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Beyoncé, Kanye Rescue a Less Than Iconic VMAs

The 31st MTV Video Music Awards were last night and somehow I told myself, “We’re going to sit down and watch the entire thing. We’re not going to edit any of our thoughts, we’re just going to go ahead and punch this out old school style. It has to be interesting though. I mean, Beyoncé is performing tonight so that should automatically be a win. And supposedly Rihanna is performing multiple times. Britney Spears is here! Kanye West is doing … something. Alright fine, the VMAs got me. Let’s finish this episode of Teen Mom OG and get to the nitty gritty.

The pre-show is taped as shit. Saved everyone from live drunken moments. How blatant is the difference between segments? There’s light in certain segments and complete darkness in others.

7:01 p.m.: Alessia Cara is performing. There are tons of confused faces in the crowd. Not for Cara, because we’re generally sweet to Canadians but for this lanky dude with dreamboat eyes. Oh, his name is Troye Sivan. Dammit, the camera panned to a woman who told her friend, “I don’t know who that is.” That freaking sucks.

7:05 p.m.: CHAAAAANCE. He tells us that Coloring Book is out for free and pre-show host DJ Khaled side-eyes him because it can’t really be for free. Chance laughs and tells him, it is. Sure. “Are Chance The Rapper and DJ Khaled going to make a record together?” Khaled asks. “Oh yeah, that’s a major key!” Chance responds. Khaled, the soothsayer.

7:07 p.m.: Can we get 2 Chainz to run for president? Charlemagne Tha God asks him if he knows what Kanye’s gonna do. “I know he don’t have no notes. He might drop a song, a beat, a new shoe, something.”

I kind of want somebody to try and play Kanye in Connect 4 for the hell of it.

7:08 p.m.: Beyonce Sighting No. 1; Blue Ivy accompanying her. Along with the cast of Lemonade. And the Mother’s of the Movement. Not pictured, the trail of edges she’s snatched since “No No No."

7:10 p.m.: Why the hell is Lil Dicky in a commercial for Trojan condoms?

7:12 p.m.: DJ Khaled’s interviewing his own artist in Kent Jones. Khaled is probably going to ask everybody he interviews for a track for that next album. Sidenote, this may be the first time anybody has ever seen what Kent Jones looks like.

7:15 p.m.: R&B act and “WHERE’S THE ALBUM” casualty Tinashe is here to tell us she’s been stanning for Britney Spears since she was five. How does she think the MTV VMAs will be? “Iconic.”

Expect this word to be overused, plenty.

7:16 p.m.: Ariana Grande and that goddamn ponytail are here. At least Charlemagne tells her not to lick any pastries. And she’s dating Mac Miller. Wait, she’s dating Mac Miller?


7:21 p.m.: DJ Khaled gives awkward laughs to Nick Jonas about his “Bacon” track. Jonas out here name dropping about being in Canada with Abel (The Weekend) and Ed (Sheeran). “Tell Ed I said what’s up, that’s my guy!” Jesus Khaled will hype you up over pyro possibly being in a Nick Jonas performance.

7:23 p.m.: Halsey has a flower tattooed on her collarbone/shoulder. Why the hell isn’t it finished. Also, her biggest inspiration is Rihanna. Er … well alright.

7:24 p.m.: SONG OF THE SUMMER WINNER - Fifth Harmony for “All In My Head (Flex)” Oh, it samples Mad Cobra’s “Flex”! Mind you, that song may be older than every single member of Fifth Harmony.

7:28 p.m.: Khaled brought his Snapchat to the VMAs via rotating Air Jordan XXXIs. Damn that man won’t let us live like normal plebeians.

7:31 p.m.: Oh God, Jidenna has the death spot when you’re performing an actual fun song and everyone is awkwardly standing around looking at each other waiting for it to end. I hate it had to be him.

7:33 p.m.: PUFF. (In a Kimono and gold chains). Then Khaled interjects with another check he’s getting for Mango Ciroc. HE. DOESN’T. STOP. WORKING.

7:37 p.m.: Desiigner talks in literal mumble. And adlibs. Happy as shit to be here, though, and that’s wonderful.

7:40 p.m.: Khaled is to a woman named Steak. I’m not making that shit up. A woman who looks a bit like Iggy Azalea without any of the enhancements is named Steak. Thank you MTV, never change.

7:42 p.m.: Time out, Joe Jonas has a new group called DNCE …And some dude looks like a bad Enzo Amore reject. Joe Jonas obviously went through a time warp to get guys from Black Crowes, the German dudes from “I’m So Sexy” and 1995 Gwen Stefani and said, “I need you all for a mission to create music in the future. Come with me if you want to live.”

7:44 p.m.: DJ Khaled will forever be here to be happy for someone else’s success and mere appearance at the VMAs.

7:50 p.m.: The Chainsmokers have the No. 1 song in the country. And look exactly like 2009 douche bros.

7:53 p.m.: Nobody sips Pepsi like it's goddamn wine. Pepsi selling lies and deceit upon the public.

7:57 p.m.: Lukas Graham, our favorite Danish import of recent memory, really should have been on Stranger Things. “7 Years” is dope, and probably the one song my 66-year-old father will try to put on to tell me he’s hip. “Mama Said”? Quite terrible.

Well … that was a “fun” pre-show. Time to get to the live show.

8:00 p.m.: LIIIIIVE FROM MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, it's the VMAS! Rihanna is here to do her Vanguard performance. In a pink Hood By Air shirt and she’s singing her absolute heart out for “Only Girl In The World." Didn’t know that song needed all that emotion to it, but all right. There’s an absolute ton of pink and I’m left staring at Rihanna in what may be cut-up pants and chaps.

Oh well, that was performance one. She’s performing three more times; hopefully they’ll be far more energetic than the this first one.

8:05 p.m.: Key & Peele are “quasi-hosting” right now. I miss when the VMAs had actual hosts. We’ve gone from Key & Peele to Nicole Byer to Jay Pharaoh doing impersonations in the stands of Madison Square Garden. Kevin Hart couldn’t be called? Kevin Hart doesn’t turn down gigs; why did NOBODY call him?

Just don’t call Miley Cyrus.

Wait, Key & Peele are the hosts? Oh goddamnit.

8:10 p.m.: Puff Daddy is here to reveal the winner for Best Hip-Hop Video while also promote the Bad Boy Family Reunion tour, Ciroc, his career, his other name changes, the people from Bad Boy that never made it beyond a first album, etc. And Drake wins for “Hotline Bling”. “Come get this award Drake!” Drake’s not here and that’s shady on so many levels. Cause Meek Mill is at the VMAs. And virtually every Drake “enemy” is there too.

Puff really came to the VMAs dressed like the leader of Kobra Kai, and now I want him and Drake to square off one-on-one.

8:14 p.m.: “Bryson Tiller is here. His music is great for when you go through a mutual breakup. Ain’t nothing like a cool Diet Drake with Lime.” Well, shit, Key & Peele, you’ve got ONE funny joke out of the night.

8:21 p.m.: Sigh, Chance The Rapper could have actually performed here. Instead he’s introducing Ariana Grande (her drawstring ponytail) and Nicki Minaj’s performance.

Soul cycling, Ariana looking like she stayed up and watched Mariah Carey’s “Honey” video a thousand times. Nicki Minaj pink leotard with the cakes out and...what may be her laziest performance ever. And it ends with, two buff guys simulating giving Ariana and Nicki oral sex. We’re really on a bad wave so far with the VMAs.

8:26 p.m.:  Key & Peele try to drop a “C-U-N-T” before commercial break. Yeah, this is has to stop.

8:27 p.m.: DJ Khaled, more Jordan promo. These are gems: “They said man wasn’t meant to fly. They fired that scientist! He was a liar! Gravity’s trying to hold us down! We reject gravity! They don’t want you to fly! You can either be the passenger, or the pilot!”

I officially nominate myself to transcribe all DJ Khaled quotes for his motivational book.

8:32 p.m.: God, what did we do to endure Key & Peele all night? Even if their final season was great television, terrible.

8:34 p.m.: Alicia Keys, Woke Orator, reminds us that today is the 53rd anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech. Then decides to give us a poem. Don’t si...shit, she’s singing. All of that to introduce Best Male Video. The winner? Calvin Harris & Rihanna’s “This Is What You Came For."

Shade Taylor Swift Calvin, please. No? You won’t? Don’t thank the director, shade Taylor. SHADE TAYLOR.

8:38 p.m.: Michael Phelps is here with the greatest quote in history, “There is no rapper today more inspiring than Future.” Also, Future’s “Stick Talk” caused Michael Phelps to hulk out in Rio. See kids? Your weed smoking heroes give us so much glory.

8:39 p.m.: Future is performing “Commas” with a live band. Zaytoven, piano boy of all the world is absolutely killing the keys. Future’s shoes literally are made of old Moonmen. The guitarist is killing this. And much like a man who we didn’t deserve, Future goes under the giant LED projection to disappear. We need more of you, Future.

His son, Designer, was quite shocked to see his father on this particular platform.

8:49 p.m.: Kanye time. That four uninterrupted minutes? He came here to premiere his new video — and talk. His brain literally wants to come up with the most important thing of his life but then he just talks about the “Famous” video. And explain he called Taylor out of love.  And compares himself to a ton of “artist merchants” in Henry Ford and Howard Hughes. Oh Kanye, we proclaim you a genius because you can never get to a point when speaking in public.

That being said, his video for “Fade” is 2016 “Let’s Get Physical” with Teyana Taylor as Olivia Newton-John mixed with Rosie Perez’ opening number from Do the Right Thing and it’s absolutely insane.

Wait, Iman Shumpert is here. And they’re basically have a sex scene in the shower. Oh, there’s baby Iman in the manger! Well, it wouldn’t be a Kanye video if there wasn’t aspects of porn, spirituality and sexuality in there. Plus during commercial breaks, people are getting out of their seats to go meet Kanye. That’s right, straight out of The Godfather.

9:01 p.m.: Rihanna back for her second of four performances. All the island songs coming now. “Work,” “Rude Boy,” “What’s My Name." Far more energetic than the first go round. Also, have you ever been to a dancehall party? It’s basically Alley Kat on Thursday nights.

9:06 p.m.: *Immediately heads to Tidal to re-watch the “Fade” video.*

9:12 p.m.: As a bacon enthusiast, I would have never predicted that Nick Jonas would a) make a song called “Bacon” or b) perform at the VMAs inside of a diner with his brother and his band of rebound friends. Oh, and Odell Beckham Jr. is somewhere inside said diner dancing. Along with Joanne Prada aka Joanne “The Scammer.” On a night where everybody is doing too much, Nick Jonas may have won most elaborate performance.

But that’s only until …

9:21 p.m.: Serena Williams is here to introduce us to BEYONCE TIME. “Pray You Catch Me." Oh God, is Beyonce the white Undertaker? Is she a white walker? Wait, how did the dancers emerge from the smoke? Why are they getting shot down? What is going on? OMG. OMG. Okay, no — the dancers are angels. And they’re all getting shot down. And now Beyonce herself is getting resurrected in the dark to completely destroy us all. Interpretive dance leading into the song with “Hold Up”.

Yes, the bat came to play and destroy things to. “Ashes to ashes, death to side chicks.” And boom, “Sorry” with blue and red police sirens contrasting off her face. This may be the concert, but goddamn, Beyoncé is once more setting the damn bar for VMA performances.

I have no edges. My edges no longer have edges. Your edges no longer have edges. “Don’t Hurt Yourself” then “Formation” before a wide shot of all the dancers falling into the Venus logo. It’s over. It’s a wrap. Beyoncé is now king, queen and emperor of all VMA performances.

And then Key & Peele sum it up with the best reaction of all. “I’d give you the eulogy but I’m already dead. And who has to follow that, Britney Spears?!”

Wait, holy shit, Britney Spears DOES have to follow that. Dear God, MTV, did that poor woman no favors. And she was their STAR 15 years ago.

9:44 p.m.: Beyonce has won awards for Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Direction and more for "Formation". There will be no Taylor Swift to deny her Video of the Year either.

9:47 p.m.: Fifth Harmony wins Best Collaboration for “Work From Home,” which...wait, THAT happened?! Over Kendrick & Beyoncé?! I DEMAND A RECOUNT.

9:49 p.m.: Well Britney Spears, here you go. This is your 3-0 deficit in the Finals since Beyoncé has already performed. You’re doing this with the gold sequins and all the old school sex moves, it’s not working. It’s not working. Britney ventured back into the mid-'00s in a 2016 world where everybody around her is moving in fast-forward. Dated, old, washed.

This is such a Good Job, Good Effort performance. And G-Eazy is getting the greatest look of his life. Cool, great. Can we get Beyoncé back out to perform “Freedom” and “Sandcastles”? Or Madonna to kiss Britney or something? No? We’re just going to leave her out here to struggle? Who at MTV thought it was cool to do this to Britney Spears?

9:59 p.m.: “We just saw G-Eazy, representing real hip-hop right there!” I swear Key & Peele are batting the Mendoza line with the jokes. One hot one for 22 terrible ones.

10:02 p.m.: Holy shit, we still have 45 minutes of this. Final Five are out to reveal Best Female Video and of course Beyoncé wins for “Hold Up." I now have the magical glimpse of Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast who ever lived hugging Beyoncé, who is literally magic. Thank You Based God.

10:04 p.m.: Rihanna performance No. 3 equals we’re getting ALL the great Rihanna strip-club songs. “Needed Me” and “Throw It Up”...and that one high note from “Needed Me” that gets one very terrible live note from Rihanna. The kind of note you hit when you cut on a shower and you get instantaneous hot water. I think Desiigner had the perfect reaction to it.

10:15 p.m.: Khaled is still wearing a pair of Bred Jordans on his neck. And thankfully, Fifth Harmony is here to give DNCE the award for Best New Artist. Which, is a cheat because JOE JONAS IS NOT A NEW ARTIST. “We’ve been all doing this individually for 10 years…” Oh shut up, Joe Jonas.

10:21 p.m.: The Joe Jonas train of Lies & Deceit lead us to The Chainsmokers’ struggle vocals and Halsey’s half-finished rose tattoo to perform what’s apparently the No. 1 song in the country. This entire show has gone left ever since Beyoncé got off stage to perform.

And then Jay Pharaoh gets reduced to doing a Jay Z impersonation while waiting for the bathroom. Jay really did deserve better than getting fired from Saturday Night Live to be put in these positions.

10:30 p.m.: Fifteen minutes left. Home stretch! Jimmy Fallon’s here to give us the Video of the Year Award winner...dressed as Ryan Lochte. Yes, it includes all the lying jokes you can imagine. “I couldn’t tell you who the winner was, even if there was a gun to my head.”

And yes, Beyoncé won for “Formation”. And Christ she’s in ANOTHER gown, this one giving me “renew my wedding vows." “I dedicate this award to the people of New Orleans.” Yes. dope. Awesome. Wait, we still have one more Rihanna performance. And apparently Drake’s at the VMAs in a tux. Or something.

10:41 p.m.: Mary J. Blige being here means we’re eventually getting that fire breakup album that has been missing for a decade or so. Rihanna’s final performance has her with her hair down for “Stay” and “Diamond”. We’re in big ballad territory now. “Love On The Brain," effectively the best ballad from ANTI.

And then...wait, Drake shows up to be the most affectionate damn boyfriend in the history of the world, presenting her with the Vanguard Award. And a speech where he tells us he’s loved her since he was 22. And Nicki Minaj since he was 24. And Courtney From Hooters on Peachtree when he was 23. And Serena Williams just LAST YEAR. And leaned in for a kiss but got curved. Slightly. Typical Drake. At least he got his kiss off camera so yeah, they’re a legit thing now.

And at 10:53, we’re officially done with this. A disjointed, haphazardly organized event that still felt interesting and fun. Beyoncé gave us the Formation World Tour, Rihanna gave us the Anti World Tour, Kanye said nothing and yet gave us a video with everything. Plus...only a few of the actual singers can… sing.

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Brandon Caldwell has been writing about music and news for the Houston Press since 2011. His work has also appeared in Complex, Noisey, the Village Voice & more.
Contact: Brandon Caldwell