MTV persuaded some celebs to show up – Rihanna, Kanye, Britney, Chance – yet the whole thing felt like a tragic charisma void. The Chainsmokers came on like a couple of singing waiters doing “Edge of Heaven” cosplay at the next Wham!-Con. Alicia Keys recited her poetry in honor of Martin Luther King.
(“We gotta twist it in this lucid dream!”) Poor Kim Kardashian had to read the words “it’s Britney, bitch” off a teleprompter (perhaps not the most efficient use of Kim’s skill set – let’s just say Future wasn’t the only one who fucked up some commas), while poor Mary J. Blige was forced to praise Rihanna’s “distinctive voice” and “singing chops.” Presenters kept uttering sub-AMAs-grade prattle about New York City (“the greatest city in the world!”) and introducing performers as “my friend.” It all felt a little small time.
Drake missed accepting his award because he was “stuck in traffic,” which means either he was driving his girl to her bar exam through the snow or he took a peek at the red-carpet pre-show and decided there was no way he was suffering through chitchat with Charlemagne and DJ Khaled.
(Where have you gone, Sway?) Puff Daddy accepted on his behalf, looking good in a Lindsey Buckingham-style kimono (“I ran out of stuff to wear,” he explained). MTV foolishly let Puffy leave the stage instead of begging him to stay and host, which would have guaranteed some laughs. Instead, Key and Peele seemed to get drafted into host duties, as if MTV had nobody else on hand capable of uttering a non-stupid word into a microphone.
Since she was receiving this year’s Video Vanguard lifetime-achievement award, stars got wheeled out all night to pay respects (Naomi Campbell, throw your phone and take a bow!), culminating when Drake swept in at the end in his prom tux. He gave her a fond tribute, confessing he’d always been in love with her, and leaned in for a kiss that RiRi cleverly dodged – as if we needed more proof of this woman’s brilliance.
Britney returned to perform at the VMAs for the first time since her 2007 “Gimme More” debacle, doing the ninth-best song from her excellent new album, but it looked like a mean trick making her go on right after Beyoncé’s 16-minute rampage.
It brought back traumatic memories of 2011, when MTV gave her the Video Vanguard award but totally sabotaged the moment – they gave Brit just a few seconds of screen time, then made her introduce Beyoncé, who took the occasion to announce her pregnancy. Some tribute. Once again, MTV put our girl in an impossible position, especially since her performance turned out to be a G-Eazy showcase with Britney in a measly supporting role. Shameful treatment, really.