How Beyoncé Saved the VMAs

Mark Davis / Getty Images

Mark Davis / Getty Images

MTV held its annual Video Music Awards on Sunday night to honor the best music videos of the year, even though it’s well-established that the channel hardly plays music videos anymore and most millenials watch them on YouTube. People tune in to the VMAs mostly for the mash-up performances and the almost guaranteed “shock moment” that typically occurs at least once a ceremony and was woefully absent this year, making for one of the most boring VMAs in recent memory. MTV would’ve done better to just hand the whole thing over the Beyoncé and not make audiences suffer through a bunch of lackluster performances before bringing out Queen B for a nearly twenty-minute medley of every song on her newest record.

The closest the event came to shock and entertainment (aside from Bey) was Nicki Minaj’s performance of her new song “Anaconda” and her clothes almost coming off during “Bang Bang” with Ariana Grande and Jessie J. The incredibly racy “Anaconda” music video broke Vevo’s most views in 24 hours record last week, and Minaj twerked and winked her way through the “Baby Got Back” sampling track with enough presence to almost make up for a comatose Ariana Grande before her.

Then during “Bang Bang,” Minaj’s dress ripped down the front, but the woman is a professional and didn’t miss a step while clutching the gaping fabric together as best she could. Still, we almost saw more of her than she revealed in the “Anaconda” video, and that’s saying something. Minaj was able to play through the wardrobe malfunction well enough to be the most enjoyable thing the audience got until Beyoncé, though not nearly the OMG moment that was Miley Cyrus twerking on Robin Thicke last year.

Taylor Swift is, according to Lorde, at “the beginning of a brand new era” in her career. Lorde introduced her celebrity BFF, who performed the new single “Shake It Off,” which is supposed to be the start of her straight-forward pop career, throwing aside all of her Nashville country roots, though it seems like she’s already done that a couple of times in her short career. The video for the song earned some controversy after it debuted last week due to appropriation of classic hip-hop imagery, and thus, black culture. Her performance at the VMAs avoided said controversy by paying homage to old Hollywood musicals and Madonna’s “Material Girl” music video.

Iggy Azalea, the star of the summer, was on hand, but surprisingly didn’t play her huge hit “Fancy.” Instead, the female rapper opted for her new single, “Black Widow,” with Rita Oro, who critics have deemed a poor man’s Rihanna. Whether or not you find a white girl from Australia doing southern gangsta rap authentic, Azalea has more stage presence than Oro by far and the whole thing would’ve been more enjoyable had she performed “Fancy” and had some longer verses.

Miley Cyrus didn’t perform this year, but she took home the Moonman for Video of the Year for “Wrecking Ball,” which she was almost guaranteed to win due to gratuitous nudity. But Cyrus chose not to stick out her tongue, take off her clothes, or twerk this year. She sent a young homeless man named Jesse onstage to accept the award for her, and he gave a speech to raise awareness about the homeless youth in America and Los Angeles in particular.

“I am accepting this award on behalf of the 1.6 million runaways and homeless youth in the United States who are starving and lost and scared for their lives. I know, because I am one of those people,” Jesse said. Cyrus was still highly visible, wiping away tears as he spoke, but kudos to her for using that highly public moment to do some good for something aside from her own public image (which, it should be noted, also benefited from the philanthropic moment).

The entire ceremony felt like an overly long warm-up for what everyone really wanted to see: Beyoncé. Beyoncé was the best part of everything, as per usual in terms of pop music events in recent memory. She performed a sixteen-minute medley of every song on her self-titled new album and yet again showed the world that no pop star on Earth can perform like this woman.

There were the sexy moments of “Drunk in Love” and “Partition,” but because she’s Beyoncé, she also had the audacity to include the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speech about women that she samples on the album while the word “feminist” in all caps flashed behind her while before a vapid MTV audience. At the end of her performance, she was given the Vanguard Award by Jay-Z and Blue Ivy, squashing all those nasty divorce rumors that have been selling so many tabloids as of late.

Who actually won the awards is mostly not important. Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” got best female video, Ed Sheeran’s “Sing” got best male video, Ariana Grande’s “Problem” with Iggy Azalea won for best pop video, and Drake took home best hip-hop video for “Hold On (We’re Going Home),” but didn’t even show up to accept the trophy. Lorde seems to be what counts for a rock act these days, as she was given the Moonman for best rock video for “Royals.” But it was clear to everyone watching that Beyoncé was the entire point, and the woman has more talent in her weave than could be scraped together from the rest of the pop stars in the building. Luckily for MTV, her performance gave people a reason to watch.

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