After the blandfest that was the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards, they could only do better in 2013. They made their return to New York, but rather than taking to Radio City Music Hall, they inhabited the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The moonman got a makeover and MTV stocked up on as much star power as they could. With a show bookended by Lady GaGa and Katy Perry performances and Justin Timberlake being the Video Vnaguad honoree, it was set to be a big show. So why did the biggest taking point of the night end up being a former Disney Channel star?
Two years before this, MTV didn’t hire a host foe the VMAs, but still had Kevin Hart appear throughout the night anyway to comment on what we’ve already seen and remind us to vote for the Best New Artist award. That’s basically what exact case for what they did this year, too. MTV’s insistence on hiring a host changes on a whim, and this was another year they decided to not one. They got Kevin Hart to do the “Crack jokes and remind people I’m not hosting” thing from 2011, but why they thought they could get away with pulling that card twice is beyond me.
I mean it when I said that presenters started to feel less important at the VMAs at this point. They started to deliver less and less outrageous or fun moments by the year. Gone were the days of Jordin Sparks taking exception to Russel Brand‘s mocking, Christina Aguilera‘s shady laugh before having to give Emimem an award, or even Fred Durst and Jack Black having fun at Michael Jackson‘s expense. They were mostly there to get their product plugged and give out the award. However, I think things were way more noteworthy here than in 2012. Iggy Azalea praised Lil Kim as one of the hip-hop greats as they presented together. There was probably no one better to play up the creativity of Kanye West than another super serious madman who wants to dominate all the arts, Jared Leto. Jimmy Fallon was hyped to present his BFF Justin Timberlake with the Video Vanguard Award. Daft Punk, Pharrell, & Nile Rodgers presented after not performing and instead turning in a World Premiere music video. And we’re reminded that SNL’s Vanessa Bayer does a hilarious Miley Cyrus impression, even if it’s not as accurately performed now as when this sketch first aired, when she and Shailene Woodley presented the former Hannah Montana’s performance. Even this category was a step up from 2012.
And speaking of Miley Cyrus, this is the night she joined Lady GaGa‘s meat dress and Beyoncé‘s oven bun in yhe holy trinity of unforgettable VMA moments in the 2010s. Ladies and Gentlemen: Miley Cyrus’ bemusing twerk-quake…..OK, maybe “quake” isn’t the word. As well documented, Miley doesn’t exactly have the measurements of Nicki Minaj or even Meghan Trainor. But just because she was on the thinner side of the shape spectrum doesn’t mean she can’t have a little fun too. The problem: she looked like she was having too much fun and came out of the whole debacle looking like a laughingstock to the whole world. For most, that would be considered an embarrassing backfire; in a normal world, this would join Britney Spears‘ 2007 performance in the VMA Hall of Shame. But this case is different because it was the reaction Miley was going for in the first place. She knew exactly what she was doing; with the foam finger, with Robin “Beetlejuice” Thicke‘s pelvis, with the bad dancing, with the ugly mouse singlet. She wanted to create a VMA moment that no one would forget, for better or worse. And she succeeded. This was such a big deal, it even overshadowed Justin Timberlake‘s epic Video Vanguard performance, complete with a brief *NSYNC reunion. That Timberlake performance, a spectacular 15 minute medley of Timberlake’s greatest hits, was hands down the best performance of the night and a hell of a way to honor one of the greatest modern pop stars. It’s the reason I made JT the header for this post. But compared to the Miley twerktastrophe, it was always gonna play second banana in the post-VMA headlines and the GIF fallout. That’s how headlines work now: epic badness is always more talked about than epic goodness.
And I could probably stop there as far as performances go. Nothing is gonna top either Cyrus & Thicke or Timberlake & *NSYNC. But just in case you forgot, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis performed their pro-gay rights anthem that ended with Jennifer Hudson and Mary Lambert having an impromptu sing-off. Not to be outdone, Drake recreated his album cover for his performance, and went south with every following minute. Lady GaGa performed “Applause”, and it was fine, but when her first two VMA performances featured fake on-stage hemorrhaging and cross-dressed method acting, this was destined to be her third best VMA performance. Kanye West performed behind a screen; I respect his artistry, but I can’t say that I always understand the point of it most of the time. Bruno Mars went for a dramatic rockstar moment with his performance of “Gorilla” and Katy Perry became a boxer for her performance of the boring-in-retrospect “Roar”. If any of that doesn’t sound as appealing or can’t-miss as the Miley and Justin performances, don’t say I didn’t tell you so. If I can recommend any other performances, it’s Ariana Grande‘s pre-show performance. She sounded good and it opened her up to even more people who were unfamiliar with her Nickelodeon days. Skip Austin Mahone‘s performance, though.
Justin Timberlake won the Video Vanguard, but I already talked about that. What I haven’t talked about is him winning Video of the Year for “Mirrors”, too. He was one of two artists to walk out with two prizes, the other being Macklemore in what was probably the start of the Macklemore backlash. He won Best Video With A Social Message, which made sense seeing as “Same Love” was so huge and reached so many listeners whether they wanted to hear it or not. But then “Can’t Hold Us” beat out Kendrick Lamar for Best Hip-Hop Video (twice if you count not only “Swimming Pools”, but “F*ckin’ Problems” too), months before he did the same thing at the Grammys. I think it was around this time that I really started to see criticism thrown Macklemore’s way. But another controversial star who won that night? Taylor Swift, who won Best Female Video for “I Knew You Were Trouble”, and on this night, everyone’s “Bash Taylor Swift” buttons (which seemed to become much more annoyingly present in late-2012) had been pressed as people saw the end of her acceptance speech as a dig at Harry Styles. Was it or was it not? I don’t think Harry really cares as his group won the hashtag award of this show, Song of the Summer for “Best Song Ever”, which totally should’ve went to the funkiness provided by Daft Punk and Pharrell, or at least Robin Thicke. Sure, “Blurred Lines” was disgusting, but it was way more inescapable that summer than “Best Song Ever”.
Other winners that night included Bruno Mars winning his first VMA over the likes of Ed Sheeran, JT, Robin Thicke, and Kendrick Lamar for “Locked Out of Heaven”, which was awarded to him by Taylor Swift in a height difference reminiscent of The Big Show and Rey Mysterio. There was also Selena Gomez, who would join Demi Lovato at the “Former Disney/Nickeloeon Stars Who Have A Moonman” table by winning Best Female Video for the sultry “Come & Get It”. P!NK and Nate Ruess won Best Collaboration, shockingly topping “Suit & Tie”, while 30 Seconds to Mars had to accept Best Rock Video on the pre-show for “Up In The Air”, because again, rock music was no longer prioritized in the mainstream or on MTV at the time, so they got the shaft. Apparently, Jared Leto understandably wasn’t too happy about that. Don’t ask me how Imagine Dragons lost that award, though; 30 Seconds to Mars may have had the gymnastics skills of McKayla Maroney & Jordyn Wieber and the sex appeal of Dita Von Teese on their side, but Imagine Dragons had Alexandra Daddario’s hypnotic blue eyes, Lou Diamond Phillips’ hysterical villainy, stuffed animals fighting like Pokémon, and Billboard domination on their side. Point: Imagine Dragons in my book, but VMA voters that year clearly disagreed. And in a result I really don’t understand, Austin Mahone beat Iggy Azalea, twenty one pilots, The Weeknd, and Zedd for Best New Artist/Artist to Watch. Sometimes, the worst triumphs and this was one of those times.
Way better than 2012 in every category except hosting, and that’s because this show didn’t have one. The 2012 VMA’s had no performances that were even water cooler talk the next day; 2013 had at least two that fit the bill. The winners circle had better videos than the previous year in my opinion. At least a few presenters did something even slightly entertaining, up from the low count the previous year. Miley Cyrus’ reprehensible performance actually worked to the show’s benefit; it was something to talk about and have an opinion on. That response is better than indifference at least. The 2013 VMA’s are probably the one VMAs from the 2010’s that felt most like a VMA ceremony, and for that, it’s probably the best one of this decade so far. And I say that full well knowing that we have two more left to go through. But just a heads up: tomorrow will not be better than this.