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VMA 2016: 4 winners and 3 losers from the awards show

MTV’s production was messy, but at least Beyoncé came to slay.

Beyoncé served the VMAs some much needed Lemonade.
Beyoncé served the VMAs some much needed Lemonade.
MTV

Few awards shows live up to their hype, but the MTV Video Music Awards have almost always been an exception to that rule. Ever since the first show in 1984, the VMAs have been good for some jaw-dropping performances, prime celebrity watching in the audience, and, if they’re lucky, the kinds of moments that keep people dissecting their layers for years to come.

The 2016 awards were a decidedly mixed bag, though. Taking place in New York City’s Madison Square Garden for the first time — for decades, the VMAs have switched between slightly smaller venues in New York and LA — the production moved in fits and starts, with obvious sound and organizational issues cramping most of the performances.

But there were still a few stellar — or at least noteworthy — performances, at least one of which will take its rightful place among the best the VMAs have ever had.

Here are four winners and three losers from the 2016 VMAs.

Winner: Beyoncé

2016 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
Beyoncé, winning awards and breaking records in a gold cape, like you do.
Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Beyoncé wasn’t on the original performance schedule that MTV released before the awards, but the rumors that she would appear were strong enough that by the time tennis champion Serena Williams came out to introduce her, about halfway through the show, she was already one of the most anticipated acts of the night.

And given the year Beyoncé’s had — between her stunning album Lemonade, her Formation tour, and her Super Bowl halftime show featuring guest house band Coldplay — it was no surprise that she crushed it.

Beyoncé took the VMA stage with fire in her eyes — both figuratively and literally, thanks to the reflection of projected flames onto her face — and made it hers. She performed a full medley from Lemonade that had the entire arena on its feet within seconds. She even made sure to include some of Warsan Shire’s gorgeous spoken-word poetry from Lemonade’s heartbroken interstitials, reminding everyone that the album is as deeply emotional as it is catchy.

Beyoncé could’ve owned the VMAs with that performance alone, but she’s Beyoncé, and so she ended it with two VMA wins, for Best Female Video ("Hold Up"), and Video of the Year ("Formation"), the show’s highest achievement.

Oh, and also? These wins bring Beyoncé total VMAs tally to 21 wins, officially breaking Madonna’s previous record of 20 to make Bey the most decorated VMA winner of all time.

It all served as a reminder that this is Beyoncé’s world, and we’re just stanning in it.

Winner: Britney Spears

2016 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
Britney Spears made it work, bitch.
Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

And lo: As it was prophesied in the book of celebrity comebacks, Britney Spears returned to the VMA stage.

A full nine years after the disastrous 2007 "Gimme More" performance that made Britney fans and skeptics alike sigh in resignation, Britney celebrated the August 26 release of her ninth album Glory by coming back to the VMAs to prove that writing her off back then was a mistake.

And she succeeded! For the most part, anyway.

Glory contains 17 songs, at least 10 of which are the kind of high-energy pop bangers that would’ve been awesome on a huge stage like Madison Square Garden. (Wherefore art thou, "Do You Wanna Come Over"?!)

But Brit only performed her single "Make Me," featuring slower EDM beats and a lost extra from Grease 2 rapper G-Eazy. Britney writhed around the stage, G-Eazy, and her New Wave-ish backup dancers. It was, all around, fine.

Also: Brit had the bad luck of performing almost immediately after Beyoncé’s set practically tore down Madison Square Garden and set it ablaze. There was just no following that, unless the follow-up was also Beyoncé.

But as far as Britney’s redemption story goes, it’ll do.

Winner: Rihanna

2016 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
Rihanna brought it, as Rihanna is wont to do.
Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Sure, it says something that I didn’t mention Rihanna on the list of winners until now, on a night that was supposed to be primarily honoring her for winning the Video Vanguard prize (the VMAs’ version of a lifetime achievement award). But even as Beyoncé, Britney, Kanye, and assorted DJs fought for attention, Ri made the most of her moments.

In fact, Rihanna had not one, not two, not even three, but four performances throughout the night. She kicked off the show with a medley including past hits like "Don’t Stop the Music" and "Only Girl (In the World)."

Later, with her second performance, she kicked things up a notch by dancing her face off in neon to another medley including "Rude Boy," "Work," and "What’s My Name."

The next time we saw her, she turned down the lights and ramped up the attitude for the one-two-three punch of confident, sexy-as-hell anthems "Needed Me," "Pour It Up," and "Bitch Better Have My Money."

Rihanna's "BBHMM" was so, so good.

Được đăng bởi MTV 28 Tháng 8 2016

Finally, she closed out her appearance with a gorgeous rendition of three slower ballads — "Stay," "Diamonds," and "Love on the Brain" — that showcased her voice in a way the other, choppier medleys couldn’t.

But even if some of the medleys were definitely stronger than the others, Ri still proved why she was getting this award honoring her career arc, even though she’s only 28 years old. For the past decade, she's had hit after hit after hit — and as she proved at the VMAs, her performing abilities and charisma have only gotten stronger with every passing year.

She also proved that she’s got the music industry wrapped around her finger — including one guy in particular.

Which brings us to:

Loser: Drake

2016 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
A fan introduces Rihanna’s Video Vanguard award.
Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

To be clear: I’m not calling Drake a loser because he admitted to the world while introducing Rihanna’s Vanguard award that he’s "been in love with her since [he] was 22 years old." Drake is a human being. Of course Drake is in love with Rihanna. I would never dare take that away from him, since any sane person should be in the same boat.

But there’s no denying that Drake had a rough night from the get-go. Though he won the evening’s first award — Best Hip-Hop Video, for "Hotline Bling" — he missed the chance to accept it for arguably the most boring reason anyone’s late to anything:

He got stuck in traffic.

Then, at the very end of the show, he finally strolled onto the stage in a tuxedo to present Rihanna’s award. He earnestly gushed over "the iconic being that is Rihanna," looking for all the world like he was about to drop down on one knee and make his adolescent dreams come true, or at least reenact the final 10 seconds of any rom-com worth swooning over.

Instead, he gave her the award and went in for a kiss — and he was denied.


To be clear: Drake’s enthusiasm for wildly talented women like Rihanna, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, and Serena Williams is one of his finest features. But tonight wasn’t his night, and even he knew it.

Winner: Kanye West

2016 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
The Kanye Show at Madison Square Garden.
Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

MTV reportedly gave Kanye four minutes of airtime to do whatever he wanted, and Kanye took full advantage of it — but probably not in the way the network had hoped.

Though Kanye is known for delivering nakedly candid moments that keep people coming back to him for more, he used his time on the Madison Square Garden stage to basically ramble about whatever came to mind.

TL;DR: Kanye still loves Taylor Swift, thinks his wife Kim Kardashian is "a G," and ranks himself amongst the likes of "Truman, Ford, Jobs." But we know all this already, so at some point, Kanye’s speech became less about speaking than running out the clock, just for the sake of doing it.

So why is he a winner, you ask? Think about it this way: For every second Kanye spent not flipping out on live television, an MTV producer quietly died just a little bit more inside.

Kanye’s a winner not because he was particularly interesting. Kanye’s a winner because the VMA’s wanted him to dance for them, but instead, he did exactly whatever the fuck he wanted to do.

Still: It’s a shame Kanye didn’t deliver something more interesting, if only because the rest of this year’s VMA production was so awkward that a shot of true strangeness would’ve been an incredibly welcome distraction.

Loser: The kinda-sorta comedy bits

2016 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
Jimmy Fallon as Ryan Lochte. Sure.
Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images

This wasn't the first time the VMAs didn't have a host, but the awards’ attempts to keep things moving without one were lackluster enough that it would be shocking to see next year’s show try anything similar.

All the random attempts to be funny and entertaining outside the performances instead felt stilted and confused, with bits from talented comedians like Nicole Byer and Jay Pharoah awkwardly sandwiched in between announcements of which performers would be coming next, as the comedians vamped the best they could in the venue’s concrete hallways.

The worst of the VMAs’ comedy offenses was Jimmy Fallon’s Ryan Lochte impression, which began with the disgraced swimmer’s Dentyne Ice blue hair and ended with Fallon making non sequitur pop culture jokes that were purposely bad — the better to mock Lochte’s less-than-stellar speaking skills — but had zero wit to them outside of that premise.

Not even Michael Phelps’s ecstatic reactions to Fallon’s full-on mockery made this bit worth it — which is saying something, because the level to which Phelps doesn’t give a shit about pretending to like Lochte anymore is a truly beautiful thing.

Even enlisting the hilarious Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele to commentate on the sidelines as parodies of MTV VJs felt like it boiled down to exactly one joke — "social media, am I right?" — that just got hammered over and over again.

Instead of being the embodiment of youth like they so obviously wanted, the VMAs ended up more in the territory of a try-hard dad faking his way through chaperoning prom.

Loser: MTV producers

There’s no two ways about it: The production of the 2016 VMAs was weird.

This year marked the first time the VMAs were held in Madison Square Garden, and it showed. The entire production was jerky and stilted, the cameras unsure of how to capture the scope of the venue without shortchanging the performances.

For example, when Britney’s performance let the beat drop from the slower verse into the EDM chorus, the dancing kicked into high gear. But at that crucial point, the camera immediately cut back to a wide shot of her with two backup dancers; it was so far away that you could barely make them out at all.

That choice is emblematic of the entire event, in which the people producing it couldn’t seem to make up their minds of whether to entertain the in-house audience or the one watching from home. Worse than that, the cameras had no idea where to focus, settling instead on a compromise of "EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME ALWAYS," with the lens only sometimes in focus.

So even as the show made other attempts to liven up the performances — from Ariana Grande’s SoulCycling to Nick Jonas hopping through a diner set — it took a force of talent like Beyoncé to make the show as slick and powerful as it should’ve been all along.