Graham: Beyoncé performance highlights weak VMAs
A Beyoncé concert broke out during the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday, overshadowing everything else on the slapdash three-hour broadcast.
In many ways Sunday’s show felt like the final VMAs, the year the enterprise finally began to consume itself. The show savaged the participatory nature of modern awards shows, taking on a sour air that mocked viewers for playing along at home.
In place of a host, comic duo Key and Peele narrated the evening in character as a pair of obnoxious tweeters, essentially lampooning everyone who was watching at home and weighing in on it on social media. Huh-huh, isn’t it stupid to make jokes about celebs at awards shows? Sure, except that’s what most of your audience is doing right this moment.
Also contributing to the coverage was Nicole Byer, an actress and comedian who may also have been in character but maybe wasn’t, and was giving breathless updates about how every performer was “giving her liiiiiiife!” from backstage. If it was meant to be funny, the satire was lost since coverage of modern awards shows is typically that braindead and overheated.
And there was the overall feel that the show was planned and started to come together sometime late Thursday. Rihanna, winner of the night’s Video Vanguard award, performed four times, which seemed less like an honorarium and more like a way to fill three big holes in the show.
And Kanye West’s much-publicized platform where he was given four minutes to do whatever he wanted was a bust. After offering some vague, unformed thoughts about his continuing Taylor Swift feud, violence in Chicago and his self-drawn parallels to Steve Jobs, Henry Ford and Walt Disney, he threw to the premiere of his new music video (for “Fade”), where Teyana Taylor performs “Flashdance” moves in a workout room in extremely skimpy, extremely revealing gym attire.
After once taking on President Bush in a live TV broadcast, West was reduced to saying “bro” a lot and presenting a music video filled with T&A. Not exactly radical.
But who has time to be radical? In a heated election year, there were no mentions of the upcoming Presidential election, or much else of consequence. Not that the VMAs have to be political, but it would be nice to at least acknowledge the world outside or that there is an election forthcoming. The closest the VMAs came to addressing current events was a bit where Jimmy Fallon hit the stage dressed as Ryan Lochte.
Yet in the midst of all the wreckage, there was Beyoncé.
Performances by Queen Bey are usually greeted with breathless hyperbole, but this one was worth the hype, a five-song, 16-minute barnburner where she stunningly, flawlessly gave life to her “Lemonade” album and its messages of scorn, heartbreak and personal triumph.
The VMA show didn’t deserve her, but she gave it CPR, at one point taking her baseball bat (which she has dubbed “Hot Sauce”) to a camera and walking away as the fractured lens captured her leaving the scene. She came, she clobbered and all we could do is sit and stare, which was a pretty good metaphor for the show, which she singlehandedly rescued from the scrap heap.
After Beyoncé, no one else stood a chance. Poor Britney Spears had her much-hyped comeback performance slotted right after Beyoncé’s hip check to the broadcast, and her lip-synched, lightly choreographed duet with G-Eazy came off as not embarrassing, which is the best she could have hoped for. (Eazy wasn’t as successful in escaping embarrassment: He decided mid-performance that it would be a good time to go in for a kiss from Spears; he was denied by the pop princess, in perhaps her most spontaneous on-stage moment in years.)
There were some awards handed out; Beyoncé took home Video of the Year (for “Formation”) and Best Female Video (for “Hold Up”) while Calvin Harris won Best Male Video (for his Rihanna-featuring “This is What You Came For” clip) and the Joe Jonas-led DNCE won Best New Artist honors.
Eazy wasn’t the only one going for a big kiss and going home empty handed; Drake came dressed in a tuxedo and seemed ready to propose marriage to Rihanna when he presented her with the Video Vanguard award at evening’s close. He told her he’d been in love with her since he was 22 and as he handed her the award he went in for a kiss, and she responded by giving him a hug, leaving him with enough material to write two albums worth of sad Drake songs about.
It’s easy to relate to Drake: He wanted more from Rihanna than she was willing to give, just like we wanted more from the VMAs than they had to offer. In the end, we all went home unhappy. Beyoncé can fix some relationship problems, but not all of them.