Lady Gaga spent the entire night in drag; Chris Brown flew above the audience like Mary Poppins; Britney Spears was officially anointed as a legend of our time. Yet as jaw-dropping as those moments were at Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards, the show’s most surprising moment came with one simple rub of a belly.
Beyonce’s gesture at the end of her performance gave visual confirmation to her announcement on the VMA black carpet — she and husband Jay-Z were with child. With perhaps the most anticipated baby announcement outside of Will and Kate, their unborn baby became the instant star of the VMAs, upstaging Gaga, Spears, and Katy Perry, the belle of the ball with 10 nominations.
Perry ended up going home with just three, but captured the evening’s most important moonman trophy, video of the year, for her inspirational clip “Firework.”
“I feel like I’m doing something right when I sing that song,” said Perry, conservatively dressed in a cotton-candy pink jacket, a skirt and something best described as a Green Bay Packers cheesehead decoration.
Adele, the year’s top-selling artist, also won three for her video “Rolling in the Deep”; she had been nominated for seven. Gaga ended up winning two.
But the night’s big winners were Beyonce and Jay-Z. Before Sunday, the most heralded Jay-Z joint collaboration had been “Watch the Throne” with Kanye West. But as Beyonce teased the pregnancy moments before the show by clutching her baby bump while wearing a loose-fitting, off-the-shoulder red gown, she set off shockwaves and gave the celebrity universe the news so many had been predicting since the two wed three years ago.
During the show, when Beyonce performed “Love on Top,” instead of her typical sexy outfits, she dressed in conservative spangled tux, although she still danced around in her signature stilettos.
Beyonce didn’t utter a word about the pregnancy, but ended the number by taking off her jacket and rubbing her swollen belly to the cheers from the crowd; in the audience, an elated Jay-Z hooted and clapped for his wife as Kanye West hugged him.
In an instant, Beyonce and her soon-to-be child managed to overshadow just about everything else. The always attention-grabbing Lady Gaga delivered the show’s much-hyped opening number, performing as a greasy, leather-jacketed male alter-ego Jo Calderone during a performance of “You and I,” but it was an odd, underwhelming moment, which kept reappearing during the night.
A rare unscripted moment of wackiness came during Jay-Z’s performance with Kanye West of “Otis.” Near the end of the song, someone tried to walk on the stage, but was quickly apprehended by a crew member as a bemused Jay-Z looked on. It was the second time Jay-Z had someone walk on unannounced during an MTV performance; two years ago, it was Lil Mama.
Spears captured the night’s first award, for best pop video, and later was honored with an MTV Video Vanguard award for her visual legacy: A gaggle of little girls performed a choreography from some of her biggest videos, a somewhat questionable decision given Spears’ hypersexualized image for much of her decade-plus career.
Lady Gaga, sticking to her gender-switch shtick, leered at Spears as she paid tribute to her.
“She’s a pop music legend, and the industry would not be the same without her,” said Gaga, sporting a brunette pompadour and grabbing her crotch. “I used to hang pictures of her on my wall and touch myself when I was in bed.”
Later, Gaga fished for a kiss, but as Spears leaned in, she quickly pulled back, reminding viewers, “I’ve done that before.
Tyler the Creator won the night’s best new artist award, but many viewers didn’t get a chance to hear most of his acceptance speech; the shock rapper was censored so much it seemed as if there was a technical glitch preventing his words from being heard.
The show had no official host, though comedian Kevin Hart delivered an opening monologue and was featured in a series of vignettes during the show.
Adele had perhaps the highlight of the night as the seven-time nominee delivered a powerfully understated performance of “Someone Like You,” off her top-selling “21” album; Chris Brown also wowed with an aerial number, soaring above the crowd in between high-stepping choreography.
Russell Brand provided the evening’s rare poignant moment during a tribute to his late friend, Amy Winehouse, who died a month ago after struggling for years with drug and alcohol abuse. Brand urged people to remember the 28-year-old for her music, and urged others suffering to get help.
“A lot of people just get the disease, not many people get the incredible talent that Amy was blessed with,” said Brand, who successfully battled drug addiction himself. “Let’s remember there is a solution ... that solution is available.”
Tony Bennett, who joined Winehouse in what is believed to be her last song on his upcoming “Duets II” album, showed the audience a clip of the pair singing “Body and Soul.”
Moments later, Bruno Mars sang one of her hits, “Valerie,” but closed the song out with the refrain, “Amy, we’ll miss you baby.”