Taylor Swift absolved Kanye West of last year’s onstage sin with one sombre song, and West, also in song, beat himself up once again over his misbehaviour.
The Swift-West drama took centre stage at Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles, with both superstars either addressing or dancing around the incident that won’t die.
Both dramatic performances delivered on pre-show hype of a Kanye-Taylor sequel and overshadowed the evening’s other moments, including Lady Gaga’s eight-win sweep. Among her awards was video of the year for “Bad Romance.”
The stage for both songs was set last year, when West interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech, saying her trophy should have gone to Beyonce. The incident left Swift with hurt feelings, but West was the one who was seriously damaged, as intense backlash made him Mr. Unpopularity.
While West didn’t address the trophy-gate incident directly onstage, he rapped and sang a song that mocked the boorish behaviour that has upstaged his music: “I always find something wrong; you’ve been putting up with my (expletive) for too long,” he said, before launching into the an unprintable chorus, which included the line: “Let’s have a toast to scumbags.”
While Swift is known for skewering those who have done her wrong in song, for West, she offered an olive branch with her song “Innocent,” written earlier this year: “Everyone of us has messed up, too … I hope you remember today is never too late to be brand new.”
The 20-year-old’s poignant and powerful ode didn’t criticize West. Instead she sympathized with his difficult time in the spotlight and West’s own admissions that his ego has often gotten in his own way.
“Thirty-two and still growing up now; who you are is not what you did,” she sang softly, adding: “You’re still an innocent.”
But the evening wasn’t just the Swift-West show: Lady Gaga was the night’s top winner, snatching trophies including best female video. She was also the most outrageously dressed — and that’s saying something, giving Katy Perry’s barely there outfit and Ke$ha’s garbage bag-dress
Gaga accepted her video of the year award with an outfit sure to anger PETA: a dress and chapeau made of what seemed to be cuts of raw beef, including a meat purse. It was one of her three zany outfits of the evening: she arrived at the awards in a spectacular outfit by the late Alexander McQueen: A Victorian-inspired gown and a Mohawk feather headdress atop a long white wig, with monstrous stilettos that made her look as she was on stilts. Later, she changed into a black dress so overflowing she needed help to get onstage to accept on of her trophies.
Cher — an over-the-top diva from a different era — gave Gaga her best-video award and noted she had been raising eyebrows while Lady Gaga “was still Baby Gaga.”
Gaga was teary-eyed, and sang the title of her new album as she accepted the last award: “Born This Way.”
Compared to the pathos of Swift and West, and Gaga being Gaga, there were few other highlights, despite performances from Usher, Eminem and Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Linkin Park, and appearances by Nicki Minaj and the cast of MTV’s own “Jersey Shore.”
Host Chelsea Handler gave the show its traditional bawdiness, though her jokes often fell flat, though she did have a few zingers, most of them vulgar.
A pre-taped portion of her opening featured the host getting spanked multiple times by show participants in a backstage hallway before running into the recently freed Lindsay Lohan, who also gave her a swat.
“Have you been drinking?” Lohan demanded from Handler. “Do you think anyone wants to work with a drunk? Take it from me! They don’t!”
Later, on stage, Handler implored the all-star audience to get wild.
“I want to encourage everybody to be on their worst behaviour,” she said. “I want to turn this mother out. … Get your tongues ready because I want those tongues shoved in places they’re not supposed to be.”
But it was a relatively tame night; perhaps, given West’s antics last year, the stars had learned a lesson.