To celebrate the 20th anniversary of MTV’s European Music Awards, this year’s ceremony – held last night at Glasgow, Scotland’s SSE Hydro Arena – had a time-travel theme. At one surreal moment, this involved hostess Nicki Minaj calling a stage-invading T. Rex “a stupid fucking dinosaur,” but mostly it meant turning back the clock to the days when guitar bands roamed the earth – and its awards ceremonies.
Pop superstars One Direction (three awards), Katy Perry, Ariana Grande and 5 Seconds Of Summer (two apiece) might have been the big winners, but when it came to the performances, rock ruled the roost. At various points in the night, the stage was filled by U2, British newcomers Royal Blood and an all-star Ozzy Osbourne tribute, alongside more typical 2014 MTV stars such as Ed Sheeran, Charli XCX, Kiesza and Enrique Iglesias.
And, while Minaj comes from a very different place musically, it turns out this rock revival was just fine with her: “I love the spirit of rock & roll, I love what it represents,” she told Rolling Stone after the show. “To me, it represents what hip-hop represents. It’s not only about the music, but about the attitude.”
There wasn’t so much attitude elsewhere, as the ceremony largely avoided the controversies that have become commonplace at MTV awards shows in recent years, but we still learned plenty. Here are five key takeaways:
Nicki Minaj is an all-around superstar.
As well as presenting with commendable gusto, Minaj offered one of the best performance of the night, blending a pyro-heavy “Super Bass” into a premiere of new ballad “Bed of Lies” and a spectacular, all-singing, all-twerking rendition of “Anaconda.” She also wore at least eight different outfits, won the award for Best Hip-Hop and played golf onstage, putting into a hole shaped like a generously-proportioned butt. The most unexpected moment, however, came when she led an audience singalong of the Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” despite seemingly never having heard it before. It might have been a fairly tame show by MTV standards, but when Minaj was onstage, it was never dull.
U2 still know how to get your attention.
Stealth-bombing iTunes customers with Songs of Innocence might have backfired, but last night’s performance was surely a more agreeable way of winning over new fans. Resisting the temptation to compete with younger, flashier pop acts, the Edge sat at a piano and a string section was employed for a soulful version of “Every Breaking Wave,” cutting through the noise with mature restraint.
Ariana Grande is not the new Miley Cyrus.
Grande might have come through the same tween-TV-to-pop-stardom production line that spawned Cyrus. And she might have a similarly effervescent approach to pop (Her space-themed medley of “Problem” and “Break Free” was the most eye-catching pop performance of the night). But she certainly doesn’t have Cyrus’ nose for controversy, giving perhaps two of the safest acceptance speeches (for Best Female and Best Song, for “Problem”) in EMA history. By the time she started to thank MTV’s production team, department by department, you started to hope that she would spark up a spliff on stage – as Cyrus did last year in Amsterdam last year.
But at least Grande showed up: As well as no Miley, there was also no Taylor, no Rihanna, no Beyoncé and even no One Direction (the group appeared on the U.K.’s version of The X Factor instead). At least Katy Perry sent some amusing acceptance videos from her tour in Australia. For Best Look, she thanked her make-up artist, quipping, “I don’t wake up like this – obviously you know that, you have the internet.”
Royal Blood can win over a crowd.
Having spent the summer conquering the festivals, Brit rockers Royal Blood are now doing the same to Europe’s awards shows. The duo’s pulverizing rendition of “Figure It Out” – played in front of a prison backdrop complete with fans moshing in cages – showed that rock, if played with enough energy, can still triumph events like this. The SSE Hydro crowd was initially baffled, then intrigued and eventually utterly won over.
Slash can’t read an autocue, but Ozzy doesn’t care.
Awarding the Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne his Global Icon award, Slash was either very nervous or having trouble reading his script. Either way, he stumbled through his tribute but did manage to describe Osbourne as someone who “scares the hell out of most people and all bats.” Ozzy didn’t seem bothered, though: True to his red carpet declaration that he’d “rather be in the pub,” he made a very short acceptance speech, looked a bit confused and made a sharp exit.
Fortunately, the Guns N’ Roses guitarist looked much more comfortable performing, leading a tribute to Osbourne as the EMA finale moved into Grammy territory. Featuring Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil – the only Scot to perform on the night, after Calvin Harris dropped out at the last minute – and Myles Kennedy doing “Crazy Train,” the tribute employed what’s technically known as a “shit-ton” of fireworks and even more guitar pyrotechnics. Lord alone knows what the pop-loving crowd thought of it, but it certainly cemented rock’s triumphant return to the EMA stage.
Full list of winners:
Best Song: Ariana Grande featuring Iggy Azalea, “Problem”
Best Pop: One Direction
Best Female: Ariana Grande
Best Male: Justin Bieber
Best Live: One Direction
Best New: 5 Seconds of Summer
Best Video: Katy Perry featuring Juicy J, “Dark Horse”
Best Rock: Linkin Park
Best Alternative: Thirty Seconds To Mars
Best Hip Hop: Nicki Minaj
Best Electronic: Calvin Harris
Biggest Fans: One Direction
Best Look: Katy Perry
Best Push: 5 Seconds of Summer
Best World Stage: Enrique Iglesias, MTV World Stage Isle of MTV Malta
Worldwide Act: Bibi Zhou
Global Icon: Ozzy Osbourne