The 2011 MTV Video Music Awards opened with a Lady Gaga in drag, and ended with Katy Perry winning Best Video. In the hours in between, viewers were treated to a fast-paced show that managed to be surprising but fun, and without any of the crass-outs of past years.
What was most interesting? Lady Gaga as the pretty convincing tough guy? A heartfelt tribute to a lost talent? Music's royalist couple annoucing their first child? Katy Perry's oddly cute costumes?
Perry, who came into the night leading all nominees with 10 nods, who was easily the big winner of the night, taking home the top prize, Video of the Year, for "Firework." She also picked up the Moon Man for Best Collaboration and Best Special Effects for "E.T.", featuring Kanye West.
Personal tastes aside, Perry's win was something of a shock considering Adele's "Rolling the Deep" picked up Best Art Direction, Direction, Editing and Cinematography--how can you have the best-made video and not have the best video? And you'd never know what a good night Adele had as none of her wins were broadcast.
It may have been a bit of an emotional night for Perry for other reasons: Perry's husband Actor Russell Brand, who was friends with Amy Winehouse before they both got famous, came out to pay tribute to his departed friend, telling the audience, "It became evident upon hearing that divine voice that she was a genius… When a talent like Amy Winehouse comes along, it effects all of us,"
Not long before she died in July, at age 27, Winehouse recorded a jazz duet, “Body and Soul,” with the great Tony Bennett for his upcoming album “Duets II.” The legendary crooner took the stage to introduce footage from their session together.
"She was so unbelievable, because of all the young artists I've met... she was a true jazz artist in the tradition of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday... Amy had the whole gift, she sang beautiful," said Bennett. Following the showing of never-before-seen footage, Bruno Mars took the stage to sing a cover of Winehouse's "Valerie."
Of course, this is the VMAs, and it wouldn't be the VMAs without a little pushing the boundaries of taste.
Perhaps the night's most uncomfortable moment came when Cloris Leachman took the stage with the girls from "Jersey Shore" to present the award for Best Female Video to Lady Gaga. The Jersey Girls fawned over Leachman, who in turn made some reference to a booty call from one of their housemates and proclaimed herself "DTF."
Speaking of boundaries, this year's show's most likely will be remember for Lady Gaga's stunning opening performance as "Joe Calderone," a '50s-style greaser with big hollow eyes and an even bigger pompadour, who sang a mean version of her single "You and I."
Oddly, Gag won the new Best Video With a Message Award (for "Born This Way") but MTV opted to announce it during the pre-show. It was a bizarre decision that felt a little jarring, and made it seem as though they were less than psyched about their new award.
"Every video they've got has a f***ing message," said Gaga-as-Calderone in accepting her Moon Man later for Best Female Video later. At that point, the Calderone act started to grow thin, though it was kinda funny seeing Calderone pick up the Best Female Video statue.
Calderone also took the stage to present the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award to Britney Spears, who earlier in the night had picked up Best Pop Video for "Till the End of the World." As the two pop giants stood face to face on the stage, you could feel everyone in the room hoping they;d re-enact Spears' 2003 lip-lock with Madonna, but Claderone stood down.
"I don't want Gaga to get pissed," "he" explained.
The Best New Artist Award, which has been an amazingly accurate bellwether of future stardom, went to Tyler the Creator, who gave the night's emotional speech of the night, declaring, "I'm as excited as f*** right now--I've wanted this since I was nine, I'm about to cry."
It was a ironically sweet moment from a man whose video for "Yonkers," which he also directed, is easily one of the darkest and angriest among this year's nominees, with a stark, black-and-white look at the rapper as he eats bugs, vomits and ultimately hangs himself.
One of the biggest surprises of the night was definitely the baby bump that Beyonce carried down the black carpet. She was on hand as a triple nominee for "Rule the World (Girls)," while her husband, Jay-Z, was there to sing "Otis" with Kanye West, from their new album "Watch the Throne."
The biggest no-show was Kreayshawn, the Oakland rapper who'd been scheduled to host the black carpet, but was nowhere to be found. She was mentioned only in passing at the top of the broadcast before being totally forgotten.
The unofficial Trooper of the Year had to be Jesse J, who showed up sporting a pair of bejeweled and striped crutches, a walking cast on her left foot. “I broke my ankle a couple of weeks ago… I got the offer to come here (serve as leader of the house band), and I thought, “You know what? I’m not gonna sit home and feel sorry for myself…I’m gonna hop on a plane and sing my a** off.”
Despite concerns that MTV had opted not to have a host for the show, things somehow managed to keep moving forward. Comedian Kevin Hart came out after Gaga's opening number to complain about the lack of a host, insisting that he was available. In lieu of a live presence marshaling things forward, the show was interspersed with comedy bits featuring Hart to fill the down moments. With live performances from Chris Brown, Beyonce and others, the show kept moving at a crisp pace.
The Complete List of Winners:
Best Art Direction in a Video: Adele, "Rolling in the Deep"
Best Choreography in a Video: Beyonce, "Run the World (Girls)"
Best Cinematography in a Video: Adele, "Rolling in the Deep"
Best Collaboration: Katy Perry feat./Kanye West, "E.T."
Best Direction in a Video: Adele, "Rolling in the Deep"
Best Editing in a Video: Adele, "Rolling in the Deep"
Best Female Video: Lady Gaga, "Born This Way"
Best Hip-Hop Video: Nicki Minaj, "Super Bass"
Best Male Video: Justin Bieber, "U Smile"
Best New Artist: Tyler the Creator, "Yonkers"
Best Pop Video: Britney Spears, "Till the World Ends"
Best Rock Video: Foo Fighters, "Walk"
Best Special Effects in a Video: Katy Perry feat./Kanye West, "E.T."
Best Video with a Message: Lady Gaga, "Born This Way"
Video of the Year: Katy Perry, "Firework"