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MTV VMAs 2014’s 20 Best and Worst Moments

Beyoncé’s stunning performance, Taylor Swift’s pop breakout and more highs and lows from MTV’s most outrageous night

Beyoncé and Taylor Swift at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards

Getty Images

MTV's Video Music Awards thrive on big moments and big controversies — and last night's ceremony (the network's 31st) was light on both. Last year's show garnered massive ratings and massive amounts of chatter thanks to Miley's derriere, so this year was butt-tastic. But with no host, no Gaga, no Kanye, no Britney and no pythons, producers were left pushing two hours of brand-new artists they hope can become big stars… before the biggest star of them all arrived to make 'em all bow down. Here's how the night shook out, once the glitter settled.

sam smith

Sam Smith at the 2014 MTV VMAs.

Jeff Kravitz/MTV1415/FilmMagic

BEST: Sam Smith’s Subdued Song

The VMAs are a telecast in relentless search of a retweet. Naturally, that leads to spectacular, overstuffed performances, a reality that made Sam Smith's subdued and simmering rendition of "Stay With Me" a standout for all the right reasons. Stationed at a microphone, accompanied by a keyboardist, Smith simply just sang — and slayed. Dressed demurely in a black suit, he sent that gorgeously emotive falsetto of his swooping and fluttering over the crowd. The biggest special effects of the performance were the tears in Smith's eyes as the song came to a close, and the broad smile that followed.

Maroon 5

INGLEWOOD, CA - AUGUST 24: (L-R) Musicians Matt Flynn, Adam Levine, PJ Morton, and James Valentine of Maroon 5 perform onstage during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/MTV1415/Getty Images for MTV)

Rich Polk/MTV1415/Getty Images for MTV

WORST: Maroon 5’s Phone-Toting “Fans”

Look, we realize you probably ended up in the parking lot of the Forum because you answered a casting director's Craigslist ad. And, yes, it's probable you showed up excited to see Nicki or Beyoncé up close and personal, only to be told that you'd be watching guys with guitars instead. But, c'mon folks, did you have to hold your phones up the entire time? Unless someone from MTV's marketing department told you to keep 'em up there (which, after watching the show, seems like a distinct possibility), let us be the first to inform you that filming every single second of a performance isn't the best way to watch music. Your eyes work too.

Jim Carrey at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards

Kevin Winter/MTV1415/Getty Images for MTV

BEST: Jim Carrey Tumbles for You

"I meant to do that!" Jim Carrey said repeatedly after accidentally slipping off the stage during the Best Pop Video presentation. "We rehearsed that." Paired with his Dumb and Dumber costar Jeff Daniels, Carrey was in the middle of doing a (lame) routine about his scarf. "Let me try it again," he said, before tumbling like 52-year-olds do. He even ducked off screen, as if he fell again, before the nominees were announced. A lousy bit was saved by an impeccable showman and irrepressible goofball.

Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards

INGLEWOOD, CA - AUGUST 24: Recording artists Iggy Azalea (L) and Rita Ora perform onstage during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

Michael Buckner/Getty Images

WORST: Iggy Azalea Fails to Get Fancy

The most noteworthy part of Iggy Azalea's performance was what was missing: The Australian rapper didn't use her VMAs spot to perform "Fancy," a track up for Video of the Year. The "Fancy" omission was especially surprising considering Charli XCX was also in the house after performing "Boom Clap" on the red carpet. Considering how lackluster the VMAs were on a whole, the crowd-pleasing megahit "Fancy" could have been a much-needed adrenaline shot. Instead, we got the downer single "Black Widow" with Rita Ora. At least the pair's outfits — which were more Black Cat meets Black-Suit Spider-Man than Black Widow — were pretty cool.

5 Seconds of Summer at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards

5 Seconds of Summer at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards

Michael Buckner/Getty Images

BEST: 5 Seconds of Summer Go Gimmick-Free

Chloe Grace Moretz and Dylan O'Brien introduced 5 Seconds of Summer, but it sounded like they were pumping up the crowd for a Fugees reunion. "Dylan and I are here to reminisce about the 1990s," said Moretz. "They were a time of Hammer pants, Beanie Babies and Doc Martens." They explained that 5 Seconds of Summer were inspired by Green Day and Blink-182, though sadly the word "Ash" written across the group's bass drum wasn't a shout-out to the Nineties Britpop band (it's merely the nickname of drummer Ashton Irwin). Weird intro aside, their performance of "Amnesia" probably earned them a bunch of new fans that weren't even alive in the Nineties. 

MTV VMAs

Taylor Swift performs on stage at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMA), August 24, 2014 at The Forum in Inglewood, California. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

WORST: Technical Snafus

Although the VMAs weren't entirely riddled with technical errors, there were enough to warrant a few double-takes. Before the show even began, a camera showed a long interior shot of the arena during interviews on the red carpet. During Snoop and Gwen Stefani's presentation of Best Female Video, a voice strangely called over the audio, "Taylor One, Taylor One, Taylor One, Taylor One, —lor One," presumably camera directions (but we can't rule out alien transmissions). Finally, when Lorde accepted the trophy for Best Rock Video, she had no idea what camera was on her. "Is there some place I should be looking?" she asked before turning to her left. "Oh, hi."

MTV VMAs

INGLEWOOD, CA - AUGUST 24: Singer Ariana Grande performs onstage during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images)

Mark Davis/Getty Images)

WORST: Unnecessary Nominee Supermixes

It’s no secret that the VMAs are no longer about the videos, ignoring the directors and focusing on the performances, but this year, even the music got shafted. When the nominees were announced, the videos weren’t just truncated into a few distorted, fake fish-eye frames, the actual songs were combined into a single, stuttering trap megamix. A commentary on the interchangeability  of this year's nominated songs? A hip effort to appeal to young fans? No, just an annoying way to listen to the music that this show is supposed to be celebrating.

Usher and Nicki Minaj at the 2014 MTV VMAs.

INGLEWOOD, CA - AUGUST 24: Nicki Minaj and Usher perform onstage during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/MTV1415/WireImage)

Kevin Mazur/MTV1415/WireImage

BEST: Usher Heads in a New Direction

"The ladies in prison would love this next performer," said Laverne Cox, introducing Usher alongside two of her Orange Is the New Black castmates. Opening with a particularly hard rendition of his Mike Will-produced, Migos-influenced new "Believe Me," he immediately lived up to the hype, then segued into a particularly disco rendition of his Pharrell-produced, DJ Cassidy-influenced "She Came to Give It to You." Oh, and when Nicki Minaj appeared to rap her verse on the latter, he dropped to his knees and bounced his shoulder and head off her much discussed butt. This — and not the slick dance moves choreographed to a tasteful R&B jam — must have been what the singer was referring to when he (per a weekend MTV News headline) promised "something he's never done before at the VMAs."

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