Ed Sheeran and Macklemore
I was about to declare that the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards were the gayest telecast in the ceremony’s history, but you know what? There’ve been plenty of gay VMAs telecasts. We had the ’93 event where “Constant Craving” won Best Female Video and REM performed two songs from Automatic For the People (arguably their gayest and best album, at least according to me). We had Ricky Martin gyrating to “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and Madonna attending her own drag tribute in ’99. In 2009, Lady Gaga dedicated her first VMA victory to “God and the gays.” But in 2013, we had plenty of LGBT representation as well as a kickass performance of the year’s (decade’s?) most straightforward tune about gay equality, “Same Love” by Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and Mary Lambert. And honestly? Screw Adam Levine’s cooler-than-thou tweet, because this was a towering, excellent awards show.
Lady Gaga initiated us into the ceremony’s insanity with a fiery, cleverly costumed performance of “Applause.” Her backup dancers — vamping in Gaga’s classic stilted-on-purpose, robot-vogue choreography — helped Czarina Germanotta through several wardrobe changes, including a Flying Nun getup, a twinkling sapphire, shoulder-padded look (a throwback to Gaga’s 2008 The Fame days), her current maquillage-smeared look of ’13, and a near-nude Birth of Venus-inspired bikini featuring seashell breasts. She stared down the camera like a livid Dr. Frankenfurter as piped-in boos drowned out her song, which was a fun way to reference her unending chorus of haters. I’m a VMA savant, and I declare: This was the greatest performance of the evening, one of the best, most daring, and smartest performances in VMA history, and an utter triumph for the one current pop artist who owns every bit of her (occasionally flawed) persona and work. Without her, the evening would’ve lacked a necessary iota of qualified bizarreness.
Because of course, there was a fair share of failed bizarreness. Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke performed their hits “We Can’t Stop” and “Blurred Lines” as a medley (with 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar coming in for “Give It 2 U” at its end), and Miley used the occasion to double-down on the pole-straddling naughtiness of 2009’s Teen Choice Awards, if you remember that jaw-dropping scene. This time, she gyrated for what seemed like 19 straight hours in a teddy bear-themed one-piece before stripping down to a flesh-colored bikini, slamming her ass against Robin Thicke (who was dressed in sleazy black and white-striped suit like a pimp Floridian hamburglar), and humping on a foam “#1″ finger like a zealot Packers fan. It was outrageous. It was uncomfortable. It made no sense. For the past year, Miley has been both interestingly risqué and just-plain-crass. This was an example of the latter. I kept picturing Fiona Apple’s sinister character from the “Criminal” video looking over at Miley humping around by the pool and muttering, “Ugh, ignore my annoying sister.”
Fun wackiness: Female Video of the Year winner Taylor Swift could be seen in the audience mouthing, “Shut the f*ck up” as One Direction worked up their fans; Daft Punk wore their VR Trooper helmets the entire show; Joseph Gordon-Levitt presented Video of the Year (Why? We’ll never know.) to Video Vanguard winner Justin Timberlake while sporting a crisp suit and a crisper package; Bruno Mars proved he’s, yes, wildly talented by nailing his rendition of “Gorilla” and picking up the Best Choreography trophy for “Treasure,” a vid he choregraphed himself; Kevin Hart bombed in two interstitial segments where he kept yelling about the size of Lady Gaga’s ass, then huffing about not being asked to host the show. Well. Now you never will! Problem solved.
Of course Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won Best Video With A Social Message for “Same Love,” but you can’t underestimate the coolness of the seafoam-suited rapper announcing that “Gay rights are human rights” to a crowd of a trillion. That ruled. And so did the performance of “Same Love” later featuring Mary Lambert and surprise guest Jennifer Hudson. Those two vocally dueled at the song’s end, and it was a shocking display worthy of an American Idol finale. I wanted Jennifer Holliday to blast through a wall and scowl-sing-howl over both of them in a climactic triumph. Even if you’re not a fan of this particular brand of poetry slam rap, you have to appreciate that the song touts gayness and the validity gay of relationships, and simply includes the word “gay” a million times. It’s always on the radio. People are hearing it all the time. So fab. I do wish some of the lyrics were given a second draft (namely the ones about “loving girls since you were pre-K!” ), but then you have splintering moments like, “If I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me.” Boom.
Did I mention Kanye West performed in the dark? He crooned “Blood on the Leaves” from Yeezus in front of a dimly lit, woodsy mural that looked like it belonged in a dentist’s office. F’real. And I’m not saying Kanye’s vocals are too Auto-Tuned these days, but he’s the only rapper who sounds like Cher falling down the stairs. And North West shuddered.
Certainly the most athletic and astoundingly long performance of the night belonged to Justin Timberlake, who didn’t skip a beat or shuffle or half-step in his mega-medley of hits. And I mean every hit. He gave us moments of everything from “Like I Love You,” “Rock Your Body,” “SexyBack,” “My Love,” and “Señorita” to “Mirrors,” “Suit & Tie,” and “Take Back the Night.” He also gave us a soupcon of “Bye Bye Bye,” and he was kind enough to invite back the boys of *N Sync for that moment. And I do mean a moment. As quickly as they appeared, *N Sync descended back into the stage, presumably to a dungeon where Kelly Rowland was the doorman. What I saw was clear: Lance Bass looks hotter than ever, and with the possible exception of an emphatic JC Chasez, he nailed the choreography best too. Aw, gay boy-bander. Thanks for being you.
And thanks to Drake, who was raw and crazy sexy during his performance of “Started From the Bottom,” which inspired plenty of rewrites from my room of gay viewers. I only wish he could’ve been as crazy-sexy as the women who introduced him, T-Boz and Chilli from TLC. I was torqued to see those dames, but I was disappointed that they didn’t interrupt Kanye’s performance with a devastating performance of “No Scrubs.” Missed potential there, Tionne and Rozonda.
Other notable observations: Presenter Lil Kim looked like she was being portrayed in an Emmy-winning performance by Cicely Tyson. Presenter Jared Leto is my new favorite Kristen Wiig character. And best (and most sincerely of all), Adam Lambert looked amazing with smart, sinister facial hair.
He’s at a great George Michael place with his look. I’m glad he could pull of some dignity as he presented the “Artist to Watch” trophy to newcomer Austin Mahone, who thanked his publicist with the eerie eagerness and self-confidence of Eve Harrington. Full of fire and music, this guy.
Closing out the night was that roaring success, Ms. Katy Perry. Now, based on the anticipation leading up to her performance, I expected some big theatricality and cheekiness. That we got. I just don’t know if we got much else. Perry performed her big hit “Roar,” but it’s such a determinedly midtempo number that you could even see front-row attendees fading into a lull halfway through her act. We did get to see her jump rope for a couple minutes, which is a pretty Madonna/Sticky and Sweet Tour thing to do, and I have to applaud that.
And for the hell of it, here’s a photo of Will Smith and his kids that will inspire you for decades.
Check out our VMA highlight gallery…
Here’s a full list of the night’s winners, who kept their speeches pretty succinct and un-embarrassing. (I cringed when Taylor Swift yelped to the guy who inspired “I Knew You Were Trouble”: “You know who you are!” — Yes, Taylor, we all know. It’s Harry Styles or John Mayer or David Geffen or Rosebud, your sled. Whichever. Whatever.)
2013 VMA Winners
Video of the Year: Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”
Male Video of the Year: Bruno Mars, “Locked Out of Heaven”
Female Video of the Year: Taylor Swift, “I Knew You Were Trouble”
Artist to Watch: Austin Mahone, “What About Love”
Best Pop Video: Selena Gomez, “Come and Get It”
Best Rock Video: 30 Seconds to Mars, “Up in the Air”
Best Hip-Hop Video: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (feat. Ray Dalton), “Can’t Hold Us”
Best Collaboration: P!nk and Nate Ruess, “Just Give Me a Reason”
Best Direction: Justin Timberlake (feat. Jay-Z), “Suit & Tie”
Best Choreography: Bruno Mars, “Treasure”
Best Visual Effects: Capital Cities, “Safe and Sound”
Best Art Direction: Janelle Monae (feat. Erykah Badu): “Q.U.E.E.N.”
Best Editing: Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”
Best Cinematography: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (feat. Ray Dalton), “Can’t Hold Us”
Best Video with a Social Message: Macklemore and Ryan lewis (feat. Mary Lambert): “Same Love”
Best Song of the Summer: One Direction, “Best Song Ever” (strange, this victory)
Video Vanguard: Justin Timberlake