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Opinion: MTV’s 2014 Video Music Awards make it all about the music again

A screenshot of Beyonce’s performance at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards on Aug. 24 in Inglewood, Calif.
Credit: Courtesy of MTV.

What comes to mind when you think of MTV’s Video Music Awards?

Is it the Britney and Madonna kiss? Kanye’s mic grab? Beyonce’s baby bump? Or Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s twerk-gate?

After Sunday night’s annual music video celebration, there might be a cleaner image in your head.

It was clear that MTV was striving to stray away from being the sexually charged program that has upset many parents over the past few years. But it would not be the VMAs without a little controversy to discuss at the water cooler the next few days.

This controversy came in the form of rapper Nicki Minaj.

The show opened with pop star Ariana Grande angelically emerging from a spaceship to perform her latest single and collaboration with Zedd, “Break Free.”

Immediately after, Minaj stormed onto the stage performing her new single “Anaconda.” Of course, this was the most head-turning performance of the night, as it seemed she was paying homage to Cyrus’ 2013 “We Can’t Stop” performance in the form of twerking and dance moves that simulated sexual contact.

Both Minaj and Grande then joined British songstress Jessie J to perform their current top 10 hit “Bang Bang.” Oddly enough, Minaj looked very awkward holding her dress together the whole time to avoid what could have been a potential wardrobe malfunction. I assume she didn’t want to take a chance on turning more heads.

Minaj later joined R&B singer Usher for a performance of their recent collaboration, “She Came to Give It to You,” where she redeemed herself. Usher impressively displayed both his singing and dancing skills — and even took on the guitar — in a performance that was reminiscent of Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids.

Nicki Minaj performs at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards. Credit: Courtesy of MTV.

A screenshot of Nicki Minaj holding her dress together during a performance at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards on Aug. 24 in Inglewood, Calif.
Credit: Courtesy of MTV.

Pop singer Taylor Swift and rapper Iggy Azalea both debuted new singles with lackluster performances.

Swift was introduced as beginning a “brand new era” abandoning her country roots, and performed her new single, “Shake It Off.” The highlight of Swift’s performance — which was rather cheesy and campy — was her background dancers, who could have easily performed without her.

Frankly, Azalea and singer Rita Ora seemed lost in a web as they performed “Black Widow.”

Sam Smith brought the show back to life with his rousing rendition of the crowd-pleasing “Stay With Me,” and 5 Seconds of Summer kept the momentum going with one of the best vocal performances of the night performing “Amnesia.”

MTV has always been a network that sheds light on current events. Last night was no exception.

Before announcing the nominees for Best Hip-Hop video, rapper Common called attention to the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., and asked for a moment of silence for Mike Brown and peace in the world. Later in the evening, Coldplay’s “Sky Full of Stars” played as images of late comedian and actor Robin Williams, who died Aug. 11, scrolled in montage before fading to black.

Sticking to its usual formula, there was no host this year. But there were a few cameos to keep the laughs going. Comedian Chelsea Handler thanked Swift for “being so white.” “Saturday Night Live’s” Jay Pharoah impersonated both Jay Z and Kanye West.

Cyrus was not absent from this year’s show. In fact, she won the most coveted award of the night, Video of the Year, for “Wrecking Ball.” Instead of using this platform to turn more heads, Cyrus raised awareness in a moment that became one of the most touching of the evening.

Taylor Swift performs her single "Shake It Off" at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards on Aug. 24 in Inglewood, Calif. Credit: Courtesy of MTV

Taylor Swift performs her single “Shake It Off” at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards on Aug. 24 in Inglewood, Calif.
Credit: Courtesy of MTV

Instead of accepting the award, Cyrus allowed a homeless man named Jesse to accept the award on behalf of the runaways and homeless youth of Los Angeles.

“Though I may have been invisible to you on the streets, I have a lot of the same dreams that have brought many of you here tonight,” Jesse said.

If I had to sum up the VMAs in one word, though, it would simply be: Beyonce.

The mega superstar was awarded with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award — MTV’s lifetime achievement award and the VMA’s highest honor. Past recipients include the Rolling Stones and Britney Spears, among others.

Beyonce claimed the stage with a once-in-a-lifetime, 16-minute medley of songs from her December surprise release, self-titled album, including, “Drunk in Love,” “Partition” and “***Flawless.”

Beyonce reminded us why she deserved such an honor, displaying signature hard-hitting dance moves combined with sensual vocals. She even took over social media with the hashtag #BeyMAs and was eventually joined onstage by her daughter, Blue Ivy, and husband, Jay Z, who referred to Beyonce as the “greatest living entertainer” as she was presented with the moon man.

She took the opportunity to thank her fans, and she squashed recent divorce rumors by addressing Jay Z, “my beloved, I love you.”

Other winners of the night include:

  • Best Female Video — “Dark Horse,” Katy Perry feat. Juicy J
  • Best Male Video — “Sing,” Ed Sheeran feat. Pharrell
  • Best Pop Video — “Problem,” Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea
  • Best Rock Video — “Royals,” Lorde
  • Best Hip-Hop Video — “Hold On (We’re Going Home),” Drake feat. Majid Jordan
  • Best Collaboration — “Drunk in Love,” Beyonce feat. Jay Z
  • Best Video with a Social Message — “Pretty Hurts,” Beyonce
  • Best Choreography — “Chandelier,” Sia
  • Artist to Watch — “Miss Movin’ On,” Fifth Harmony

Overall, Sunday’s VMAs was a solid show — one of the best I have seen in a long time. It show was clearly about quality, and it seemed MTV has finally gotten the point.

Keep in mind, there will always have to be some shock value for ratings sake (think Madonna’s 1984 “Like a Virgin” performance). But, in short, last night was all about the music… and Beyonce.

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