MTV VMAs 2016: pop's big night falls flat – but Beyoncé shines

Performances from Britney Spears and Nick Jonas failed to live up to the hype, even if, as usual, Kanye West grabbed plenty of attention

The MTV Video Music Awards kicked off for the first time at New York’s Madison Square Garden for a night of ups and (mostly) downs that shone a light on the good and bad of pop. The show featured the usual array of show-stopping performances and shocking moments (courtesy of Kanye West) , but Beyoncé emerged as the night’s real highlight, as the pop superstar played an impressive medley of songs from her album Lemonade.

Surrounded by a bevy of backup dancers and pyrotechnics, Beyoncé had the audience captivated as they sang along to every word. The singer surpassed Madonna’s record for most VMAs, and her moon man for best female video in particular was a major coup considering the strong crop of nominated artists this year – including Adele, who was a no-show for the festivities.

Speaking of no-shows, there were quite a few artists absent from the event this year. Winner Calvin Harris was on tour, while Drake, who showed up to honor Rihanna and help close the show, was reportedly stuck in traffic and was unable to accept his moon man for best hip-hop video. Harris’s ex and former VMA queen Taylor Swift was also missing in action, but her on-again, off-again enemy Kanye West, as usual, stole a hunk of the night’s attention.

MTV Video Music Awards: Beyoncé, Britney and Kanye West

The polarising rapper had the audience hanging on his every word as he delivered a speech ahead of the premiere of his video for Fade. As members of the crowd hooted and hollered – with some breaking into pro-Taylor Swift chants – West paid tribute to his idols, including the late Steve Jobs, and praised his wife, Kim Kardashian. “I’m standing in front of my idol Puff Daddy. I’m standing in front of my wife, Kim Kardashian-West. I’m standing in front of the future, Chance the Rapper. 2 Chainz. Jaden Smith,” he said. “Bro, we are undeniably the influence. The thought leaders. I’m gonna play y’all a piece of my art, and I just hope y’all have a good time.”

Britney Spears performs onstage during the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards
Britney Spears performs at the VMAs. Photograph: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Although West’s Fade video left members of the audience aghast, many moments fell flat. A much-hyped appearance by Britney Spears – a spot supposed to be her comeback performance – featured very little excitement, with the singer belting out her new single Make Me before rapper G-Eazy took over the reins. Most of the night’s presenters – besides members of the USA’s Olympic team, such as Michael Phelps and Simone Biles – were also met with indifference.

While some artists blossomed under the pressure – there was Rihanna’s career-spanning performance, and an energetic star-making turn by the Chainsmokers – others deflated entirely: Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj were largely overshadowed by the array of other acts onstage, and Nick Jonas delivered what was teased as a cameo-filled performance of his single Bacon, but simply featured his brother Joe and social media star the Fat Jew.

Despite the star-studded event featuring an occasional pop spectacle, the huge anticipation which precedes the ceremony resulted in an altogether anticlimactic atmosphere.


Contributor

Rob LeDonne

The GuardianTramp

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