The MTV Video Music Awards In Pictures: Lady Gaga Is Not Herself Lady Gaga in drag was supposed to be the headline coming out of the Video Music Awards, but between Beyonce being pregnant and a tribute to Amy Winehouse, she was upstaged a bit.
NPR logo The MTV Video Music Awards In Pictures: Lady Gaga Is Not Herself

The MTV Video Music Awards In Pictures: Lady Gaga Is Not Herself

The MTV Video Music Awards are always ridiculous.

By that I mean that they are intended to be ridiculous. They are meant to have one big moment — Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift forgiving Kanye West in song, Madonna and Britney Spears kissing, whatever — and the rest is just sort of ... happening.

Sunday night's VMAs were no exception. They got off to a surprisingly warm and sweet start when news broke that Beyonce had announced her pregnancy on the "black carpet," the VMAs version of the awards-show red carpet. (Nothing pleases MTV quite like erroneously believing itself to be edgy.)

The show itself opened with Lady Gaga in character as someone she called "Jo Calderone," a man who spoke of himself as Lady Gaga's ... boyfriend? Something like that? She would remain in character all night, making several appearances as Jo: to accept the award for Best Female Video on Gaga's behalf, to present Britney Spears with the Video Vanguard Award while making lewd references to how much Jo used to enjoy lying in bed and thinking of Britney, and, of course, performing the opening number.

The rest was surprisingly tame, even in its wilder moments: Lil Wayne was bleeped with such frequency that it became utterly comical watching him running around the stage in his underpants madly screaming words nobody was hearing. Honestly, swearing at the VMAs is a little like streaking on the radio: there's really no point except proving you can do it in a situation where you know nobody's going to actually witness it.

Britney Spears, once such a wild child of MTV herself, oddly came off as the calmest, most bewildered presence there, briefly acting like she might start making out with Gaga/Joe before going to the microphone and straightforwardly accepting her Vanguard award.

Late in the evening, Russell Brand introduced a tribute to Amy Winehouse that included his recollections of meeting her in London, a few words from Tony Bennett about her staggering talent as a jazz singer, and a fairly odd performance by Bruno Mars, who essentially paid tribute to Amy Winehouse by covering "Valerie," a song she also covered with Mark Ronson. With all the women who have been influenced by Winehouse — including Adele, who offered a stunning performance of "Someone Like You" — it seems odd that the best MTV could think of for a tribute was Bruno Mars.

Get More: 2011 VMA, Music, Adele

All in all, a strange night, but one that at least didn't result in anyone jumping up on the stage and interrupting anyone else.