The 2011 MTV Video Music Awards were an undeniably strange production. Lady Gaga performed an entire song as her male alter ego, Jo Calderone…and then stayed in character for the entire show. (One EW commenter on our live-blog noted that this was probably the longest time Gaga has ever spent in one outfit.) Comedian Kevin Hart opened with a curiously extended monologue expressing his disappointment that he wasn’t hosting the show, but his frequent appearances thereafter made it seem like he actually was the host. Also, Cloris Leachman was onstage with the Jersey Shore girls, thus opening up a rift in the space/time continuum.
But even without an instantly buzzworthy Kanye-Taylor event, the 28th-annual VMAs had a few high points, too. If you had to pick one defining moment, it would have to be Beyoncé’s baby bump. The diva’s rendition of “Love on Top” might not have been her best VMA performance ever, but there’s no denying the sheer electricity in the room when she ended her set by proudly revealing her pregnant tummy. The cherry on top: Expectant daddy Jay-Z freaking out in the audience, while Uncle Kanye gave him some proud backslaps.
Jay-Z and Kanye were coming off a pleasantly unadorned surprise performance of “Otis,” so it was a good night to be Jay-Z, Jay-Z’s wife, or Jay-Z’s protégé. If you were anyone else, the 2011 VMAs were a beautiful festival of awkwardness. Jessie J spent most of the show on the tiny stage reserved for the VMA “house band,” a concept that once again stranded a dynamite up-and-comer in the curious role of only playing music for ten seconds before every commercial break. But Jessie J managed to have one awesome, perhaps-inadvertently hilarious moment: Immediately following Chris Brown’s medley performance of “Yeah 3x” and “Beautiful People,” Jessie J started singing TLC’s “No Scrubs.” Zing!
In the always enjoyable category of “Things MTV Does to Stay Relevant,” the show paid a fascinating amount of attention to Tyler, The Creator, the leader of hip hop collective Odd Future. A weird throwdown between Odd Future and “The Beastie Boys” (Seth Rogen, Will Ferrell, and Jack Black) fell flat, but T,TC stole the show with an excitable acceptance speech for Best New Artist for that was basically bleeped in its entirety, but was nevertheless far more energetic than many of the night’s performances.
The single most awkward interaction of the night — which is saying something, since this is the same night that saw Jonah Hill go off on a very, very long almost-rant about people who are angry that he lost weight — undoubtedly came during the presentation of the Michael Jackson Vanguard Award to Britney Spears. On paper, it probably looked great: Lady Gaga, the pop diva du jour, presenting an achievement award to Britney Spears, the pop diva du decade. But Gaga was still in drag, and Spears seemed a bit flustered by the whole event. (Intriguingly, this was the first time Spears attended the VMAs since 2008.) For a second, it seemed like Britney and Gaga were going to kiss, thus continuing the cycle begun when Madonna smooched Britney in 2003. Britney didn’t want to; Gaga kept on pushing; and the whole thing weirdly devolved into an introduction to Beyoncé’s performance.
But the night wasn’t all awkwardness. Russell Brand’s tribute to Amy Winhouse struck just the right mix of humor, heart, sadness, and pop grandiosity, and Bruno Mars’ performance also did the late singer justice. The sight of Winehouse recording “Body and Soul” with Tony Bennett, from a session in March of this year, was a moving reminder of the troubled star’s incredible talent.
All in all, MTV”s decision to go hostless doesn’t seem to have affected the proceedings very much. Which isn’t a good thing: This year’s show felt just as scattershot and rushed as last year’s. Readers, what did you think of the show? Were you disappointed that Gaga and Britney didn’t kiss? Do you feel confident that you now know who Tyler, The Creator is? And is there anybody you think should host next year? My vote is for Rick Ross. But only if he finds time for a painting lesson.
Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich
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MTV’s 2011 Video Music Awards live blog