“I don’t understand award shows!” Kanye West declared last night with real agony in his voice during a long, emotional speech at the MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles. He was there to pick up the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, but had other worries on his mind. So if Yeezy himself is at a loss at the meaning of these ceremonies after winning 21 Grammys, multiple Moonmen, American Music Awards and other amazing prizes, how are the rest of us to cope?
By the end of two and a half hours inside the Microsoft Theatre, we had our own questions about this year’s VMAs show.
1. Did host Miley Cyrus think offering mild criticism to Nicki Minaj in a New York Times interview wouldn’t mean facing some wrath on show night?
Taylor Swift already learned not to argue with Minaj over her complaints about why “Anaconda” wasn’t nominated for the top prize, and the two made up enough to perform last night in matching red. When Minaj picked up Best Hip-Hop Video soon after, she threw the show back to Cyrus with a sneer and a smile, savoring the moment: “And now, back to this bitch who had a lot to say about me the other day in the press: Miley, what’s good?” The host was caught off-guard but didn’t crumble. She offered a refreshing perspective that might even help Kayne, recalling her loss two years before for Best New Artist: “Whatever. Because it’s no big deal! It’s just an award!”
2. Where was the rock?
Pop and hip-hop now clearly dominate the VMAs. Proof enough of MTV’s dim view of guitars in 2015 was that the once-prominent Best Rock Video award was handed out quietly in the pre-show (to Fall Out Boy for “Uma Thurman”). Later in the telecast, newcomer Tori Kelly did deliver a fiery “Should’ve Been Us,” wailing and slashing at a guitar. And Cyrus brought out Oklahoma avant-gardists Flaming Lips and some RuPaul’s Drag Race dancers for her new song “Dooo It.” But the days when Axl Rose and Kurt Cobain were engaged in metal vs. grunge stare-downs at the MTV gathering are a long, long time ago.
3. Should so many of the best moments be somewhere else?
Inside the Microsoft Theatre, ticket-holders were watching some of the most memorable performances on TV like the rest of you. Blocks away beneath the marquee of the old Orpheum Theatre, things got ramped up early as cameras followed Macklemore and Ryan Lewis performing their new single “Downtown” with hip-hop originators Grandmaster Caz, Kool Moe Dee and Melle Mel. Later, Pharrell took the outdoor stage for a soaring “Freedom.” Meanwhile in the main room, guests sipped champagne and ate popcorn and M&Ms while watching the jumbotrons like they were at an oversized Super Bowl party.
4. If Kanye is really running for president in 2020, and presumably running against President Trump, can he be his own running mate?