When you start the show with a gender-bending blowout from Lady Gaga that includes Mother Monster dressed as male alter ego Jo Calderone and a cameo from Queen guitarist Brian May, what do you do for an encore? Well, at the VMAs on Sunday night, the ante was raised almost immediately when rap’s dual regents, Kanye West and Jay-Z, made their Throne performance debut on the stage of the Nokia Theatre for a red, white and blue run through their hit single “Otis.”
The pair — a surprise addition to a lineup that already included Gaga, Beyoncé, Lil Wayne, Bruno Mars, Pitbull and Ne-Yo, Young the Giant and Chris Brown — shocked the crowd as the instantly iconic Sam Cooke sample blared over the speakers and they emerged from the middle of the towering portal at the center of the stage. Lit up with flashing multicolor lights and towers of flames, the eye-popping stage was the opposite of the dressed-down look the pair were rocking.
While Watch the Throne is all about conspicuous consumption and rapping about that “other other Benz,” Kanye was keeping it people with an all-denim outfit and Jay was onboard the just-folks look too in black jeans, a white tee and baseball hat. The pair strutted and strolled down the middle of the main stage as a shower of sparks rained down behind them and they weaved in and out of each other’s lines like a new millennium Run-DMC.
The only thing missing from the hyped performance was the chopped-and-screwed Maybach the pair customized in the Spike Jonze-directed clip for the song from their #1 album. But they brought along the massive American flag from the clip, which unfurled behind them as they made their way to the “tongue”-shaped front of the stage, jets of smoke shooting up from the floor behind them.
Forget any talk of tension between the two rap heavyweights, as the two clearly seemed hyped to be performing together and made eye contact all throughout the song, waved their arms in excitement and shouted along to the Redding howls at the end of the tune.
Simple, powerful and rocket-fueled, it was truly a performance fit for a pair of kings.