An annual event for the rich and the famous that usually stirs reactions has left us less “rich and famous”… underwhelmed.
Over the past couple of decades, viewers have seen a lot of controversy at the VMAs.
Rock stars fist fighting on stage, notorious speeches, Prince’s bare bottom on live television, celebs calling out the gatekeepers of the music industry and tragic performances.
A timeline of past events will open your eyes to the worldwide expectations of the VMAs.
- 1991: After his arrest for indecent exposure, Pee-Wee Herman debuted himself at the VMAs. His first words, “heard any good jokes lately?”
- 1992: A mid-performance near knock-out, as the Nirvana bassist threw his instrument in the air only for it to come crashing down on his head… Dave Grohl then called out Axl Rose after he apparently threatened Kurt Cobain backstage. The band ended their set smashing and crashing their gear onstage as Grohl took to the mic repeatedly shouting, “Hi, Axl!”
- 1992: Ass-less chaps and crop tops are worn. Howard Stern flaunted himself while Luke Perry grabbed his buttocks after Stern announced it’s magic powers.
- 1995: Interview Crashers. Courtney Love interrupted Madonna’s interview, saying “ Courtney Love is in dire need of attention right now.” Madonna was not impressed.
- 1997: Fiona Apple’s speech. “This world is bullshit, and you shouldn’t model your life about what you think that we think is cool, and what we’re wearing and what we’re saying and everything. Go with yourself.”
- 1999: Breast jiggling. Lil’ Kim had an exposed booby covering just her nipples, and Diana Ross took the opportunity for a grab and jiggle.
- 2000: A protest. Rage Against the Machine bassist Tim Commerford interrupted Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit as he tried to accept his award by climbing the set and refusing to come down because he didn’t agree with the result.
- 2002: A prank. The king of pop thought he was accepting an ‘Artist of The Millennium’ award presented by Britney Spears which was a fake and Michael Jackson was hoaxed by Jack Black during the next VMAs.
- 2002: Insults, insults, insults. Triumph the insult comic dog roasted many celebs throughout the awards, including Eminem, who predictably got mad and shoved the puppet away and said, “I’ve had my TV time.”
- 2003: Girl-on-girl pashing: Madonna kissing Britney Spears (and Christina Aguilera) did what it intended to do, creating a big scandal and a lot of talk.
- 2007: “It’s Britney, bitch”. Peaking in the tabloids for unwanted reasons, Brit took to the VMA stage when she probably shouldn’t of. Stumbling across the stage mouthing few words… unforgettably tragic.
- 2008: A big diss. Russel Brand is king of word vomit. On this occasion, he decided to rant on about The Jonas Brothers refraining from sex, dissing purity rings, saying “That is not what Jesus wants.” He unsurprisingly attracted a lot of criticism.
- 2009: Kanye did Kanye. Interrupting an acceptance speech is a basic no-no, but Yeezy didn’t think Taylor Swift deserved the “best female video” award over Beyoncé. His ever so famous words “Imma let you finish” became a trend and President Obama called him a “jackass”.
- 2010: “I’m not a piece of meat.” Lady Gaga claimed her award in a dress made from raw beef.
- 2013: Blurred Lines. Her tongue and twerking went viral after Miley performed alongside Robin Thicke. R.I.P Hannah Montana.
- 2015: “What’s good?” Nicki Minaj called out Miley Cyrus mid-speech after comments she made during an interview with the NY Times. “This, that had a lot of stuff to say about me in the press, Miley what’s good?” What we expected was audacious, electrifying, controversial moments. What we got was a series of at least good performances, love confessions and a 6-minute speech from Yeezy.
Which brings us to the present, a much less juicy version of the VMAs. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, just safe to say MTV doesn’t take such bold risks anymore.
It makes sense to start with Beyoncé, because in her own phrase – she slayed. Her performance, in a roundabout way, gestured towards racist police violence. Her set, a short rendition of Lemonade, opened with Pray You Catch Me which featured a group of dancers in white spotlights. The lights would turn red with the sound of gunfire as dancers fell until only Beyoncé was left standing. She finished up falling into the arms of a man dressed in a black hood, and with that, the show continued without a mention of Black Lives Matter.
As always, she proved she is in a league of her own.
We were all probably expecting Britney to flop, but it could have been and has been worse. Sure, she was lip-syncing, but her headset mic, dancing entourage and signature dance moves were nostalgic.
Rihanna received the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award by the one and only Drake. And how he gave it to her made hearts flutter everywhere. “She’s someone I’ve been in love with since I was 22 years old. She’s one of my best friends in the world. All my adult life, I’ve looked up to her even though she’s younger than me. She’s a living breathing legend in our industry. Ladies and gentlemen, the recipient of the Michael Jackson Vanguard Award for 2916: Rihanna,” he said.
Aside from Drake’s words, Rihanna had a lot of screen time, performing four mini-concerts at the VMAs. Each representing the different parts of her artistry, from Pon De Replay to Stay to Bitch Better Have My Money. Rihanna reminded everyone that beyond her bad gal reputation is an astounding voice and a striking performer.
After the world received news that MTV granted Kanye West four minutes to say whatever the hell he wanted, expectations were high. But instead, he spilled another Kanye classic. Covering all bases from Taylor to Chicago crime problems, he proceeded to preview a surprise video for Fade. All together is was a pretty chill night for Kanye, but it still made it as a stand out moment.
Voices have said the historic VMAs used to be riskier because artists from that time were opposed to selling out and “weren’t down for the industry BS”, whereas in today’s industry money and profile means more.
Despite the lack of drama, the VMAs remain entertaining.