Another MTV Video Music Awards is in the rearview, and this year brought us Katy Perry’s boxing pantomime, Lady Gaga’s seashells in the flesh, and Justin Timberlake’s 20 minutes of magic.
But not every great moment was found by the television cameras, which is why EW was inside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to watch what happened in between, and to take notes while wiping away the sweat caused by Drake’s pyrotechnics. Check out some highlights from the view inside the building.
1. DJ Cassidy provided the pre-show and between-segment entertainment inside the Barclays Center, and while nobody cared much about him as they were taking their seats, he accidentally inspired some of the night’s biggest reactions. Case in point: During one commercial break, he spun Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” which inspired a pretty intense singalong even as the show was coming back on the air.
2. The stage crew working the MTV VMAs were super busy, as always: They hustled to deconstruct Lady Gaga’s elaborate set following her show-opening performance, and had to build what was essentially an entire third stage—the one that the other four members of NSYNC emerged from—over the course of a single commercial break. (It was mostly seamless.)
3. It was difficult to tell on TV, but the big MoonMouseMan head that belched out presenters was located about 30 feet from the tiny center stage where they gave out the actual awards. In order to teleport from one space to another, the presenters had to let themselves be lowered via a lift from the first stage, and then cross through the floor crowd. Everybody seemed to treat their little elevator ride differently: Pharrell, Nile Rodgers, and Daft Punk all posed like badasses for the crowd during their descent, while Taylor Swift seemed terrified she would fall over in her heels.
4. Speaking of Swift, she was one half of the best in-the-crowd tag team of the night: During a commercial break, she got up and walked over to say hello to Drake, who gave her a hug. It was the first time Drake really perked up—he seemed super bummed and bored by most of the show, until he got to his own performance.
5. Another popular guy in the crowd? Ed Sheeran. He was chatting up Emeli Sande before the show, and Iggy Azaelea (who was sitting directly behind him) over the course of the evening. People kept coming up to him to take photos—perhaps because he was so entertaining to watch during the breaks; he danced in his seat to a lot of the music spun by DJ Cassidy, and seemed especially jazzed about Rick Ross’ “BMF.”
6. You cannot fathom how intense the crowd reaction was to Justin Timberlake’s performance. The crowd on the floor was only half into everything up until that point (the Miley Cyrus/Robin Thicke joint was probably the biggest thing in the show’s first hour, at least as far as audience engagement went), and even as Timberlake started, they were still only partially into it. But once he hit “Cry Me A River,” everything got kicked up a notch, and as he made his way around the arena, people slowly started standing up. By the time the other members of NSYNC emerged for a quick trip down memory lane, everything at Barclays was on their feet going absolutely HAM. That reaction was the night’s biggest—and best (it even helped mask the malfunctioning elevator platform that left poor Chris Kirkpatrick to twist in the wind). Also, Timberlake stopped for a water break just before the NSYNC reveal—which proves that he needs hydration and is thus human after all.
7. All the love for NSYNC did not carry over to their natural evolutionary descendants One Direction. Though they were greeted with crazy-huge teen screams every time they were mentioned, they were the victims of the night’s only real set of boos when they took the prize for Song of the Summer. That reaction—plus microphone problems—almost entirely drowned out their acceptance speech.
8. Speaking of microphone problems, they were rampant: Basically, the first sentence or lyric of every line or speech of the night got cut off. Was that because there were so few live microphones over the course of the night? Even Lady Gaga, who had never performed on the VMAs without going live, was clearly not singing. Was the size of Barclays Center too much for the performers? Or is it just easier to make television that way? Either way, sound was a problem for long stretches of the show—some things seemed mixed extremely loud (like Bruno Mars), while others got lost in the arena’s large empty space (most notably Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love,” a delicate song nearly crushed by the sound system but saved by Macklemore’s charisma and Jennifer Hudson’s pipes).
9. Both Drake and Bruno Mars brought actual pyro to their performances, and though it seems obvious, it’s always surprising: That stuff is extremely hot. Once Drake wrapped up, the Barclays ventilation systems were clearly not up to the task, as the next few segments were pretty smokey. And, for some reason, that smoke smelled a lot like marijuana.
10. Finally, it seems as though Lady Gaga has gained some ground in her tete-a-tete with Katy Perry, at least as far as their respective in-house reactions were concerned. Gaga’s show-opening performance was very well received by the audience in the Barclays, while Katy Perry had a harder time connecting. Of course, she was a mile away performing remotely, but even before “Roar” kicked off, there were already an awful lot of people dressed as empty seats.