by Ramin Setoodeh
I don't know how it looked on TV, but from Radio City Music Hall last night, the MTV Video Music Awards were like (to steal the title of a Britney Spears song) a circus. And we had our favorite ringleader presiding over the cermonies, Madonna—remember the time she kissed Christina Aguilera and Britney, or how she stared down old versions of herself in a music dance tribute? This year, the Material Girl opened the show, but all eyes were on Jackson: Michael Jackson, who Madonna paid tribute to in a heartfelt soliloquy. "Long live the King," she said, after recounting a special dinner she had with him in '90s, which ended with the two of them holding hands. (Eww. Don't worry. It was strictly platonic.)
Then Janet Jackson took the stage—to a roar from the crowd—for a dance medley (that required no singing) dedicated to her late brother. And there were plenty of other Michael references from everyone from Nelly Furtado to Russell Brand, the evening's host. "Tonight is dedicated to the great Michael Jackson," said Brand. "Let's honor Michael Jackson tonight by loving each other in his memory." How sweet. But the VMAs are also about pop artists loving themselves. It's like a high-stakes version of your high-school battle of the bands, where superstars try to outdo each other by coming up with the night's most over-the-top acts. Here were the eight biggest surprises of the night:
(8) Taylor Swift was the upset winner of the night, when she beat out Lady Gaga, Beyonce, and Katy Perry, for best female music video. As the 19-year-old humbly took the stage to deliver an acceptance speech, she was strangely interrupted. Kanye West stormed the podium (security!?) to say that Beyonce's "Single Ladies" was one of the best music videos of all time. Poor Taylor didn't even get to finish her speech. But Kanye was just being Kanye, drumming up attention for himself. And boy, did he get it. When he was later in the night announced as a nominee, the crowd booed loudly and chanted "Taylor."
(7) Taylor Swift rides the subway!? In the most elaborate number of the night, she got on the train at Times Square and ended up on top of a cab at Radio City, crooning her song "You Belong To Me" the whole time. The audience here loved it, but it had to be pre-recorded right? As any New Yorker knows, the subway never runs on time.
(6) Lady Gaga didn't steal the show. The pop princess with a penchant for the unexpected—like when she wore a jacket made of dead Kermit the Frog puppets in Germany—delivered a solid rendition of "Paparazzi." Her vocals were superb, her dancing excellent, and she propped her leg up on the piano and still managed to outplay Liberace. But it wasn't a performance for the history books. And the choreography was slightly confusing—why did Gaga end up hanging from the stage drenched in fake blood? Some woman at the bathroom had to explain it to me: "The paparazzi killed her."
(5) Britney Spears isn't just a bad lip-syncer (as anyone who saw her last tour could tell you), but she's also a bad liar. She didn't show up to the VMAs, she said in a prerecorded acceptance speech, because she was on the road. Let's check a map, shall we? Britney was in Grand Forks, N.D., Saturday night. And her next performance isn't until Tuesday in Tulsa, Okla. So why couldn't she fly into New York on Sunday to thrill all her fans? Since she isn't actually singing on her tour, she can't say she needs the vocal rest.
(4) Best peformance of the night: Beyonce, proving that she really did deserve her nine VMA nominations. She belted out her hit "Single Ladies" with a gaggle of 37 (by my count) other Beyonce lookalikes, in a Chicago-like dance number that had everybody in the house cheering.
(3) Remember what I said about Lady Gaga before? Nevermind. When she was announced as best new artist, she marched on stage to accept the award dressed in a red lingerie batsuit and ski mask. Gaga knows how to make her people go gaga, especially when she dedicated her prize to her biggest fan base, the gays.
(2) Pink isn't just a talented artist. She's also a talented trapeze artist. She peformed singing and swinging from above the stage.
(1) Beyonce is a class act. When she was announced the winner for best music video, she called up Taylor Swift on stage, so the girl could finish delivering her speech. We all know there are no real losers at the VMAs, except for Kanye West, who came off like the biggest loser of them all.