The MTV European Music Awards are basically the weird European cousin to the U.S. VMAs: Some of the faces may look familiar, but they do things differently there. This year's event, co-hosted by Ed Sheeran and actress Ruby Rose, and held at the Mediolanum Forum in Milan, Italy, was slick and avoided the ceremony's traditional controversy, but still provided its fair share of lost-in-translation moments. Here's the best and the worst from a night of high-profile no-shows, corny Ed Sheeran gags and all the Bieber you could wish for.
Their frenetic version of "Downtown" pulled every trick in the How To Open a Major Awards Show book: treadmills, pyro, acrobatics, flying guest vocalist Eric Nally. (There was probably a kitchen sink in there somewhere, if only our eyes could have taken it all in.) Not much later in the show, this chuck-everything-at-the-screen-and-see-what-sticks approach would grate (hello, Jason Derulo, although your mini-Segways dance routine was pretty cool). But Macklemore remembered to keep a great musical performance at the heart of the mayhem and emerged a winner in every sense: "Downtown" even beat out Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" for Best Video.
Ed Sheeran has built a stellar music career off some heartfelt songwriting and an affable everyman persona. That might even have been enough to pull off the EMAs hosting gig if the organizers had left him to it, but someone, somewhere decided he also had to be funny. A Straight Outta Compton spoof that riffed on Sheeran's rural English upbringing aside, few of the sketches worked, while a lack of chemistry with co-host Rose made for several stilted moments. Sheeran did win two awards (Best Live Act and Best World Stage) and performed a winning duet with Rudimental on "Lay It All on Me," but maybe it'd be best to leave this stuff to Miley in the future.
Appearing in a giant diamond flower singing "Love Me Like You Do," Goulding came up with an uncut gem of a performance. While everyone else bellowed in an attempt to be heard above the noise, Goulding dared to strip things back, helped up by a string section and a choir of backing singers. And she avoided the potential awkwardness of having to sing current single "On My Mind" in front of Sheeran, the person everyone seems to think it's about (even if Goulding herself insists it isn't).
Rihanna (Best Female), Taylor Swift (Best Song for "Bad Blood") and One Direction (Best Pop) all won awards but didn't turn up or even send acceptance videos (at least not ones that were shown in the arena, unlike Nicki Minaj's acceptance of Best Hip-Hop). This meant a lot of screen time given over to lesser-known stars, including Jess Glynne and Tori Kelly. Although, to be fair, the latter's duet with Italian classical superstar Andrea Bocelli on a cover of Pink and Nate Ruess' "Just Give Me a Reason" brought the night's biggest standing ovation.
Bay isn't exactly an MTV A-lister either, although he has sold a lot of albums in Europe, most of them to much older crowds than this. But after a slightly faltering start to "Hold Back the River," he dug deep and brought some welcome emotional heft to the show, his rabble-rousing rendition galvanizing the crowd more effectively than many bigger stars managed. Sometimes a guitar and a hat is all you need.
Justin Bieber's status as the one true visiting U.S. superstar meant MTV had to get their money's worth from him. Accordingly, he won five awards (including Best Male, Best Worldwide Act: North America, Biggest Fans and Best Collaboration for "Where Are Ü Now" with Skrillex and Diplo). But his acceptance speeches were disappointingly bland, his visually spectacular Tron-style performance of "What Do You Mean?" showcased some surprisingly lackluster dancing, and even he seemed baffled when he picked up the award for Best Look, in one of the fashion capitals of the world, while wearing an all-red ensemble that made him look like a trick-or-treating teen who'd turned up as a White Stripes–era Jack White. "Was it this look?" he asked, pulling a face for the cameras.
Awarding Duran Duran the Video Visionary award for their pioneering work in music videos was a nice touch, linking MTV back to its glorious past when it actually played music videos. True, some of the crowd didn't seem to know who they were, but frontman Simon Le Bon did his best to remind them, declaring: "There was us and MTV, and we blazed a trail and we were there for each other." So it seemed slightly churlish that Duran Duran didn't get to play at their own party.
Pharrell Williams was given a curiously low-key intro by Sheeran given that he was closing the show. But no matter; featuring a whirlwind of brightly clad dancers, "Freedom" was the one performance that got everyone in the arena up and dancing, even if many didn't actually realize it was the finale until long after Pharrell had left the stage.