It is going to be hard to talk about this award show without discussing the moment. You know the one. And trust me, I’ll get to it. Chances are most people who have solidly made up their mind on the situation probably won’t like what I’m going to say though. Hashtag: Unpopular Opinion Alert. But let’s not forget that it was a few seconds out of an entire two-plus hour broadcast. And it was an important broadcast because it marked the VMA’s return to Radio City Music Hall in New York City. As stated in the 2006 review, this is the venue where the VMA’s belong. It’s like anytime WWE is in Madison Square Garden: you know it’s gonna be something interesting…..OK, 2006 was kind of an exception to that, but I’m telling you ahead of time that 2009 was a welcome step up. And now to explain why.
They just bought Russell Brand back. Yeah, apparently getting his feet wet with American politics and purity rings just wasn’t enough. They had to bring the British comedian back for another round of absolute savagery. The one problem: he probably left the savagery on the dresser at home in the U.K. because his humor on this night was much less edgy than the previous year. He didn’t go full Ellen or anything; he did joke about wanting to get Lady GaGa in the sack after defending her from hermaphrodite claims. But that’s about as controversial as you’ll get from him in the monologue. His idea of trying to circle the entire show around spreading love in honor of the recently deceased-at-the-time Michael Jackson was a noble and respectable one, but it didn’t really make for interesting humor, at least not the way he did it here. With the exception of the people who just didn’t find him funny, Russell Brand’s comedy here didn’t really push any buttons.
This show has the most late-2000s guest list. Remember how Drake Bell, Josh Peck, and the main actors from the High School Musical franchise appeared on the 2008 show? For 2009, we didn’t get Drake or Josh, but we did get that little demon Megan; Miranda Cosgrove, starring on iCarly and making pop songs at the time, presented an award with young, mop-haired, still-relegated-to-Radio-Disney-airplay Justin Bieber, marking the first ever VMA appearance for either tween star. Did anyone think the Biebs would still be around (and nominated for Video of the Year) seven years later? I know I didn’t. 2006 host Jack Black presented alongside Leighton Meester of Gossip Girl and “Good Girls Go Bad” fame, and his costume was an outrageous marketing tool for his video game Brütal Legend. He also caught people off-guard by praying to the very spirit he hilariously claimed to have defeated once. Taylot Lautner appeared on this show twice; once to present alongside Shakira and again later to show a trailer for Twilight: New Moon with Edward & Bella themselves. I’ve never really cared for Taylor Lautner, so I didn’t need to see him appear twice on this show.
Nelly Furtado and Kristin Cavallari were a beautiful presenter pairing that I’m getting heart-eyes just thinking about, Megan Fox was there apparently, Pete from Fall Out Boy and Gabe from Cobra Starship made the most sense as a pairing, and Jimmy Fallon got musical with boat-riding Lonely Island comedy rapper Andy Samberg when they took the stage to present Video of the Year. While I don’t remember what most of the presenters did on the show, I definitely remember Eminem – making his first VMA appearance since 2003, where he beat up a mentally-defective puppet – and Tracy Morgan doing the Best New Artist voting skits. Apparently, Tracy Morgan thought he could get nominated in the category alongside 3OH!3, Drake, Asher Roth, Kid Cudi, and Lady GaGa even after the show already started. He would soon learn that not even getting Cyndi Lauper to guest on his “Time After Time” cover would get him a nomination. Eminem tells him Tracy could get in next year, and honestly, that’s probably the funniest line of the whole thing because we know for a fact that won’t happen. Chocolate Droppa has more of a chance at a VMA nomination.
Oh, the performances on this show were awesome. It is stupid how awesome these performances were. You can tell a lot of effort went into the Michael tribute at the beginning; from Madonna’s speech the the choreography, the energy and emotion Janet Jackson put into it, it was a pretty fine tribute. I can probably summarize the rest of the performances real quick: Katy Perry and Joe Perry playing entrance music for Russell Brand was badass. (Side note: Anyone else miss when Katy Perry’s music had a rock edge to it?) Beyoncé‘s “Single Ladies” performance was simply stellar (She’ll deliver better performances down the road, but we’ll get to that). Lady GaGa‘s “Paparazzi” performance was so miraculously bizarre, especially with the blood loss part at the end, that any naysayers had to appreciate her artistic visions. Green Day had probably my favorite performance of the night, with Billie Joe keeping the rock n roll spirit alive by letting fans flood the stage at the end. Muse had an on-location performance and it rocked just as much. Taylor Swift performed “You Belong With Me” on the CMT Awards stage months prior and it was cute, but she went bigger when performing it here, and for its concept, it worked.
Probably would’ve been better if she made her way back into Radio City circa Eminem in 2000 though. P!NK‘s acrobat routine was still fresh at the time and was a sight to see at the time. And even better to hear; P!NK has to be one of very few people in the world who could sing that well while flipping and flying in the air. Most of these performances thought outside the box and they totally worked out. And even with Lil Mama crashing the stage completely uninvited, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys closed this New York-held show with a New York anthem for the ages.
OK, time to address the elephant in the room: the whole “Single Ladies” losing Best Female Video thing. To this day, people just will not shut up about the fact that Beyoncé lost this one moonman. And if I can be honest: I don’t get why this is still such a big deal other than the fact that a lot of people hate Taylor Swift now and just want to see her be miserable every second of every day. Maybe it’s the biased fan in me, but “You Belong With Me” is actually a pretty fine video assuming you’re not one of those people who always write off teen romance as insignificant. Maybe it is a little too high school for some people’s tastes, but the story of the evil seductress living another person’s hopes and dreams, including being with the person she covets, is relatable, a decent basis to build a story around, and goes perfectly with the song. Plus, give Taylor props for playing two different roles in one video. But to most people, none of that matters because for a video that was just four minutes of dancing in grayscale, “Single Ladies” was a humongous viral phenomenon and an institution in popular music at the time. It inspired parodies a-plenty and scored Beyoncé another #1 hit. But I feel like the adoration for that video has caused people to just write “You Belong With Me” off as just not worthy of recognition at all and that’s just not true in my opinion. I think another reason I think people should get over it already is the fact that Beyoncé won Video of the Year later that night anyway. If Beyoncé didn’t win anything at all, I’d understand the outrage, but she went on to win a bigger award – in fact, the BIGGEST one – later in the night anyway. It’s an unpopular opinion, but I’m entitled to it just like you’re entitled to you own; I think we should just let Taylor have her damn moonman. Sorry, Kanye.
So what about the rest of the winners? Well, as expected, Lady GaGa beat out Drake for Best New Artist, Eminem snatched Best Hip-Hop Video (in a category that also features another white rapper you may or may not remember), Green Day beat a stacked field including the likes of Paramore and Coldplay for Best Rock Video, Britney beat Beyoncé (which everyone seems to be OK with for some reason) for Best Pop Video , T.I. won his first moonman by collecting Best Male Video for the song that I’m going to remind you all again NEVER GETS OLD, and as stated earlier, Beyoncé won the night’s biggest prize for the culturally impactful “Single Ladies”; she also let Taylor finish her speech, which goes to show just what a generous person Beyoncé is. Also, they decided to give some throwback videos from artists like Dr. Dre, Bjork, OK Go, George Michael, Radiohead, and Foo Fighters a second chance at VMA glory by introducing the Best Video that Should Have Won A Moonman Award. It was like WWE NXT: Redemption, Music Video Edition, only with interesting contenders and a winner actually being determined. That winner was the iconic “Sabotage” from the Beastie Boys, which got its ass handed to it over and over by Aerosmith and R.E.M. at the 1994 VMAs. No complaints there; “Sabotage” is still as good now as it was back then.
Of all the VMAs I’ve reviewed for this series so far, 2009 is probably the best one. 2008 is still a close second for now, but 2009 gets the W because when everything in this show hits, it hits big time. The performances delivered, the guest list was OK for the time (shocked they got a Nickelodeon star on the show, but not one Disney star though), and even though Russell Brand was much funnier in 2008, he didn’t descend completely into boring territory. And of course the Kanye/Taylor saga continues to this day and refuses to die. I swear movies will be made out of the entire thing. Not even solo biopics for Taylor and Kanye; just a joint biopic about their entire history together. And I’m not even done talking about it because it’s gonna be revisited in both the 2010 and 2015 reviews. So with 2009, the VMA’s appeared to have found their groove again. Hopefully, the keep it heading into a brand new decade.