In her year of surprises, Beyoncé pulled off another one at the MTV Video Music Awards at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night. And it was a doozy.
With no advance warning, Beyoncé delivered a five-song set showing the power and scope of her “Lemonade” album, which was also a surprise.
The opening performance of “Pray You Catch Me” was stunning, as 16 dancers were figuratively shot on stage.
Beyoncé led the night with 11 nominations for videos from her visual album “Lemonade,” and she won seven of them, including video of the year for “Formation.”
In a series of grand performances, Rihanna showed exactly why she deserved the night’s biggest award.
Her well-choreographed opening number dedicated to her dance music set up a show-long acceptance of her Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, with four different performances dedicated to her various styles. The second one was a stunner, dedicated to her Barbadian roots and centered on her smash “Work,” surrounded by hundreds of dancing fans.
Also a stunner was the speech by Drake who presented the award to her. “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,” he said.
However, the VMAs are always about the spectacle.
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And no one knows that more than Britney Spears, whose VMA moments include kissing Madonna and cavorting with a snake. Her performance Sunday night, designed to get people talking about her new album “Glory,” released Friday, was her first since the disastrous appearance in 2007 where she struggled through a routine in the midst of a breakdown. Her version of “Make Me” with rapper G-Eazy showed that her comeback is now complete.
Kanye West’s appearance was another moment destined to be talked-about, four minutes of unfiltered airtime before introducing his new video. He spoke about violence in his hometown of Chicago, as well as defending himself against charges that he blindsided Taylor Swift with his song “Famous,” up for video of the year. That song and video reignited his long-running beef with Swift, which they had squashed at last year’s VMAs when Swift presented him with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award.
Garrett English, executive producer of the VMAs and MTV’s senior vice president of programming, events and live production, said before the show that he wanted it to reflect where the country is culturally.
“Whether it’s the campaign or relations between the police and the general public, there are a lot of issues at the forefront of our minds and the minds of our artists,” he said. “We want them to express themselves freely . . . Music is a reflection of that. Those issues will percolate through the community.”
Olympic star Michael Phelps drew wild applause and chants of “U!S!A!” as he explained how #Phelpsface was caused by Future’s “Stick Talk.” The U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Final Five members — Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian — were on hand to present awards, as were Jimmy Fallon, Alicia Keys and Sean Combs.
The Final Five, minus a hospitalized Gabby Douglas, caused quite the stir on the preshow white carpet with stars rushing to have their pictures taken with the gold medalists.
The guys from Forever In Your Mind, including Holbrook’s Emery Kelly and Ronkonkoma’s Liam Attridge, were thrilled to be walking the MTV white carpet, especially after their biggest concert ever on Saturday at U.S. Open’s Arthur Ashe Kids Day.
Attridge also had news to share that they are starting work on a pilot for Disney called “Forever Boys” in which they play a vampire boy band.
Dance popsters Cash Cash said they were excited to see performances from Rihanna and Spears, whose “Make Me” the trio just remixed, though Jean-Paul Makhlouf was hoping for a collaboration. “It would be cool if they made out,” he said. “Anything is possible.”