MTV’s Video Music Awards have a storied history of sensational and surprising moments that have gone on to become pop cultural milestones. Who could forget Britney’s open-mouthed smooching of Madonna, or Michael Jackson making out on stage with Lisa Marie Presley way back in 1994? How about Prince revealing his pants-less behind in 1991? And then there was last year’s big fiasco and huge shocker, with even the president weighing in–Kanye West crashing in on Taylor Swift and hijacking the mic during her VMA acceptance speech. It’s doubtful anyone could or ever will top his award for Most Boorish Behavior.
So the expectations were high for the 2010 VMAs. Despite host Chelsea Handler’s admonition for everyone to be on their worst behavior, the only real fireworks during the telecast came at the very end–during West’s much-anticipated performance.
But it’s Handler’s performance as host–the first female doing emcee duties at the VMAs in 16 years–that is drawing the most heat. The New York Times trashed her act, saying, "She was among the worst in the show’s history–purposefully out-of-touch, with brief, alarming flashes of off-color racial humor."
The Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly and AOL TV were among those giving her a resounding thumbs down, while the Los Angeles Times took the opposite stance, saying she had “plenty of verve and vinegar.”
In or out of the Chelsea camp, there’s no dispute the show was a smash. It drew its highest ratings since 2002, commanding 11.4 million viewers, up 27% from last year.
Let’s review. Among her racially tinged jokes were comments about not doing a prayer circle again with Snoop Dogg–“an angry black man, what a surprise.” Saying she snuck in a couple of sawed-off shotguns in her purse–and got away with it because she’s white. Calling out the “big, black elephant in the room”–Kanye West.
What wasn’t racial was pretty much just crass, and if the punch lines didn’t exactly bomb, they didn’t illicit huge peals of laughter. Topics included tongues, nipples, herpes, vaginas and casts of several shows “backstage, stapling their balls together.” That line not once, but twice. Handler peppered her humor with a lot of “whoopsi’s” and “oopsi’s.”
Perhaps her finest bit was emerging from a Jacuzzi with the “Jersey Shore” crew–those fine folks who prevent MTV from showing more music videos–wet, barefoot and with a pregnant belly.
Still, the show provided its fair share of memorable moments right off the top after revving things up with Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Eminem and Rihanna performing a rousing show-opening rendition of “Not Afraid.” Lindsay Lohan’s taped appearance urging Handler to give up the drink and not embarrass her. Lady Gaga’s multiple wins, with each trip to the podium in a different outfit–one including the infamous Alexander McQueen lobster claw shoes, a variety of headdresses and then finally, a dress that appeared to be made out of meat. There was Cher, the pop diva who still has a huge fan base, making a surprise appearance as a presenter in the same get-up she wore 20 years ago, much to the crowd’s delight.
The performances were dramatic and well-choreographed. Best New Artist Justin Bieber’s driving up to the theater and playing to the crowd outside the Nokia. Usher channeling some Michael Jackson-esque dance movies in “OMG.” B.o.B and Paramore’s Hayley Williams pairing up for his hit “Airplanes.” Linkin Park rocking the beautifully lit Griffith Park Observatory. A barefoot Swift’s musical response to last year’s VMA debacle with a song that smells like a big hit, “Innocent,” about West. Those two will be dueting soon.
Despite all the waves about Chandler, who tweeted that she “had a blast and the show was awesome,” the night belonged to Gaga, who’s in the throes of a really good romance with her fans. And let’s hope the meat outfit got refrigerated–or cooked to perfection. It would be a shame to let one of the most unique ensembles in awards show fashion history go to the dogs.