MTV promised to use more than just Radio City Music Hall when it announced a return to New York for the 26th Video Music Awards, and it delivered. In addition to the festivities at the primary venue, last night's broadcast made use of a subway station, the Avenue of the Americas, the Walter Kerr Theater, and an F train. In between, there were a few extravagant performances, tributes to fallen stars, and an uncharacteristically tame M.C. job from returning host Russell Brand, though the night will probably be most remembered for an outburst from Kanye West.
Early reports of the hush-hush production and the show's promotional campaign suggested it would adopt a West Side Story theme in its decor and staging, but there were no obvious allusions to be seen last night. Instead, the stage sat below an archway of metal rods and neon lights, while images of the New York skyline, cranes on the Brooklyn waterfront, and water towers played on the backdrop. Performers left that stage for other venues throughout the night, but festivities kicked off inside Radio City with a tribute to Michael Jackson.
Madonna started the homage with some lengthy commentary on the late singer before the stage filled with dancers dressed in iconic outfits from the various eras of Jackson's career. Following a mix of “Thriller,” “Bad,” and “Smooth Criminal,” Janet Jackson appeared onstage to sing and dance her 1994 duet with her brother, “Scream.” Producers played the music video behind Janet, having edited out her image from the dance sequences, so that she appeared to be dancing alongside the video of her brother during the performance.
Things quickly became less tightly choreographed from there with the presentation of the night's first award, Best Female Video. When 19-year-old singer Taylor Swift took the stage to accept the honor, she was followed by Kanye West, who grabbed the microphone from her and announced that nominee Beyoncé was more deserving. The crowd booed him until he walked off, and he was asked to leave the venue shortly thereafter. (Producers still considering seating Kanye West within a half-mile radius of live telecast, please take note of this compilation of tantrums at award shows over the past few years.)
Swift got more than enough time in front of the camera later in the broadcast, when a performance of her single “You Belong With Me” started underground at the Bryant Park subway station, continued on an uptown F train, and ended on top of a cab parked on the Avenue of the Americas, in front of Radio City. She even had another chance to accept her upstaged award, when Beyoncé relinquished the stage to Swift after she won Video of the Year.
Beyoncé also performed during the two-and-a-half hour show, as did Pink, Katy Perry, Green Day, and British act Muse, who made their American TV debut a few blocks away from a simulcast show at the Walter Kerr Theater. Jay-Z and Alica Keys closed the night with a track from Jay-Z's new album, but just before the curtain closed, there was time for one more crasher. America's Best Dance Crew judge and occasional pop singer Lil Mama hopped onstage, earning her a look of disdain from Jay-Z, who tapped her on the leg to indicate she vacate. She did not oblige.
Green Day, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé left with three awards each, but the night's biggest winners might have been movie marketers. Michael Jackson's concert documentary, This Is It, and the upcoming Twilight sequel New Moon screened first-time trailers for their respective films onstage during the show.