There was no “Miley Moment” akin to last year’s foam finger twerking brouhaha, so it turned out to be a tamer night at the 31st annual MTV Video Music Awards, held Sunday, Aug. 24, at the refurbished Forum in Inglewood as Lorde, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Iggy Azalea, Cyrus, Nicki Minaj and Gwen Stefani all performed, presented or took home the coveted Moonmen.
Oh, unless you count the moment when Cyrus sent a homeless man on stage to accept her VMA for “Wrecking Ball,” which won for best video. The idea was for 22-year-old Jesse Helt to call attention to youth homelessness in this generation’s version of Marlon Brando sending a Native American woman to accept his Oscar in 1973.
Clearly nervous, while Cyrus looked on tearfully from the audience, Helt encouraged viewers to go to her Facebook page to learn more about the cause and to donate money to help homeless youth find jobs, housing and education. “I’ve survived in shelters all over,” he said. “I’ve cleaned your hotel rooms. I’ve been an extra in your movies. I’ve been an extra in your life.”
Turns out he’s also wanted on a probation violation in Oregon, which stems from a drug-related burglary attempt.
The VMAs always seem to capture memorable pop culture snapshots, although this year the show and its ratings didn’t quite live up to past glories. While still this summer’s most-watched cable telecast, viewing numbers fell to 8.3 million from last year’s 10.1 million for the original airing. Factoring in simulcasts on other MTV networks and Logo, plus repeat airings, viewing levels for this year’s ceremony hit 13.7 million Sunday night.
And the VMAs were a social media hit, generating 12.6 million tweets and 259 trending topics, according to Nielsen Social. The VMA All Access Live Stream delivered 6.5 million streams, making it the second-most-watched MTV digital live stream of all time.
The show got started with a medley culminating in a “Bang Bang,” Jessie J’s record featuring Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande, who had emerged from a spaceship for “Break Free,” before Minaj appeared to prevent a wardrobe malfunction during her twerk-fest for “Anaconda.”
As usual, the awards seemed almost secondary to the performances, which included British soul sensation Sam Smith performing a straightforward, riveting “Stay With Me,” Taylor Swift doing her new single, “Shake it Off,” Usher and Minaj pairing for “She Came to Give It to You” and Maroon 5 — in their first-ever VMA appearance — on an outdoor stage performing “Maps” as planes came in for landings at nearby LAX.
Otherwise, real life only intruded when Common called for a moment of silence to remember Michael Brown, the teenager shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., earlier this month.
No mention was made of the previous night’s shooting of former rap mogul Suge Knight at a Sunset Strip nightclub during a pre-VMA party where Chris Brown was performing. A host like Kevin Hart would have gone to town with that, bad taste or not.
With no one playing host, Jay Pharoah of “Saturday Night Live” filled the comedy aspect by popping up with impersonations of Jay-Z and Kanye West. West’s real-life wife, Kim Kardashian — who introduced Smith’s performance — appeared to love it, while Beyoncé got 15 minutes in the spotlight during a medley of numbers from her “On the Run” tour, culminating with the real Hova and their daughter, Blue Ivy, presenting her with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award.