After the 2010 VMA’s, the same question was on the tip of everyone’s tongue: how will Lady GaGa top herself this time. Her VMA debut saw her fake-hemorrhage to death in the name of metaphorical performance art. Then came her second VMA appearance the following year, where she draped poultry all over herself in the name of some message that I haven’t quite figured out yet. GaGa had the world on the palm of her hand going into the 2011 show, which is fascinating to think about considering the fact that she wasn’t even nominated for the top prize. The VMA’s became less about the actual awards and more about what Lady GaGa headline will be printed on newsstands and websites everywhere the next morning. What she had in store for us was something that surely none of us saw coming. And we’ll get to that in due time as we break down the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards.
Now we can talk about how Lady GaGa blew our collective minds. She’d dropped a single called “You and I” that year; I prefer the Elizabeth Gillies acoustic version over the original, but the original is a fine attempt at country-leaning pop. Anyway, the video sees GaGa take on the role of greaser alter ego Jo Calderone, who is a male character. So for her performance of the song, she decided that method acting was the way to go and took on the persona of Calderone. And while it was surreal for the performance and confused even some stars in attendance, it was entertaining nonetheless. It did, however, start to get obnoxious when she committed so much to her method acting exercise that she stayed in character as Calderone for the entire. Damn. Night. Even when presenting Britney Spears with her Video Vanguard Award and accepting her own hardware, she kept this character up for some odd reason. One positive about it: the fact that it was way more entertaining than that dreadfully short, seemingly rushed, frustratingly underwhelming Britney Spears tribute performance. They basically cloned Honey Boo-Boo a bunch of times, stuck her in Britney video costumes, and had them dance for two minutes. And that was it. They could have done better and they know it. Also, they had Britney turn her own Video Vanguard acceptance speech into an introduction and praise-fest for Beyoncé. They did Brit-Brit dirty by making her the least important factor of her own tribute. And about that Beyoncé performance: it was absolutely phenomenal. She was glowing, she sounded amazing, and her end reveal of her pregnant belly was one of those moments that made time stand still. The “Love on Top” performance was probably the best of the night.
Bruno Mars gave an outstanding performance of “Valerie” in memory of the recently fallen British songbird Amy Winehouse, presented by Russell Brand and Tony Bennett. I’m still wondering where Amy’s closest collaborator Mark Ronson was for all this though. And Adele kept it simple with her performance of “Someone Like You”. Those performances are worth a watch. All the other performances? Meh. Pitbull performed; that was one of the hardest workouts my mute button ever got. Chris Brown performed his own new songs and had the audacity to inject portions of “Protect Ya Neck” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, probably in an attempt to make at least a little bit of his performance the slightest bit listenable. He did dance pretty well though, but that’s a given in Chris Brown performances. They hyped up a surprise performance, and it turned out to just be a Kanye & Jay Z performance that everyone already knew was gonna happen. It was an alright performance though, mainly due to the energy and braggadocio of both men. Young The Giant performed because they needed to book a rock band on the show somewhere; then again, the Foo Fighters were there, so I don’t know why they weren’t picked. Good on Young The Giant for getting that exposure, but for some reason, I always just hear this Mutemath song in my head whenever I think about this performance. And Lil Wayne ended the night still thinking people wanted to see his underwear, sampling Black Sabbath, and believing that we buy that he could play the guitar even for a second. Jessie J was the house artist for the night and did the entire show sitting down due to a broke ankle. Her vocals were mostly on-point. Mostly; not always.
Call this a plot twist of Shamyalan proportions: Lady GaGa was not the biggest winner of the night. “Born This Way” beat out Adele, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, and Nicki Minaj for Best Female Video and defeated Eminem, Katy Perry, P!NK, Rise Against, and Taylor Swift for Best Video With A Message. But that was it. She didn’t even get nominated for Video of the Year. Instead, that field saw Katy Perry’s chest fireworks extinguish Bruno Mars pulling a piano, the Beastie Boys revisiting their breakout video, Adele being abstract with her feelings on a breakup, and Tyler, The Creator eating insects, vomiting, and hanging himself. Man, Tyler, The Creator is one weird cat. But I guess people must like it because he beat Kreayshawn, Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean, and Foster the People for Best New Artist. Looking back, I’d prefer Big Sean getting this award, but at the same time, I wouldn’t want to wipe Tyler’s acceptance speech from memory at all.
For the second year in a row, Kim Kardashian would be doing something on the VMA’s related to Justin Bieber. This year, it was handing him the Best Male Video award, in which his piano ballad “U Smile” somehow beat Cee-Lo’s “F*** You” and Eminem’s “Love The Way You Lie” to win. Nicki Minaj’s unforgettable “Super Bass” won Best Hip-Hop Video in a field that also included Busta Rhymes (I know “Look At Me Now” is a Chris Brown song, but Busta stole the show on it and I grant him custody), Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, and one of my personal favorite Lil Wayne songs. Britney Spears won Best Pop Video and gave the same speech she always give away award shows. Katy Perry and Kanye West got a Best Collaboration moonman off of a song where they sing about alien sex. And The Foo Fighters ruled the Best Rock Video landscape that year with “Walk”, which toppled videos from Mumford & Sons, Foster the People, The Black Keys, and Cage The Elephant. For the record, if Foo Fighters didn’t win, I’d totally want it to go to Cage The Elephant. I really liked “Shake Me Down” at the time.
I have to doc points for 1) Not having a host and having Kevin Hart drive that point into the ground, 2) Having Britney Spears seem like the least important part of her own tribute, 3) Getting Pitbull to perform. However, the show’s redeeming qualities came from Beyoncé’s unforgettable reveal, Adele, Tyler’s speech, and the Amy Winehouse tribute. I appreciated GaGa’s commitment to thinking outside the box, especially since Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj both showed up clearly trying to out-weird her with their terrible costumes. But her staying in-character as Jo Calderone all night instead of just for the performance did get old after a bit. This show is probably more memorable than 2010 was, but that’s only in average territory. It’s disturbing that this is the case for so many ceremony so far. But that’s at least more modest than what I got to say tomorrow.