Green Day start a fake riot! Calvin Harris gets grounded! Rihanna's crotch refuses to go un-patted! From Frank Ocean to Taylor Swift, relive the most WTF VMAs in recent memory.

1.HIGH: RIHANNA PATS HERSELF SILLY

1/17

The first word of Rihanna's "Cockiness" is "suck," which means the first word of the superstar's show-opening performance was bleeped by the censors. "I want you to be my sex slave" got through unscathed, but the message of Rihanna's brief set with guests A$AP Rocky and Calvin Harris was a wry wink: I'm the biggest pop star you've got tonight, MTV, so I'm gonna do whatever I want. Sing along to her backing track? Sure, occasionally. Pat her crotch like she was putting out a small conflagration? Fair game. Then she ventured into the crowd for "We Found Love" — with no security in sight (there were two hulking behemoths guarding the stairs before Taylor Swift began her campaign for a Daytime Emmy). Compared to last year's opening act — Lady Gaga's long, rambling, nonsensical monologue as her male alter ego Jo Calderone — Rihanna was a chilled-out godsend. CARYN GANZ

2.HIGH: RIHANNA PATS HERSELF SILLY

2/17

The first word of Rihanna's "Cockiness" is "suck," which means the first word of the superstar's show-opening performance was bleeped by the censors. "I want you to be my sex slave" got through unscathed, but the message of Rihanna's brief set with guests A$AP Rocky and Calvin Harris was a wry wink: I'm the biggest pop star you've got tonight, MTV, so I'm gonna do whatever I want. Sing along to her backing track? Sure, occasionally. Pat her crotch like she was putting out a small conflagration? Fair game. Then she ventured into the crowd for "We Found Love" — with no security in sight (there were two hulking behemoths guarding the stairs before Taylor Swift began her campaign for a Daytime Emmy). Compared to last year's opening act — Lady Gaga's long, rambling, nonsensical monologue as her male alter ego Jo Calderone — Rihanna was a chilled-out godsend. CARYN GANZ

3.LOW: KEVIN HART’S JOKE THAT WOULDN’T DIE

3/17

Of all the things we prayed wouldn't happen during this year's VMAs (Skrillex collabo with [fill in the blank] rock band or rapper, for instance), here was one that didn't come to mind: African-American comedian tells endless gay joke with no punch line in reference to Frank Ocean coming out. Host Kevin Hart, who seemed to be caught in a pathologically unfunny Moebius loop all night, blundered into a bit where he posited that Frank accidentally revealed his romantic love for men while in the middle of recording a song in the studio (a weird scenario to concoct since what was powerful about the singer's beautifully written statement on his blog was how deeply considered it was, but whatever). In other words, and I am not making this up, Hart joked that Frank mistakenly sang, “I been thinkin' about you, Leroy!” And the stunned engineer asked this imaginary Frank if he wanted to delete the man's name from the track, and this imaginary Frank said, "No, leave it in." That's how Frank Ocean came out, according to Kevin Hart's hilariously fantastical comedic mind.

Okay, several things: 1) "Leroy," Kevin Hart? "Leroy," really?; 2) Screaming "Everybody, stop!" to offset the crowd's palpable cringe, like you're spitting some tough truth to a bunch of precious prudes, just makes the situation more excruciating; 3) Maybe try a little bit harder not to be such a pathetically stereotypical Def Comedy hack during the biggest monologue of your career (and BTW, MTV producer who greenlit this one? Boo!); and 4) If Pauly D is the audience member laughing hardest at your material, then maybe you should just go ahead and quietly get the fuck off the stage. CHARLES AARON

4.HIGH: PINK MAKES HER BODY TALK LIKE ROBYN'S

4/17

From her towering cotton-candy pompadour-mohawk to her militaristic clothes to the geometric shards of facepaint to her opening setup (with a little drum kit), we can't help but think Pink's been taking some cues from a certain Swedish pop star. Usually we'd be livid at such IKEA swagger jacking, but a multiplatinum pop star could have worse influences — so, Konichiwa! Bonus points for Pink's weird anthropomorphic lips that were a combo of Busby Berkeley, Matthew Barney, and classic Robert Palmer videos… plus they puked confetti on 2 Chainz! CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN

5.LOW: FRANK OCEAN TUNES INTO CHANNEL ZZZZ

5/17

The VMAs are not exactly a subtle affair focused on true artistry. They're a showcase for spectacle, a venue tailored to the Lady Gagas of the world. Frank Ocean is a simmering, introspective performer. Delivering the ballad "Thinking About You" on a stage decorated in post-apocalyptic fashion with fire and sparse shrubbery, Ocean mostly sang with his eyes closed, lost in the song's soaring melody. It was an quiet moment, and it fell flat. The VMAs aren't the right frame for intimacy, and Ocean is still a somewhat static live performer. The song sounded great, but that doesn't mean it got heard. DAVID MARCHESE

6.LOW: THE BULLSHIT MCA TRIBUTE

6/17

Forget the RNC, the Beastie Boys built this. They are one of less than 20 artists to bring home the elusive MTV Video Vanguard Award for their pioneering work in the form (and work bringing that whole hip-hop thing anchoring the show to the suburbs). MTV's tribute? 12 seconds of "No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn" and three .jpgs. That's not called gratitude. C.W.

7.LOW: CALVIN HARRIS’ PYRAMID OF $OLITUDE

7/17

Okay, we get it music industry, Rihanna is the only "EDM" star that America can be trusted to watch on television; frankly, it could be, and has been, worse (put your exultant arms down, already, Monsieur Guetta!). And nobody’s better suited to preside blithely over these awards-show Cirque du So Rave production orgies — with the green lasers and exhaustingly goofball choreography and vaguely demonic Egyptian-dynasty strip-club ambience — than RiRi (even with professionally inappropriate sidekick A$AP Rocky grabbing a handful of her posterior during “Cockiness”). But when her show-opening performance shifted over to “We Found Love” (winner of Best Video), the usual unnecessarily embarrassing dance-music pantomime kicked into overdrive, with a bombardment of LCD Soundsystem’s leftover white balloons and just-happy-to-be-anywhere Scottish disco bloke Calvin Harris playing the role of tragically isolated house DJ, this time perched in a sharply angled, Frank Gehry-like geometric fortress, bobbing his head anonymously throughout the night and, apparently, counting his money (as writer and producer of “We Found Love,” plus so many other international tourist anthems). Dude will be lounging beside infinity pools literally into infinity, but the point is, playing TV’s diminished DJ role of an awkward birthday-party clown who has to be cordoned off because he bores (or scares) the kids was not a good look, Calvin, no matter how excited your peeps back across the pond might’ve been to see ya validated by debased Americans.

C.A.

8.HIGH: 2 CHAINZ SCOOTS ON HIS 2 CHEEKZ

8/17

Like Drake's set at last weekend Made in America Festival, 2 Chainz's presence brought a hot injection of unfiltered energy to a tame event. The best part of his white-hot VMA performance was when he popped a squat on Lil Wayne's skateboard and proceeded to moonwalk with his ass. Here's hoping a whole generation of kids saw it as their "Billie Jean" at Motown 25 moment. C.W.

9.LOW: CHRIS BROWN NAMED MOST "HOT AND TALENTED" GUY?

9/17

With Drake’s “Take Care,” Usher’s “Climax,” and Frank Ocean’s “Swim Good” in this category, what sort of misguided enabler decides that the Best Male Video award would do the most good for all concerned if it could be folded into Team Breezy’s obnoxiously repulsive redemption crusade? And to add insult to injury, of course he’s honored for the song/video that features Rihanna cooing alongside (“Turn Up the Music”). His pretty-fuck-look dyed-blonde hair, his silly-ass sunglasses, his oh-please Mad Men styling, his utter lack of humility. He’s still an asshole, MTV, but he’s your asshole.

10.LOW: GREEN DAY FANDEMONIUM

10/17

Who do these dudes think they are, Lightning Bolt? Green Day played on the floor hoping to jolt the 20,000-seat Staples Center with a little intimacy. Then they invited their fans to swarm the "stage" for a little safe, TV-friendly, controlled chaos. Before the show, they were big-upping Pussy Riot, but we weren't expecting a limp flare-up in the venue.

11.HIGH: THE ONE DIRECTION OLIVER STONE SHOT

11/17

The night gifted awards for M.I.A.'s explosive Moroccan protests and Nicki's Technicolor House of Style beach fantasias — so you'd think the show itself would have a little more cinematic oomph to it. Well, props to the cameraman who shot boy band One Direction through the heart-hands of their many fans. Mr. Camera-Man, for your stunning use of mise en scène we nominate you for the Primetime Emmy for Most Inspirational Shot Of Band We Don't Care About. C.W.

12.LOW: NICKI MINAJ HAS A MASSIVE ATTACK

12/17

"Speech" is the wrong word for what Nicki Minaj did upon taking the stage to accept the award for Best Female Video for "Starships." Blurt would be better. As would blab, spew, or spazz. Wearing a skin-tight black and red outfit, Minaj started out by saying "Oh my God" five times in a row, followed that up with a volley of "I don't knows," thanked her Kens and Barbs, slipped into an "I can't" (not even an "I can't even"; just "I can't"), and followed that up with "Like, this is another." Another what? Who knows! Then she made a bizarre dolphin noise and quipped "I love you, bye." D.M.

13.LOW: THE BRITISH INVASION IS FEELING REALLY INVASIVE

13/17

What can you really say (that won’t be drowned out by the screams of millions of teenagers which we, as a country, have failed)? The chart-topping British-Irish boybands One Direction and the Wanted have no personalities worth identifying, they can’t dance to save their shiny necks, and their songs don’t even try to rival the glossy, urgent, melodramatic fizz of Dr. Luke and Max Martin’s finer fare. Being excited about their music is like trying to get worked up about a bunch of Drew Lacheys and Billy Elliotts chirping out endless media-trained jabberwocky. Of course, these awards have always been about marketing first and foremost (those poor, exploited teenagers again!), but naming One Direction the Best New Artist over, say, Carly Rae Jepsen just seems weirdly off-message. I mean, she’s a 26-year-old woman who acts like a horny 14-year-old girl and apparently has a sex tape in her past. What else does one Canadian have to do to hit MTV’s sweet spot? C.A.

14.LOW: TAYLOR SWIFT’S SLOW BOAT TO BRANSON

14/17

I’ve always thought that the song/video for “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” would be a lot more poignant and powerful if it were sung by Honey Boo-Boo as she finally had a Damascus moment of clarity, took her lawyer’s grimy hand, poured her go go juice over her deranged mother’s head, and declared, “Fuck this machine, mama, I’m ghost!” Unfortunately, the song is really just Taylor’s latest bleat of break-up petulance over her latest douchey ex. And okay, Taylor’s still a ravishing commercial juggernaut (and we're bitter critics in an ever-imploding media hellscape), and there’s clearly no point in asserting once again that she sounds terribly off-key and amateurish in every live setting, but it’s also clear that as her gawky aw-shucks persona begins to fade with age, it’s being gradually replaced by a perfunctory professionalism, glum entitlement, and a desire to sort of, you know, act. Closing the show with a skit-heavy performance of “We Are Never” (featuring Flaming Lips’ leftover furry extras' costumes), she tried to do a bizarre ’50s sock-hop, gum-smacking, sweater-girl routine, as if she were auditioning for the grating, G-rated sequel to John Waters’ Cry-Baby, directed by her future ex-boyfriend who broke up with her via Instagram. Girl, you may or may not be better than all this, but please stop. Guys suck, we’ve been there, we’ve been that guy, multiple times, but trust us, you’re gonna end up as the country-music version of Jennifer Aniston, if you don’t watch it. Wait a minute, that’s exactly what she wants to become. And she’s gonna be on the cover of the very last grocery-store tabloid to exist when all our children are listening to her horrendous Rumours tribute album in 2024. It’s all so obvious now. Sheesh, never mind. C.A.

15.HIGH: GABBY DOUGLAS TUMBLES FOR ALICIA KEYS

15/17

We had to wait until nearly the bitter end of this year's show, but MTV finally brought someone who's good at doing something out to do the thing that she's good at! Alicia Keys' fairly unanimated performance of new track "Girl on Fire" was flaming out — even with a busty Nicki Minaj teetering around — until one of the Fierce Five suddenly bounded onto the stage, reminding everyone that Ryan Lochte can't do much outside a pool. U.S.A.! C.G.

16.LOW: A 'TWILIGHT' LOWLIGHT

16/17

At least Rob Pattinson was a good sport for showing up. (Were you watching from Toronto, K-Stew?) But the recently cuckolded Twilight star looked as bemused as we felt about why, exactly, he and his castmates in the upcoming Twilight sequel, Breaking Dawn: Part 2, were shilling at the video music awards. Oh yeah, because no one buys records anymore. C.W.

17.HIGH: RIHANNA WINS VIDEO OF THE YEAR

17/17

The Video of the Year category used to mean something in the days when Peter Gabriel and Sinead O'Connor were putting Moonmen on their mantle. But after a few years of honoring whatever cartoonish meta-exercise that Eminem and Britney were barfing out, the award seems to be slowly bounding back to its former glory. This year MTV actually honored one of the hands-down best videos of the year — and certainly the best in its category — Rihanna and Calvin Harris' "We Found Love." If you haven't already given it one of it's 200 million YouTube views, check out its very now mix of Gaspar Noé drug spirals, Vice-centric photography, and haunting "With Or Without You"-style projections. C.W.