This year’s Video Music Awards veered wildly between emotional highs (the Amy Winehouse tribute, Adele’s performance) to a wide variety of desperately awkward lows (The Fake Beastie Boys? Why?) In some ways, the show felt almost deliriously schizophrenic, an attempt to honor VMAs past — Hi, Dave Grohl! — while also attracting the eyeballs of a generation barely old enough to be called a generation. Still, a few people stuck out from the quagmire of this year’s Video Music Awards… and a few other people undeniably fell victim to the show. Here are five winners and five losers from Sunday’s show:
WINNER: Tyler, the Creator
Give MTV credit: They prominently featured the Odd Future frontman, clearly praying he would do something interesting. Tyler did not disappoint: the young rapper dissed Bruno Mars, kept the Bleep Man working overtime, and generally seemed like the last person left on Earth who was actually genuinely excited about the VMAs. Upon winning the Best New Artist category, he proclaimed, “I wanted this s— since I was nine!”
LOSER: Essentially Everyone Else Who Gave an Acceptance Speech
All the Non-Tyler people who won a Moon Man were almost comically self-serious. Bieber thanked God and Jesus; Britney thanked God, her children, and her management team; Nicki Minaj generously called her mentor/benefactor Lil Wayne “the greatest rapper alive” in her speech; perhaps most disappointingly, Lady Gaga couldn’t seem to decide how much to commit to her drag look, which meant that watching her speech was like watching an alcoholic Ralph Macchio give an inspirational speech about snowflakes.
Turning a performance of “Love on Top” into a televised pregnancy announcement? Genius.
LOSER: Britney Spears
Poor Britney. Returning to the VMAs for the first time in three years to receive a Vanguard lifetime achievement award, the pop star was double-swooped by two other famous divas. Gaga-in-Drag trampled the first half of Britney’s acceptance speech, trying to convince Brit-Brit to re-enact her famous Madonna liplock. Then, Britney’s speech suddenly transformed into an introduction for the next performer: Beyoncé. And let’s not get into the decision to have the Sparkle Motion tweens re-enact the various phases of Britney’s career.
WINNER: Russell Brand
Brand tends to get a bad rap for his two years of hosting the VMAs, but the Brit comedian was a true breath of fresh air when he strolled onstage at the two-hour mark to give a passionate, funny, moving tribute to his late friend Amy Winehouse.
LOSER: Kevin Hart
Future generations will debate: Was Kevin Hart the host of this year’s VMAs, or not? The comedian introduced the show with an extended monologue that certainly sounded like a host’s monologue. He also featured prominently in skits that occasionally played during the show. One thing that’s not debatable: Hart just wasn’t very funny. Maybe the VMAs are toxic for comedians.
WINNER: Kanye West
West spent the 2011 awards playing the Best Friend role, collaborating with Jay-Z on a performance of “Otis” and then giving his mentor a friendly back-rub after Beyoncé’s performance. It was a far cry from West’s appearance at the 2009 awards.
LOSER: Anyone hoping for something unexpected
That said, some of us kind of dug West’s “I’ma let you finish” outburst: It was the rare burst of anxious energy in an awards show that feels more stage-managed every year. Maybe it’s because the show tends to feature ever-younger performers — who tend to be extremely respectful and cautious — but we could use more insanity.
WINNER: Perceived Authenticity3
Adele might not have won any big Moon Men last night — her multiple wins were all in technical categories — but the singer undoubtedly stole the show with a blessedly straightforward performance of “Someone Like You.” In general, the best moments of last night followed that no-frills aesthetic. Jay-Z and Kanye West, whose last few VMA performances have tended toward the grandly operatic, looked like a couple of dudes just hanging out onstage during “Otis.” The most moving moment of the night was video of Amy Winehouse singing with Tony Bennett, unadorned except for her natural talent. And Mrs. Jay-Z left behind her “Single Ladies”-esque pyrotechnics and showed off the best special effect of all: Life. The kids of today are all about realness, maaan.
LOSER: Outré Ridiculata
We may be reaching the end of the post-Gaga trend towards pop hyperbole. Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry might have won multiple awards, but their whole “Dress-as-Logan’s-Run-extras” act feels like it’s getting a bit old. And the VMAs really need to shake up their design a bit: The stage this year resembled the interior of the spaceship from Alien. Not everything needs to be a circle stage, guys.
SPLIT DECISION: Lady Gaga
You could argue that Gaga’s decision to spend the night in her drag persona, “Jo Calderone,” was awkward and annoying, a joke that went too long. And you’d be right. This was the rare instance in which Gaga did not fully commit to a look: She couldn’t seem to decide how much she was playing her role, and in her later speeches she fell back and forth between being “Jo” and being “Gaga.” Still, give Gaga credit for doing something different — especially since she could have easily tried to up the crazy factor with some sort of “Born This Way” alien-transvestite-robot-queen get-up. Also, Jo-Gaga got some of the best lines of the night: Don’t act like your TV didn’t explode when she/he introduced Britney Spears by saying, “I used to hang posters of her on my wall and touch myself.”
Tell us what you think, PopWatchers: Who was the big winner and the big loser of the 2011 VMAs?
Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich