll get to that).
When hubby Jay Z (holding baby Blue Ivy) was awarding Queen Bey with her Video Vanguard Award (The VMA version of Lifetime Achievement), he called her "the greatest living entertainer." He's right. But her onstage perfection is almost robotic, sometimes impenetrably so. Not last night. After an epic medley that covered her entire latest album, borrowing dance routines from her latest two world tours but also featuring original choreography, Beyoncé started to break down when dedicating the song XO to her fans. It's the most real we've seen her in a long, long time. She was fully in tears by the time her family joined her onstage, embracing them both and subduing rumours of any trouble in Knowles-Carter paradise.
It was a relief that the most memorable onstage couple this year was Beyoncé and Jay Z. Not Miley and Robin; or Britney and Madonna.
Except for Trey Songz making the evening's dumbest remark - "There's even a lady in the mix," he said of the Best Rock Video category - the 2014 VMAs were full of girl-power moments. That "lady," Lorde, won the category, becoming the first female to do so.
And finally, once and for all, anyone who may have been confused about what "feminism" means, got a definition loud and clear, via Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the feminist writer whose explanation of the term is featured in Beyoncé's song, Flawless - take that, Katy Perry - while Yoncé's silhouette stood firm in front of the word FEMINIST projected in gigantic all-caps. No one will remember Maroon 5 or Usher. But from the openers to the finale, whether it was Nicki Minaj twerking or Taylor Swift being tame or Ariana Grande asserting herself as the next big pop star, women ruled the night.