MTV’s Video Music Awards are known for generating zeitgeist pop culture moments — like Kanye West’s infamous onstage interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech in 2009 — and this year’s edition was no exception.
The buzziest moment — which generated a record number of tweets, measured by Twitter at 8,868 per second — was pop singer Beyonce’s big pregnancy reveal, unbuttoning her purple sequined jacket and rubbing her tummy at the end of her performance.
Despite coping with Hurricane Irene on the East Coast, ratings were record-breaking with 12.4 million viewers, making it MTV’s most watched telecast ever, according to the Nielsen Co., up 9% over last year’s show.
But what this show really lacked was a host to stitch together some of its big and unexpected moments, like Chris Brown’s Cirque du Soleil-esque performance, Britney Spears almost kissing in-drag Lady Gaga or Katy Perry’s peculiar cheesehead ornament.
The show started off with a bizarre monologue by Gaga as her male alter ego, a chain-smoking Jo Calderone, with slicked-back Jersey pompadour hair. It was hard to tell which direction that was going, making for a rocky opening. But props to Lady G for remaining in character all night without resorting to the insanely over-the-top get-ups she usually sports. Meat dress, anyone? Not this time, although Perry took up the slack by doing four costume changes.
Little-known actor/comedian Kevin Hart followed Calderone/Gaga at the top and, during a not-very-funny monologue, continually made references to the fact that he wasn’t hosting, but if he did, he would say whatever he was saying differently. That went over like a lead balloon.
It soon became apparent that there would indeed be no host after all, as MTV had signaled a few days before the show. The decision marked a departure from years past, when personalities from Chris Rock — who was absolutely hysterical multiple times — to Jimmy Fallon, Dennis Miller, Ben Stiller, Jamie Foxx, Shawn and Marlon Wayans and, last year, Chelsea Handler handled the MC duties.
But having a host-less show was not unprecedented. The VMAs, which date back to 1984 with inaugural hosts Bette Midler and Dan Aykroyd, also went rudderless in 2004 and 2007.
With this year’s material including tributes to the recently departed Amy Winehouse and honoring Britney Spears with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, the guiding hand of a host would’ve been appreciated. Not to mention laughs that might have ensued at appropriate moments.
Russell Brand, who received widespread exposure in the United States when he hosted the VMAs in 2008 as a little-known comic and actor, and was brought back in 2009 to further acclaim, was obviously available.
As the high-profile husband of multiple nominee Perry and called upon to begin the Winehouse tribute with his reminiscences of her in London — about which he had written — Brand seemed to rush through the rather poignant material, perhaps miffed that he didn’t get the hosting gig — or given a cue that the show was running long.
Still, it lurched along and provided other hot-button moments: Chris Brown’s aerial moves along with other performers during a medley of songs that unexpectedly included Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit." West and Jay-Z taking the stage to perform. Adele’s emotional rendition of a song that wasn’t the lauded "Rolling in the Deep." Young the Giant’s debut VMA appearance with a mosh pit crowd of fans from the band’s California hometown. Best new artist recipient Tyler the Creator giving an expletive-filled acceptance speech geared toward kids. Gaga’s performance of "You and I," for which she was joined by Queen guitarist Brian May.
In the end, it was the announcement of Bey’s bey-by that will be remembered. Yes, that unborn offspring of musical royalty was, to coin a Gaga phrase, born this way.