The 2015 MTV Video Music Awards dished out a buffet of bombast and beef, a barrage of memorable performances and ridiculous outfits, and ultimately served as a pristine example of the transitive properties of pop: Host Miley Cyrus got into it with Nicki Minaj, who made nice with Taylor Swift, who presented the Video Vanguard Award to Kanye West, who ended his emotionally charged speech with the promise of a presidential run in 2020.
Following the premiere of Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” video — an event unto itself — Minaj opened the VMAs with a breezy, beatific medley of “Trini Dem Girls” and “The Night Is Still Young.” Halfway through the latter, Swift emerged from below the stage singing the hook. The pair proceeded to officially quash their pre-VMA beef with a quick duet of Swift’s “Bad Blood” (which later took home Video of the Year).
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis kept the opening festivities going with a live re-creation of their new “Downtown” clip. Hip-hop veterans Grandmaster Caz, Kool Moe Dee and Melle Mel joined the Seattle rapper alongside Foxy Shazam vocalist Eric Nally and a cadre of slick-moving b-boys, the latter cutting loose across the stage outside Los Angeles’ Orpheum Theatre.
Cyrus then took the stage in the first of many absurd outfits, cracking about how her past VMA appearances proved she was clearly unqualified for the hosting gig (her infamous performance with Robin Thicke was routinely referenced throughout the night).
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Cyrus, however, didn’t harp on the past for too long. Instead, the pop star offered a silly sketch about the creative team — featuring Andy Samberg and Ike Barinholtz — behind her Instagram account. The bit concluded with an elaborate selfie featuring Smurf knockoffs, Frankenstein, spaghetti and Rita Ora: “Ellen, you ain’t got nothing on this,” Cyrus joked.
While the spectacle was suitably outlandish, the action only got more over the top as the VMA gods bestowed upon viewers a heaping serving of unscripted manna: Minaj, accepting the award for Best Hip Hop video for “Anaconda,” thanked her pastor before cursing out Cyrus.
“And now, back to this bitch who had a lot to say about me the other day in the press: Miley, what’s good?” Minaj spat, referring to comments Cyrus made about how the rapper handled being snubbed for Video of the Year.
Later, Justin Bieber made his long-awaited return to the VMA stage with a high-flying performance of his Jack Ü collaboration “Where Are Ü Now” and new single “What Do You Mean?” The pop star was backed by a dazzling light display and a dozen spirited dancers, but he notably delved into a spoken word breakdown followed by an aerial act that sent him flying through the theater. When he finally touched back down, Bieber knelt and visibly wept.
The night also featured performances from the Weeknd, Tori Kelly, Pharrell and a unique collaboration between Twenty One Pilots and A$AP Rocky. Cyrus closed out the show with a gaudy, glittery performance of her own that boasted several gif-worthy moments and a cameo from the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne. The whole thing concluded with the announcement of her new album, Miley Cyrus and her Dead Petz, available to stream now for free.
Still, the VMAs perhaps unsurprisingly belonged to Kanye West. The rapper shared the Best Video With a Social Message award with Big Sean and John Legend for “One Man Can Change the World,” and also unleashed an epic speech after accepting the Video Vanguard Award — fittingly presented by Taylor Swift.
After a lengthy standing ovation, West launched into his seemingly off-the-cuff speech, expressing remorse for his infamous “I’mma let you finish” moment, admitting his need to be liked but also his desire to fight for the artists he loves. Ultimately, though, West honed in on awards shows themselves and the unnecessary tensions they create between likeminded creatives.
“I still don’t understand award shows,” West said. “I don’t understand how they get five people who work their entire life, who sold records, sold concert tickets, to come, stand on a carpet and for the first time in their life, be judged on a chopping block and had the opportunity to be considered a loser. I don’t understand it, bro!”
Still, West ended his speech with hopes for a brighter tomorrow. Identifying himself as part of the millennial generation, the rapper spoke about a future without brands and hate, but with self-worth, new ideas and truth. Though he didn’t offer a specific gameplan, West will have some time to work out the specifics of his policy: “And yes, as you probably could have guessed by this moment,” he said in closing, “I have decided in 2020, to run for president.”