Traditionally, the Video Music Awards bash is the one night a year when MTV gives it up to music fans. This was not the case last night. MTV has never looked so hilariously embarrassed by what's left of its own music programming. At this point, it's like MTV is Pauly D and music is Deena. (Music: "Let's hook up and cuddle!" MTV: "Yeah, I know!") Even on the big VMAs weekend, MTV took a grudging let's-get-this-over-with approach – instead of hyping the franchise, they devoted the weekend to a Teen Mom marathon, a Jersey Shore marathon and the 2002 Adam Sandler film Mr. Deeds. It's enough to make the Situation bang his head against the wall. Well, okay – THAT doesn't take much.
Yet the pop stars in the house honored the other noble Video Music Awards traditions: the ones about rampant superstar egomania, nightmarish fashion choices, hit-or-miss live performances, tedious speeches, gooey hair and countless beyond-awkward moments, some of which had nothing to do with Britney. And somehow, MTV's desperate attempts to slam a lid on the party became part of the fun. So it was a great night for Gaga and Katy and Nicki. It was a great night for Ralph Macchio and Paul Weller. And it was almost completely devoid of Kreayshawn content, for some reason. Here's a toast to the stars who kept everyone awake last night.
Lady Gaga spent the night in Willie Cicci drag, playing her alter ego Jo Calderone, like Schneider from One Day at a Time plus Springsteen circa Darkness on the Edge of Town times John Lurie in Stranger Than Paradise with a side of Squiggy. The whole routine almost overshadowed her stellar performance of "Yoü and I," with Queen's Brian May on guitar. A Gaga awards show with no costume changes? Now that's weird.
She upheld the Gaga style of fashion outrage, with hair that was like the Sid and Marty Krofft reboot of Dangerous Liasions. Her eyelashes alone were the best comedy of the night, especially during the ad when she smashed Beavis and Butt-Head's skulls together.
He wasn't the host – he just got to do the opening monologue, bombing so hard he brought back fond memories of last year's Chelsea Handler debacle.
This girl got totally robbed. They gave her a "tribute," including the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, which brought back fond memories of Britney handing Michael the "Artist of the Millennium" Award at the 2002 VMAs. But then the tribute was just a bunch of nobodies dancing to a short medley of Brit hits. And they sabotaged her award moment by turning it into an intro to a Beyoncé performance. That was a tribute? In protest, I am spray-painting my abs today and bumping into the walls while lip-synching "Gimme More." Wait till next year, Britney!
She stepped all over the Britney tribute with a glitzy performance of "Love On Top," rendered extremely bizarre by B's apparent impression that tonight was her baby shower. (So that's how MTV got her to show up!) It looked like she had no intention of leaving the stage until the stars came up out of the audience to kneel and offer her gift-wrapped "ARE YOU READY FOR THIS JELLY" onesies.
He brought a pet snake named Johnson – yes, he's entering that phase. With his grim little glasses and not-just-God-but-Jesus-but-not-Usher acceptance speech, Biebz looked like a bitter young grad student from a Nineties time capsule, toting a copy of Gender Trouble to a panel discussion on the marginalization of Trixie within the narrative syntax of Speed Racer. Poor Selena Gomez looked all, "Really? This is what boys do? They show up for a date with a snake? Then the first time they act like they're having any fun is when they jump up and fist-pump for a Chris Brown dance routine?" It gets better, Selena.
Jay-Z and Kanye West
Their performance of "Otis" was the musical highlight of the night: no choreography, no special effects, just raw power and rock energy and vocal imagination. It was over too soon.
Like Jay-Z and Kanye, she took a chance by passing on any kind of glossy presentation – she just held the spotlight to emote live and direct. A bold move, but it paid off, and showed curious newcomers why so many different kinds of pop fan go so mental over Adele.
The Amy Winehouse memorial tribute surprisingly had hardly any of her music, and no vocal tributes from any of the pop divas in the house: just Bruno Mars doing the Zutons' minor Britpop hit "Valerie," which Winehouse covered a few years ago. Oh well – Tony Bennett looked cool, especially when he was standing next to Gaga. When does Tony Bennett not look cool? Hell, he looked cool on American Idol schmoozing with Sanjaya.
If you're keeping score at home, she has now reached the point on her fame graph where she is speaking in an English accent at awards shows.
As he admitted on the black carpet, the Foo Fighters always make "pretty crappy videos," but Grohl's acceptance speech was still moving, as he reminded everyone that rock bands are thriving: "You just have to look harder to find them." That was Nirvana's message 20 years ago, when they kept pumping all their new fans to go out and discover Frightwig and the Vaselines and the Melvins and the Raincoats and the Jesus Lizard and the Meat Puppets and all the other unheard bands ripe for the plunder. Of course, that used to be MTV's message, too.
His performance at the end of the night was admirably chaotic, especially when he busted out the guitar to go all Iron Man. And naturally, it ended abruptly because MTV was in such a rush to get to their new sitcom, I Just Want My Pants Back, which was about 20 percent as entertaining as watching Bieber sit there and frown. An appropriately awkward ending to one awkward night.
• 2011 MTV Video Music Awards: Winners and Highlights
• Photos: The 2011 MTV Video Music Awards: Best and Worst Dressed
• Live-Blogging the 2011 Video Music Awards
• Backstage at the VMAs: Rebecca Black, Tyler the Creator, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj
• Photos: The Best Moments of the 2011 Video Music Awards
• Video: Lady Gaga Opens VMAs With 'Yoü and I'
• Video: Adele Performs 'Someone Like You' on the VMAs
• Video: Beyonce Rocks 'Love on Top' on the VMAs
• Video: Bruno Mars Pays Tribute to Amy Winehouse at the VMAs
• Beyoncé Reveals She's Pregnant
• Watch the First Clip of 'The Hunger Games' Movie
• Lady Gaga as Jo Calderone: 'Britney Spears is Hot'
• Photos: Highlights of the 2010 Video Music Awards