If the talk of last year’s MTV Video Music Awards was Kanye West and Taylor Swift, then the talk of this year’s MTV Video Music Awards was how Kanye West and Taylor Swift were the talk of last year’s MTV Video Music Awards. Let’s call it a transitional year. But it’s safe to say that there weren’t many moments in 2010’s show that will be recalled on next year’s show or, really, on Tuesday.
From the choice of Chelsea Handler as host — she seemed as bewildered to have that gig as the audience was, fumbling through punchlines scavenged from Bruce Vilanch’s wastebasket in 2002 and making clipped, awkward jokes in which she dared to make fun of Sugar Ray and the Jersey Shore kids for being cultural afterthoughts — through the show’s generally meta tone, it was almost as if MTV couldn’t bear failing to top last year’s headline-worthiness, so they didn’t really try.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTUAL HUMAN BEING
After a litany of stagnant lip-syncing from the likes of Nicki Minaj and Justin Bieber, it was almost shocking to hear a live voice coming from Florence Welch’s mic during “Dog Days Are Over,” giving the night a much-needed boost of musical virtuosity, unforced sultriness and wood-nymph flair. Points off for limiting Robyn, in full Brigitte Nielsen-in-Chained Heat 2 glory, to a measly 20-second pre-commercial bumper.
JUST DUET, PART ONE
The VMA promos showed B.o.B. meeting Paramore’s Hayley Williams, who sings the hook on his hit “Airplanes,” for the first time at rehearsal. While it’s probably no secret even to the most casual pop fan that A-list features and team-ups are usually done without the principals ever being in the same room at the same time, it takes events like these to physically bring them together. So, that’s cool. Plus, Paramore got to play “The Only Exception,” the only time an actual rock band played in the Nokia Theater all night. (Linkin Park’s number was staged at the Griffith Observatory at sunset — dramatic, sure, but alas, not at the awards show itself.)
JUST DUET, PART TWO
Drake brought out Swizz Beats and Mary J. Blige for a run through the Thank Me Later track “Fancy” and proved that hip-hop and white dinner jackets indeed go together. Perhaps even more impressive than this polished performance was how stoned The Social Network stars Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield seemed introducing it.
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Anyone who didn’t believe Taylor Swift writes her own songs probably does this morning. Understood that she’s young and that last year’s debacle was surely one of the biggest things that’s ever happened in her short life… but to write “Innocent” about the brouhaha, delivered for some reason as an incongruently old-timey production number, and sung in a kinda flat voice that suggests her disappointing duet with Stevie Nicks at the Grammys wasn’t just monitor trouble, which basically lets West of the hook because a person shouldn’t be judged by his dumbest action and that a man can still be growing up at age 32, is a nice sentiment gone too far. Turning the other cheek is an enlightened, admirable notion, sure, but calling such melodramatic attention to it, after a year in which she’s excelled in the role of innocent bystander, feels less like forgiveness and more like the kind of self-aggrandizement that started this nonsense to begin with. On the bright side: Have we finally let her finish? Please? Also: Is this song actually on her new album or is it a let’s-be-done-with-this one-off? Hoping the latter.
Kanye’s show-closing number, “Runaway,” which wasn’t one of the new songs he’s been premiering every Friday the past few weeks and may or may not have been the song for Taylor Swift he referred to in last week’s epic Twitter mea culpa/thought-dump, but may be the title theme to whatever batshit movie he’s directing and now apparently trying to edit on a boat, was an intriguing counterpoint to Swift’s all-is-forgiven treacle. Clad a in a Beezlebub-red suit against a white set that must have had Jack White nodding in approval, Kanye implored a toast to the douchebags and jerkoffs, among whom he undoubtedly counts himself, albeit with reservations. She thinks he isn’t what he did, but he’s putting the lie to that — no, I am that, it’s just a shame you got in the crossfire. But, to paraphrase another great poet of the VMA era, he’s not that innocent.