MTV VMAs recap: Beyonce slays, Rihanna shines, and not even Kanye gets crazy
Between Britney and Rihanna and Nicki and Ariana and Halsey and Mary J. and Serena and Simone, Sunday’s 2016 MTV Video Music Awards felt like an unending progression of “SLAY, KWEEN!” moments.
But as always, there was one kween to rule them all. And her name was Beyonce Knowles Carter.
As was the case during the 2014 VMAs, Beyonce was simply playing a different sport than every other competitor Sunday night, winning Video of the Year for Formation and dominating the telecast with a wildly ambitious suite from her April opus Lemonade.
In her first televised performance since stealing the Super Bowl, she played a 15-plus-minute medley of Pray You Catch Me, Hold Up, Sorry, Don’t Hurt Yourself and Formation in a performance so ambitiously stylized, everything else at this by-the-books VMAs felt like window dressing.
No one in the arena could handle it. No one watching at home could handle it. And apparently no one who votes on the VMAs could handle it either, as Hold Up also won Best Female Video.
“I dedicate this award to the people of New Orleans,” she said after winning Video of the Year. (She thanked the usual people, but that was otherwise basically it. What, you were expecting the normally taciturn Bey to suddenly open up?)
You know who didn’t benefit from Beyonce’s earth-scorching performance? Britney Spears. Though goodwill for the rehabilitated pop princess seems to be at an all-time high, her performance of Make Me with rapper G-Eazy just felt lacking after Queen Bey, especially considering she ceded a chunk of her stage time to G-Eazy’s Me, Myself & I.
Faring better in Beyonce’s shadow was Rihanna, who was on hand to receive this year’s Video Vanguard lifetime achievement award. The Barbadian hitmaker performed a career-spanning medley spread out over four separate performances, a volume not even Beyonce could match.
“This is the first Vanguard to land anywhere close to my country,” Rihanna said. “My success, it started as my dream, but now my success is not my own, it’s my family’s, it’s my fans’, it’s my country’s, it’s the Caribbean as a whole, it’s women, it’s black women. So many people feel like their little piece is such a major part of this puzzle.”
At least Rihanna was there to pick up her award. Some apparently couldn’t be bothered.
A day after performing in Tampa, Drake won Best Hip-Hop Video for Hotline Bling (no surprise there), but declined to show up and get it (Puff Daddy said he was “stuck in traffic,” and that may well have been the case, since he did arrive later to hand Rihanna her Video Vanguard trophy). Calvin Harris won Best Male Video for This Is What You Came For, but he wasn’t there either; he taped his acceptance in advance.
So, very few acceptance speeches and no single host (DJ Khaled, Jay Pharoah and Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, in character as a couple of annoying “social media gangstas,” combined to fill the role): This was an awards show for people who don’t like awards shows. As always, the VMAs exist solely to get you from performance to performance, celebrity to celebrity.
Ariana Grande tried to raise OK Go’s treadmills by performing atop an exercise bike before welcoming out her Side to Side costar Nicki Minaj. Nick Jonas brought Bacon to a diner, and the Chainsmokers and Halsey debuted their current No. 1 single Closer (a song whose smash hit potential, we’re proud to say, we called way back when).
And just when you were wondering why Michael Phelps was introducing Future (a day after Future performed in Tampa with Drake), the swimmer dropped this insight: “Remember in Rio when I made that face that ended up all over the Internet? I was in the zone with Future’s track Stick Talk blaring in my headphones.” Who knew?
But if you were looking for one meme-able, gif-able, water-cooler moment from this year's VMAs – and Beyonce’s sheer dominance wasn’t your thing – sorry, but it just didn’t happen. Even Kanye West, a man who views the VMAs as his personal pedestal for virality, couldn’t deliver it.
Stepping up to present the ultra-racy video for his track Fade, he pontificated, in typically awkward, rambling fashion, on his favorite subject: Himself.
“They tell me, don’t compare yourself to Steve Jobs, don’t compare yourself to Walt Disney,” he said. “My role models are artists-merchants. There’s less than 10 that I can name in history. Truman. Ford. Hughes. Disney. Jobs. West.”
Even when his Famous lost to Formation for Video of the Year, West simply cheered and clapped, hugging his wife Kim Kardashian West.
“I can’t be mad,” he’d said earlier, predicting the moment as only he can. “I’m always wishing for Beyonce to win.”
-- Jay Cridlin