2011 MTV VMAs Break Tradition
MICHEL MARTIN, host: And now we want to take a break from our coverage of Hurricane Irene and the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and talk about a storm of another type. The MTV Video Music Awards are known as much for their outrageous moments as for the music itself - from Lady Gaga's infamous meat dress, to the onstage kiss between Britney Spears and Madonna, to the unforgettable outburst in 2009, when rapper Kanye West interrupted country star Taylor Swift's acceptance speech.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "2009 MTV MUSIC AWARDS")
KANYE WEST: Yo, Taylor, I'm really happy for you. I'm going to let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.
MARTIN: Well, at this year's Video Music Awards, there were other show-stopping moments, one involving Beyonce herself. We wanted to talk more about it, so we've called upon music blogger Patrice Evans. He's with us from our bureau in New York. Patrice, welcome. Thanks for joining us.
PATRICE EVANS: Hi, Michel, thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So we'll do the big reveal on Beyonce. Do you want to share the happy news, or shall I?
EVANS: You can share the news.
MARTIN: OK. Because you don't care?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: I really don't care. Beyonce is expecting. She revealed that on the black carpet - because there is no red carpet at the VMAs. And she did so in what I think is typical classy Beyonce fashion. She just kind of opened her jacket and rubbed her belly a little bit. But then that was after she performed a bit from "Love on Top." Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE ON TOP")
BEYONCE KNOWLES: (Singing) Honey, honey, I can see the stars all the way from here. Can you see the glow on the window pane. I can feel the sun whenever you're near. Every time you touch me, I just melt away. Everybody asks me...
MARTIN: But Patrice, when you think about the awards overall, do you think that the music does take center stage, or is it other things? And does that bother you?
EVANS: Well, I think usually, there is a definite spectacle that trumps the music. But I think this show, in particular, was really about the performances and the music. You know, even Beyonce's reveal was a nice centerpiece to a gallery of shows and performances.
MARTIN: There are two standout performances, in my mind. I don't know - I'd love - be interested to see if you agree. I thought Chris Brown and Lil Wayne but for different reasons. So why don't we talk about Chris Brown's first. The opening was a little - well, what did you think? - tell me what you thought overall. I mean, I thought the idea that it looked as though - the lighting effect started out by looking as though he was behind bars, which I thought that was a tricky and interesting choice.
EVANS: Right. And then it got...
MARTIN: And then it became kind of big and - go ahead.
EVANS: Yeah, yeah. I think - I mean, I was really impressed with the performance and his, in particular, spectacle of show. You know, I was impressed with the high-flying routine although at the same time it was sort of, oh, wow. Even with all this trapeze and leaping into the sky, I'm not sure if you can escape your reputation and your history, your tainted legacy, no matter how far you jump into the sky.
MARTIN: Well, what do you think about that? I mean, I ask you, do you think he - and just for people who don't remember what it is that we're talking about - first all, you know, Chris Brown has been, you know, his career has been very much damaged by the fact that he was arrested for beating up his then-girlfriend, Rihanna. But in the performance last night, he did some really, I think, amazing dancing. But the performance was punctuated by the fact that he was like, flying, he was kind of flying through the air on these trapeze wires. And so do you think he did - I mean, obviously, we're talking about his legal troubles, right?
EVANS: Yeah, it's funny. It seems like as a performer, his ability as a performer has made him more polarizing. I mean, I think anyone with that history or that legacy, that resume, would be easily brushed aside. I don't think we want to appreciate him and like him. But his dancing and the high-wire act was so impressive that I think you have people who are won over and say OK, I've forgotten. And I think another section of the population is, we'll never forget.
MARTIN: The awards finished with Lil Wayne, wearing zebra-print pants. He had his butt hanging out - the classic saggy style, except the pants were kind of too tight to be really sagging. A lot of - a lot of bleeps. Very hard to play a clip - in fact, we're not going to play a clip because you really couldn't hear anything, because there were a lot of bleeps. Tell me what you think.
EVANS: Yeah. I thought - I was, you know, I was interested to see what Wayne did. It feels like a really make-or-break time for him. You know, he's sort of rebuilding his career and his presence on the national stage. But I'm not sure it was - you know, the song, as you said, was bleeped out a lot. And, you know, it seemed a little - maybe out of control. And, you know, I guess an artist like Wayne has a tough choice to make because, you know, he has a fan base that's going to be a little edgier and looking for that edgy material. And also, he wants to cross over and appeal to a mainstream audience. So his song choices are always going to be tough, I think, for a VMA stage.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin, and we're talking about the MTV Video Music Awards - the VMAs. They aired last night. They're known for their outrageous moments. We're talking about whether there were any, with music critic and blogger Patrice Evans.
We'll talk about edge. Speaking of edge, Tyler the Creator was the winner of the Best New Artist award last night. He's - for people who aren't familiar with him, he's one of the more prominent members of the L.A.-based rap collective Odd Future - very controversial because of their lyrics, which many people just find, you know, even by rap standards, kind of way over-the-top misogynistic. And he actually won the award forBest New Artist with his song "Yonkers." And I'll just play a little clip of it, so people can maybe try to understand what it is that the hype is all about. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YONKERS")
TYLER THE CREATOR: (Rapping) Swallow the cinnamon. I'm a scribble this (word deleted) while Syd is telling me that she's been getting intimate with men. Syd, shut the (word deleted) up. Here's the number to my therapist. You tell him all your problems. He's (word deleted) awesome with listening.
MARTIN: So tell me, what do you think? Do you think he deserved the award?
EVANS: You know, I do think he's done something interesting in terms of the presence and persona. There's a sort of Andy Kaufman-esque, post-modern sensibility to his shtick. I do think it's a shtick. I do think, as young person, it's probably less articulate and well-defined. I think, for example, Lady Gaga, at the top of the show, has a very clear-cut - you know, she's able to articulate the sort of think-piece in those - in her persona and her performances. And I don't think Tyler the Creator does that as well.
I think Gaga has a - just a much better handle, just much more well thought out. But she's older and, you know, she's been working it a long time. And he is a young kid. I think he's trying to access that sensibility, access that impulse of putting on a character or persona that is reckless and punk. But, you know, I think it's a little bit more of a crude execution of it.
MARTIN: And finally, I want to talk about Gaga a little bit. Known for the meat suit, of course - and of course, for her amazing, artifice costumes at any public appearance, including interviews, where she's likely to turn up in anything. She decided to spend the entire awards ceremony in character as Joe Calderone. Tell us more about it.
EVANS: Yes. She - so she opened the show with a long monologue. She was talking about herself in third person, as Joe Calderone, talking about Lady Gaga and how she's theater. And then she segued from that into a performance of "You and I." She hit the piano. And the guitarist from the Queen, Brian May, came out. And they opened up the show. And then she stayed in the Joe Calderone persona as they went throughout the show.
MARTIN: Which is Joe - meaning sort of a gender-ambiguous, kind of Elvis-like character with the big pompadour, the ciggybehind the ear, the...
EVANS: Yeah. The pompadour, the slicked-back hair. But yeah. I mean, she's a - she's - it was an - I was impressed. You know, it's always - I wondered how she'd be able to pull a new trick from her bag, and she was able to do it with this Joe Calderone, gender-mix persona. And I think it got a lot of people talking. It was another polarizing - sort of - performance.
MARTIN: Before I let you go: So was the show all - overall, worth watching? Or would you have been better off with the Saints-Raiders game?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
EVANS: I thought it was a great show. I thought Lady Gaga was worth seeing - her pulling another thing out the sleeve. And I thought the performances were great. And the zebra pants for Lil Wayne - I mean, you'll get to see first downs throughout the year, but you won't get to see anything like that, probably.
MARTIN: You won't get to see those zebra pants following off his blue Hanes briefs very often. Patrice Evans is a music blogger, and a contributor to the Grantland blog. His first book, "Negropedia," will be out October 4th. He was kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York. Patrice, thanks so much for joining us.
EVANS: Thanks for having me.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.