The 2015 MTV Video Music Awards stormed onto prime time Sunday, with Taylor Swift taking home two major awards and Kanye West receiving the Michael Jackson Vanguard Video Award. Miley Cyrus came back after her 2013 performance as host, but her tasteless jokes and awkward cutaways left much to be desired.
In a summer where Donald Trump dominated the news cycle, it seems only natural that another headline-grabbing celebrity would host the VMAs. Miley Cyrus, who has transformed from appropriating black women to drag queens, was uninspiring as host to an event where she was supposed to be the most outlandish part of the evening.
While not a well-respected awards show by any means, the VMAs have been a staple for MTV, once the apex of popular music. The show is a relic of an era before the all-encompassing force of social media and reality TV, and when MTV only announced five awards during the telecast, they lost the distinction of being an awards show. The paltry 5.6 million people who tuned into the telecast, according to Variety, may also show that the VMAs are on their way out.
MTV knows, however, that the awards aren’t why people are watching. MTV is smart, and has been around long enough to know what makes good television. This year’s winning formulas included Nicki Minaj opening the show with surprise guest Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj then calling out Miley Cyrus for Cyrus’ “white feminism” response to Minaj’s complaints about who was nominated and mediocre performances from artists whom the 14- to 25-year-old audience adores.
Nicki Minaj had a great performance, performing two songs before Taylor Swift decided to pop out of the floor and “squash” their beef. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis continued their train ride though mediocrity with a catchy, yet visually unappealing, performance of “Downtown.” Demi Lovato may have taken a cruiser missile to her career with the dreadful performance of “Cool for the Summer,” featuring a 30-second cameo from Iggy Azalea. The two surprising performances were Vine-star Tori Kelly’s emotional “Should’ve Been Us,” and Twenty One Pilots and A$AP Rocky’s lively, energetic send-off.
Justin Bieber channeled Chris Brown in his performance of “Where Are Ü Now” and “What Do You Mean?” While Bieber has spent the last few years being Public Enemy No. 1 for many music fans, his emotional breakdown at the end of his set seemed to demonstrate that he’s trying to prove himself again. But then the camera cut to Miley Cyrus in a tinsel coat and the show snapped back to reality.
The Weeknd, save for some vocal issues, gave a sexy performance of “Can’t Feel My Face,” and Pharrell Williams' performance of “Freedom,” was fun to see, but the awkward transitions throughout the night felt like whiplash between each commercial break.
The indisputable high point of the show was Kanye West’s 15-minute, rambling, bizarre and inspirational acceptance speech for the Michael Jackson Vanguard Video Award. Part presidential announcement speech, part undressing of the winner-loser binary of award shows, Kanye proved why he’s such a powerful force in the industry as an entire audience waited on his word. While Taylor Swift got to announce the award—because, remember, MTV is smart and loves celebrity feuds—Kanye was easily the most deserving winner of the evening.
To cap off the night, Cyrus ended the show performing a new song, announcing her joint album with The Flaming Lips’ lead singer Wayne Coyne and performed with 30 drag queens in what I can only assume was an acid trip that ended on Fire Island. While not the best part of the night, at least everyone knew when the show was over.
MTV once again made entertaining television out of little substance, and Miley Cyrus continued her shtick of making everyone think she’s crazy. I’m not holding my breath, but let’s hope next year MTV wakes up from this fever dream and decides to actually have an award show.