A blood-spurting Lady Gaga , a stage-busting Kanye West , a thrilling Michael Jackson tribute , an acrobatic Pink , the classiest move in VMA history and more surprises than even we could have predicted. That was the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, which stormed New York’s legendary Radio City Music Hall on Sunday night (September 13) with more jaw-dropping moments than a season’s worth of “The Hills.”
In addition to wins for VMA regulars like Beyoncé, Green Day and Eminem, a couple of future icons, Gaga and Taylor Swift, got their first Moonmen in a show that was as barely contained as host Russell Brand’s raging libido.
The night got off to a glittering start with the first shock of the evening, a visit from the VMA queen herself: Madonna . In a moving, nearly eight-minute speech, Madonna fondly recalled her first private meeting with Michael Jackson, the impact he had on her life and her reaction to his death in June at the age of 50 . “In a desperate attempt to hold onto his memory, I went on the Internet to watch old clips of him dancing and singing on TV and onstage and I thought, ‘My God, he was so unique, so original, so rare,’ ” she said. “And there will never be anyone like him again. He was a king.”
The full tribute ended with an intense performance from Janet Jackson, who danced along with her late brother’s song “Scream” as Alicia Keys, Beyoncé and Pink hollered with excitement.
Katy Perry, uncharacteristically dressed in pants, helped kick off the main program by singing Queen’s “We Will Rock You” alongside Aerosmith’s Joe Perry as host Russell Brand emerged at the top of a set of steps in a body-hugging tuxedo and top hat, his name emblazoned in 10-foot-tall lights behind him.
Brand set things off right by making a cheeky reference to Katy Perry’s backside and stayed true to his promise to keep it all about the love by asking the audience to honor Michael Jackson by “loving one another in his memory.” Of course, his version of love was what the British might call a bit “randy,” and while former president George W. Bush was safe this year, the censors were working overtime to keep up with the rainstorm of F-bombs and solicitations of Megan Fox and Perry. (Katy, not Joe.)
Though Russell didn’t get his biggest wish — an onstage “love guide” from Beyoncé and Jay-Z — he was happy to debunk the rumor dogging the night’s other leading lady, one named Gaga. “There’s been a lot of mudslinging and rumor mongering and rubbish, people saying that she’s a hermaphrodite,” Brand said. “I think it’s a disgrace that a woman cannot be successful, sexy and have an aggressive sexuality without people saying, ‘Oh, she must be a bloke.’ That is sexist. And I would like to condemn the male-dominated media for their disgusting treatment of this incredible woman. And if you haven’t worked it out by now, yeah, I’m trying to f— her.”
The night’s first award was for Best Female Video and it served as a jaw-dropper, as Taylor Swift took the prize over seeming shoo-ins like Gaga and Beyoncé for “You Belong With Me.” Clearly shocked, Swift said she’d always dreamed about what it would be like to win a Moonman, never thinking it would actually happen. She was interrupted mid-dream, however, by legendary awards-show interrupter Kanye, who took the microphone from Swift and said, “I’m really happy for you, I’m gonna let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time,” as the crowd howled and booed and Beyoncé looked on in shock. “One of the best videos of all time!”
Brand tried to remind the crowd to remember the love after ‘Ye’s outburst, and then Green Day took home Best Rock Video for “21 Guns,” earning a standing ovation from the competition in Fall Out Boy. The Best Pop Video award continued the temporary shut-out for nine-time nominees Beyoncé and Gaga, as Britney Spears accepted the Moonman for “Womanizer” long distance from her tour.
The reading of the nominees for Best Male Video drew some boos when Kanye’s name came up — as well as shouts of “Taylor!” — but it was T.I. who won for “Live Your Life,” an award he could not accept because he is currently serving a one-year prison term .
Standing in the 42nd Street subway station, Swift played the role of the world’s most famous busker as she shimmied in a trainful of fans while singing “You Belong With Me,” taking a ride all the way to a stage outside Radio City. Interruptions aside, the music kept rolling all night thanks to Wale and the house band, joined by 3OH!3, Pitbull, members of the All-American Rejects and Kid Cudi, who paid tribute to his pal DJ AM, who died of an apparent drug overdose last month .
Green Day brought some rock energy to the stage with a bare-bones rip through “East Jesus Nowhere,” with singer Billie Joe Armstrong making full use of the stage and sauntering out to sing the gospel of punk rock among the audience. After walking up the aisle, he invited as many fans as he could onto the stage before getting swallowed up by the pogoing hordes and body-surfing his way back to his cohorts.
Standing alone in front of a sea of green lasers, Beyoncé crooned “Sweet Dreams,” quickly segueing into “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” She strutted to the edge of the stage and was joined by her two dancers for the signature “Ladies” shimmy. Echoing the elegant beauty of the video , B, now surrounded by more than two dozen dancers wearing similar, though less bejeweled, gray unitards, did the signature hand flops, karate punches and hair flips that made the video one of the year’s most striking clips. Speaking of striking, Muse, performing for the first time on American TV , played their new single, “Uprising,” to a sweaty crowd of 700 of their biggest fans. The rousing glam-opera call to victory, accompanied by shifting apocalyptic images, had the triumphant feel of a high-tech rocking political rally and, more than likely, set the stage for their stated goal of planting their outrageous stadium-rocking flag on these shores.
Not to be outdone, Pink donned a blindfold and was lifted up to the rafters for a dramatic run through “Sober,” during which she performed acrobatic spins, flips and pirouettes while suspended by a high wire.
Jay-Z, however, needed no such accoutrements, walking slowly from his stretch limo to the stage for the TV debut of “Empire State of Mind,” backed by Alicia Keys at a piano emblazoned with the NYC skyline. With towering neon images of the town he rules scrolling behind him, Jay owned the stage with the only three things he needs: a microphone, a mind full of giant-slaying rhymes and the swagger of a man who knows his competition is always in the rear view.
Speaking of hip-hop legends, Eminem showed off some of his acting skills during a couple of surprise appearances earlier in the night, goofing along with Tracy Morgan as the “30 Rock” star tried to get into 50 Cent-type shape and tune up his vocals. Slim Shady later got some good news, as “We Made You” won for Best Hip-Hop Video. Looking serious while sporting dark hair, a white hoodie under a black leather jacket and black jeans, Em thanked his fans for sticking with him during hard times, as well as longtime mentor Dr. Dre, and giving a special shout-out to his fallen friend, late D12 member Proof.
After years out of the spotlight, the usually reclusive Shady came out one more time to present the award for Best New Artist to Lady Gaga, who had changed into a red lace dress topped by a mask that looked like a building on fire. “It’s my first f—ing Moonman,” Gaga said from behind the mask, which she pulled off to thank her fans and “the gays.” It was a fittingly theatrical moment in a wild night of costume changes for the this generation’s VMA drama queen that was highlighted by a performance of “Paparazzi,” in which Gaga stunned the audience by finishing her routine hanging by one hand above the stage, bloodied and limp.
Beyoncé didn’t go home empty-handed, either. She got hers when it was time for Video of the Year, as “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” danced into the winner’s circle. “This is amazing,” said B, recalling her first VMA nomination at 17 with Destiny’s Child. “It was one of the most exciting moments in my life, so I’d like for Taylor to come out and have her moment,” she added, in one of the classiest moments in VMA history. Accepting a big hug from B, a beaming Swift joked, “Maybe we could try this again,” thanking all her fans for their support.
Among all the awards and performances, there was the first reveal of the Michael Jackson “This Is It” documentary , which promises some stunning live footage, as well as the extended trailer to “New Moon,” the “Twilight” sequel that promises more Volturi, more Edward and way, way more drama.
We have no idea if Katy Perry accepted Brand’s show-ending offer to join him in his room, but either way, everyone who was at Radio City went home happy Sunday night. Well, except maybe Kanye.
The 2009 MTV Video Music Awards might have wrapped, but the party is far from over. Stay tuned for behind-the-scenes updates, party reports and much more.