7:00, Erik Adams: Good evening, TV Clubbers. If you can’t tell from the screaming voices emitting from your television right now, the time has come for another edition of the MTV Video Music Awards. Phil Nugent and I will be your TV Club correspondents for this year’s host-less festivities, and we’ll be updating here throughout the night. Though, from the vibe the pre-show hosts are giving off, geeks like us may as well be on the “white carpet” with Selena Gomez.
7:05, Phil Nugent: Sway brings out "our very first guests", the cast of Jersey Shore, "all of 'em." Well, as it turns out, not all of them. "Where's the Situation?" This question is greeted with gales of laughter, which I take to be everybody's way of saying, "You don't want to know, but it's fun to think about the possibilities."
7:16, PN: The first "pre-show performance", by someone called Cobra Starship. Because I am very old, I experience a shiver of terror at the thought that they might be the latest iteration of the cryogenically frozen leftovers of Jefferson Airplane. They turn out to be a briskly paced anthology of everything I thought was cool when I was nine: shiny pants, sunglasses insouciantly thrown aside, fog machines, lots of G-rated writhing. I am not entirely sure that the disembodied head of Paul Krassner isn't directing all this from behind the wings.
7:24, EA: Unfortunately for us, not even a broken ankle will prevent a performance by Jessie J. Lady Gaga is totally jealous of those crutches, I’m sure.
7:26, EA: Odd Future is really going to put the five-second delay to the test. Tyler, The Creator dropped at least one “fuck” in his pre-show interview, making sure the cameras stay on his mom. (Or someone he claimed was his mom. You can never be too sure with that guy.) At least he didn’t use his other favorite “f”-word. (Yet.)
7:33, EA: Lady Gaga is the night’s first winner, and Justin Bieber is terrorizing his gf Gomez with a handheld snake. THEY’RE JUST LIKE REAL TEENS!
7:35, PN: An interview with Seth Rogen is followed by a commercial for Rogen's new my-friend-has-cancer movie, because, by God, Seth Rogen is no quitter and is gonna keep making Funny People until he gets it right!
7:44, PN: One of the Jersey Shore chicks—I’m not going to pretend that I can tell them apart—on Justin Bieber: “If I was thirteen, I’d hit that.”
7:48, EA: Tosh.0 fever has finally infected MTV, if that ad for Rob Dyrdek’s new Ridiculousness is any indication. Remember when the network set trends?
7:53, EA: From the fringe to the handprint codpiece, the outfit sported by LMFAO’s Redfoo marks him as this year’s obvious contender for a “Fartman”-style episode.
7:57, PN: Britney Spears looks both great and reasonably sane. That’s worth a headline.
7:58, PN: Katy Perry’s entrance serves as a timely reminder that when we say that anyone on this show looks “reasonably sane,” we’re grading on a curve.
8:00, EA: MTV decided to not book a host in favor of having Lady Gaga emcee the VMAs in various personas.
8:05, PN: Okay, for my money, that opening monologue (performed by Gaga in chain-smoking, obscenity-bleeped, angry-Joisey-guy drag) made a better case for an Andrew Dice Clay comeback than Entourage managed.
8:05, EA: Justin Bieber is not a fan of Lady Gaga’s new one-woman show.
8:07, PN: Man, that Brian May surprise appearance sure did make Dave Grohl’s night.
8:11, EA: Kevin Hart’s routine about not hosting seems to have been worked up in the green room before the show. This might be one assignment he can’t sell through his over-caffeinated Chris Tucker schtick.
8:12, PN: I love that just when I decided that the point of Hart’s MTV-celebrity jokes was how deliberately unfunny they were, the cameraman cut to one of the Jersey Shore guys busting a gut over them.
8:15, EA: Something tells me that as long as there’s a Britney Spears around, Katy Perry’s trophy case will remain without a Moonman. Which is too bad, because as unfunny as the “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” video is, it just lost to something that’s more or less a redux on Spears’ clip for “I’m A Slave 4 U.”
8:16, PN: Here’s to Britney for managing to get in the evening’s first “thank you” to God. That’s why the big guy hasn’t been doing a better job keeping the earthquakes and hurricanes under control—he spent the week sweating over his VMA ballot.
8:23, EA: SURPRISE PERFORMANCE: It’s Jon Cryer doing “Try A Little Tenderness,” not Jay-Z and Kanye.
8:24, PN: Have we said anything yet about how shitty that set is? The performers who emerge from its fire-breathing depths look as if they’re being spat out of an extraterrestrial vagina. When the camera started creeping up it slowly while “Tenderness” played faintly on the soundtrack, it too me a minute to realize that I wasn’t still watching a commercial for American Horror Story.
8:24, EA: Kanye West is not going to be very happy when he watches the replay of this. The venue is swallowing his and HOVA’s vocals. “What more can we say?” Not sure—I can’t hear you guys.
8:28, PN: Miley Cyrus, here to co-present the award for Best Rock Video, says she’s always loved rock music. For those of you who’ve been losing sleep from wondering.
The winner for Best Rock Video is Foo Fighters, some 30 minutes after Grohl was telling the guy at the pre-show that his band never wins these things because they make such awful videos.
8:34, EA: Rebecca Black, Kreayshawn, and Cali Swag District all in one video sketch? Who’s watching the YouTube shop right now?
8:34, PN: Anybody else get the feeling that nobody is more eager for Rebecca Black’s 15 minutes to be over than Rebecca Black?
8:38, EA: As boring as that Nicki Minaj solo record is, it’s hard not to love her gleeful reaction to winning Best Hip-Hop Video. And now her decision to wear an entire party to the show is justified!
8:40, PN: She was far from the most deserving nominee in one of the more impressively stocked categories, but on this show, arriving to collect your prize while dressed like a super-birthday special from Baskin-Robbins trumps everything. And every time Chris Brown fails to win something counts as a personal triumph for the whole human race.
8:44, EA: Chord Overstreet, winner of the award for Best Name Ever.
8:45, PN: Thank God Katy Perry won something. Maybe now they’ll stop cutting to Russell Brand sitting next to her in the audience every time a joke bombs.
8:46, EA: Oh hey, Rick Ross and Paul Rudd, the stars of the new buddy comedy currently playing in my dreams.
8:48, EA: Pitbull’s “Give Me Everything” and Spears’ “Till The World Ends” are the two lead entries in an Inventory I’d like to pitch entitled “Apopalypse: Incredibly upbeat songs for the end of days.” For some reason, 2012 has been the biggest point of inspiration for pop radio in the summer of 2011.
8:50, PN: That was a hell of a production number they spun around Pitbull and company. It wasn’t until the lasers kicked in that I started wondering when Crockett and Tubbs were going to show up and start busting the backup dancers.
8:50, EA: And, unlike the Kanye-Jay-Z performance, you could actually hear it.
8:57, PN: I know I should be taking them up on their offer to choose between five acts I’ve never heard of before and text my vote for Best New Artist, but I need my one free hand to hold this Popsicle I’m using to replenish my strength.
8:58, EA: Has there ever been a female pop star who mugs more than Katy Perry? (Maybe Cyndi Lauper?) Every word that comes out of Perry’s mouth sounds like an over-rehearsed open mic stand-up routine.
9:01, EA: This Adele performance is jarring refined and restrained. She knows she’s standing some 100 feet away from a giant space pussy, right?
9:03, EA: If Jessie J’s management is trying to make the vocalist stand apart from the Katy Perrys of the world, they probably shouldn’t have gotten her a high-profile gig where she has to sing Perry’s songs.
9:05, PN: That seamless cut from Adele wrapping up her song to Lil Wayne scratching himself ought to win somebody an Emmy.
9:10, PN: Rick Ross and Paul Rudd, Nicki Minaj and Beavis And Butthead; I haven’t seen anything like this the greatest days of Marvel Team-Up comics.
9:12, PN: Biber shows up to collect his award wearing “I’m smart!” eyeglasses and a dweeb haircut, and thanks Jesus fulsomely enough to make Britney seem like Madalyn Murray O’Hare. The snippet they play under his arrival onstage may be the only music of his I’ve yet heard. It’s catchy!
9:13, EA: Chris Brown time. A.k.a. “the read some updates on Irene and Libyia” portion of the evening.
9:16, PN: Let it be noted that they passed up the chance to cut to a reaction shot from Dave Grohl when Chris Brown was paying “tribute” to Nirvana. I’d like to think that his mile-high teeth stayed firmly behind his unsmiling mouth.
9:17, PN: Let the Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark jokes begin!
9:27, EA: It’s hard to buy Lady Gaga’s sincerity in tributing Britney Spears through that “Joisey” accent. Good work, Mama Monster—you’ve proven that you’re oh so kooky once again. (Now cut it out.)
9:29, PN: She may be acting, but she really did sell it. Whatever you think of her music, Gaga’s one hell of a performer. (I was surprised, though, to see her coming onstage again in the same persona. That might be the longest she’s ever gone without a costume change.)
9:31, PN: That shot of Adele shimmying her shoulders while watching Beyoncé might be my favorite cutaway of the evening. She looked like the preacher’s daughter in a Western tapping her toe to the band at the square dance when her father’s not looking.
9:34, EA: Did Beyoncé just drop the pregnancy bomb on Jay-Z at the same time she dropped it on the rest of us?
9:35, PN: I predict that her agent starts taking bids on her workout book first thing in the morning.
9:41, EA: Tyler, The Creator wins Best New Artist, and a million new thinkpieces about rewarding rampant misogyny and homophobia are launched. But at the same time, dude totally deserves it—Goblin is half-baked, but “Yonkers” is a killer provocation with a bone-chilling music video. And that beat is spooky as fuck.
9:42, PN: “I’ve wanted this since I was nine years old!” What did I do to you, Tyler, The Creator, that you should want to make me feel 1,000 years old?
9:43, PN: But I’m not that much older than Jared Leto! Dude, the My So-Called Life wrap party was not just yesterday. Time to get a grown-up haircut and a shirt with some sleeves.
9:48, PN: No-brainer camera set-up of the night: shooting Young the Giant from above as a mob of fans are enthusiastically pogoing around the stage. Brainless camera move of the night: cutting to a different shot just as a twitchy guy dancing on the far left side of the screen looked just about to do something enthrallingly geeky.
9:51, PN: How am I to hang onto my self-image as a man of taste when every commercial I see featuring the hip-hop rodents makes me realize that I would buy cyanide-laced Pop Tarts from those little guys?
9:54, EA: The new catchphrase of the night is “Put your mic up, Cloris.” I’m sure the Jersey Shore guys are working “put your mic up” into a euphemism as I type.
9:55, PN: Puting Cloris Leachman together with the Jersey Shore girls is sort of inspired in a disturbing way. She acts as if she doesn’t know where she is, and they don’t know how to act as if they know anything else.
9:57, EA: Oh, this Lady Gaga character is a sly comment on the inherent ridiculousness of dividing up awards categories by gender? Maybe?
10:09, PN: One thing about having Russell Brand presiding over your memorial service: he doesn’t lack for enthusiasm. But man, things sure have changed since the days when rockers (and rock-culture comedians) and old-school show biz pros insisted on a sharp demarcation line between their two camps. Here you have Brand introducing Tony Bennett, the two of them brought together to pay tribute to Amy Winehouse, who it turns out put in an appearance on Tony’s next duets album. It just goes to show how far the culture can evolve once corporate synergy gets involved.
10:09, EA: Good to see Bruno Mars dusting off his livelier retro-soul persona for this Winehouse tribute. I was going to be pretty upset if the Mars of “The Lazy Song” showed up to do “Valerie.” I know it’s ridiculous to want an artist to dip deeper into the classic pop well, but I’d more okay with Mars’ meteoric rise if every time he showed up on TV, it looked like lost footage from The T.A.M.I. Show.
10:18, EA: This preview of The Hunger Games would be a good launching point for a discussion about how, even on the night where it pays the most credence to music, the network could still give half a fuck about music.
10:21, PN: Maybe Katy Perry’s win for Video of the Year at the end of a show that began with a salute to Britney Spears represents some kind of passing of the torch. Maybe not. The important thing is, the woman’s wearing a cheese sample on her head.
10:24, PN: And now Li’l Wayne is laying it down in the final performance slot, his energy and star power only slightly diminished by the fact that the set behind him looks as if Cthulu is about to emerge.
10:26, EA: No, Wayne. Put down the guitar. Don’t you remember what happened last time?
10:29, EA: Even though it climaxed with an electrifying performance by one of the biggest pop stars in the world, another VMAs ends as a bit of a letdown. In spite of the VMAs’ relative irrelevance in the 2010s, it’s still a reliable source of water-cooler/message-board fodder: We’ll probably be talking about Gaga’s show-long performance for a few weeks, and the fact that Tyler, The Creator managed to rally enough online votes to score Best New Artist says something about Odd Future’s ability to mobilize the Internet masses—while still staying off the mainstream radar. (I still have serious doubts that the group can sustain that heat.) I don’t think any of the musical performances will stick in my mind beyond next week—with the exception of Chris Brown’s, though that’s only because my wife and I laughed our asses off at the wire acrobatics. Meanwhile, the show’s most surprising moment was also it’s most personal: Beyoncé revealing that she and Jay-Z are expecting their first child. Of course, for someone who grew up on MTV, the VMAs are the most appropriate venue to make that announcement.
10:30, PN: Yeah, it was… okay. I’m gonna be generous and call it okay. It felt professional, which may be a backhanded compliment for a show that established itself as appointment television on the basis of its train wreck moments. There were some crazy hats, but nothing wilder than what you might have seen at the British royal wedding. I’m interested by what you wrote about Gaga’s male disguise being taken, maybe, as a comment on gender division in awards categories. That is kind of what she seemed to be fumbling towards in her acceptance speech, but it felt like something she maybe latched onto in the heat of the moment, as she was trying to find a meaningful context for what might have just been a great stunt. I think her smartest and most passionate fans will be happy to take it that way, because it’s of a piece with what they’d like her to stand for. But I have a feeling they’d have been able to take it the same way, and she’d have been able to steer them toward taking it that way, if she’d come out costumed as a turtle or an airline hostess or a break-dancing zombie. It just seems to say a lot about this moment in popular music that the biggest star in the business, and one of the hardest-working and most imaginative as a performer, basically has the identity of a Rorshach blot.