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Big names hit and miss at Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards

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Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj mended fences. Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus did not. And Kanye West announced he is running for president in 2020.

The MTV Video Music Awards are always full of big, culture-rocking moments, and Sunday’s were no different.

Here are six takeaways from the night:

#Kanye2020: Kanye West was presented with the evening’s Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award, which signifies a career of influential music video work. Another way to look at it is it was a way for producers to guarantee West had a prime slot in the show, and, man, did he use it, taking 13 uninterrupted minutes to (deep breath): explain at length the time he interrupted Taylor Swift at the VMAs, his reaction to the moment and others’ reactions to the moment; examine his ongoing frustration with awards shows; insert himself into the beefs that dominated pre-VMAs headlines, saying his interruption of Taylor Swift created an environment where artists could freely speak their minds; align himself with the youth and refer to himself as a millennial; say the word “bro” many times; and, oh, yeah, announce a 2020 presidential bid.

West’s speech was messy, imperfect and totally transfixing. He was clearly speaking from a place of sincerity and searching for truth, and his honesty was refreshing amid the fakeness of the night. It’s doubtful his speech will win him any new fans, and his announcement that he’s running for president feeds the storyline that he’s an egomaniac run amok. But whether he’s seen as a hero or a villain, we need Kanye West, and no one can command an audience or create a moment quite like he can.

Miley tries really, really hard to shock, fails: Miley Cyrus was the night’s host and for all her promises to shock us, shock us, shock us with her deviant behavior, she came off as desperate and a little bit lame. “I have literally done everything on the VMA stage,” she said early on, confusing herself with Madonna. She touted her marijuana usage like she was flaunting true rebel behavior, even though smoking weed is now about as passe as breaking the speed limit. She wore a series of revealing, neon nightmare outfits, at one point showing off a full breast on camera, as if that envelope hasn’t already been pushed in our post-Janet, post-Gaga world. And she starred in several pretaped bits where she was positioned as pop’s bad girl (she takes wild Instagrams! She hangs with rappers!), none of which made up for her lack of an introductory monologue where she could have set the tone for the evening. Announcers teased, “What will Miley wear next?” and “You don’t want to miss what Miley does next!” which they could have replaced with Miley staring into the camera and pleading, “look at me! Pleeease look at meeee!” Cyrus saved her one true shock for last, closing the show with a surprise performance of her new song “Dooo It!” and announcing a new album available to download for free on her website. But by that time in the night, people needed less Miley, not more.

Taylor’s world: Taylor Swift asserted her dominance over the pop music kingdom by being a part of several of the night’s top moments. During the VMA pre-show she debuted her new music video, “Wildest Dreams,” and she opened the show by appearing on stage with Nicki Minaj, effectively burying the hatchet with her after the two spatted on Twitter last month. (Although, all things considered, Nicki seemed less into the reconciliation than Taylor did, and was less than convincing when the two hugged.) Swift later presented Kanye West with his Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, telling Kanye what a huge fan she’s always been and revisiting their infamous VMA moment by saying, “I guess I have to say to all the other winners tonight, I’m really happy for you, and I’ma let you finish, but Kanye West has had one of the greatest careers of all-time!” She also won the evening’s big award for Video of the Year for “Bad Blood,” and accepted the award with her squad of co-stars and friends. “Bad Blood” was at the center of Nicki Minaj’s arguments about race and body types in music videos, and while Swift avoiding making any big statements on the matter, she closed her speech by saying, “I’m just happy that in 2015, we live in a world where boys can play princesses and girls can play soldiers.” It wasn’t exactly political, but it was enough for Swift to retain her status as the Belle of the Ball.

Nicki and Miley trade words: Since Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift made up, that left Miley Cyrus — who in an interview with the New York Times last week said she didn’t respect Minaj’s comments regarding her “Anaconda” video’s snub in the Video of the Year category — in Minaj’s crosshairs. After picking up the award for Best Hip-Hop Video for “Anaconda” (and thanking her pastor, no less), Minaj turned to Cyrus, who was on a different portion of the stage. “And now, back to this bitch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley, what’s good?” Nicki said, shooting a death stare in Miley’s direction (which, in fairness, was followed by a smile). Cyrus countered, “Hey, we’re all in this industry, we all do interviews, and we all know how they manipulate (stuff),” and offered her congratulations to Nicki. But Miley was clearly flustered and caught off guard by the comments, and in the segment that immediately followed she made several allusions to Minaj, looking her way when mentioning “losers” of past awards, and saying when she lost the Artist to Watch award in 2008, “I was fine with it, whatever, because it’s no big deal, it’s just an award, and I persevered.” The interaction seemed like a put-on at first, but grew uncomfortable as both parties were seemingly heated. It was never mentioned again, though in the taped segment that followed, it probably didn’t help matters that Cyrus took a shot at Minaj’s boyfriend, Meek Mill.

Big Sean’s big moment: Detroit rapper Big Sean won the night’s award for Best Video With a Social Message for his “One Man Can Change the World” clip. It was Sean’s first VMA (he shared it with John Legend and Kanye West, who are both featured on the song) and he dedicated it to his grandmother, whom the song is partially about. “If one person has showed me that one man — meaning human being, male or female — can change the world, it’s her, so I gotta dedicate this to her,” he said. He also thanked Kanye West for the platform he gave him to allow him to make a difference in Detroit through his charity, the Sean Anderson Foundation. And they say the VMAs are all wardrobe malfunctions and five-second delays! Big Sean proved otherwise, for a few minutes at least.

Bieber breaks down: Justin Bieber returned to the VMA stage on Sunday, performing clips of his hit “Where Are You Now” and his new single “What Do You Mean.” He danced, he sang, he attached himself to a harness and flew high above the stage, and when he returned to the stage, he cried. Tears. See, Bieber has been on a months-long mission to rehab his image after several years of lousy behavior — egg-throwing, bucket-peeing, etc. — turned him into pop’s most petulant figure. He’s recently been playing the humble card, and the tears were a PR gambit to introduce the new, sincere Bieber. Good luck with that one, Justin. But considering the move is all flash and no substance, there may have been no better place to put it in motion than the VMAs.

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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