The 33rd annual MTV Video Music Awards are always the opportunity for WTF minutes.
Tennis star Serena Williams, who is featured in Beyonce’s video for “Sorry,” introduced the vocalist, who took the stage with a team of dancers for an incredible 16-minute performance. At the start, they were wearing white, floor-length, frilly outfits for “Pray to Catch Me.” With each tap of the drum, dancers fell down in clouds of reddish as if they had been shot dead.
Bey continued to strip away the costumes and increase the fierceness. In “Hold Up,” she caught a baseball bat, swung it into the camera, then slammed her heel down right in front of the cracked lens. A triumphal “Sorry” led into a blaring “Don’t Hurt Yourself” in which Beyoncé tore into the tune’s defiant taunts to an unfaithful partner. “If y’all came to slay, sing along with me,” Bey told the audience at the start of an anthemic “Formation.” At the end, she sat in a ring of fire, grieving that she had no worlds left to conquer, while her squad of dancers formed a girl symbol on the stage. It was a performance that can go down in history as one of the most fantastic live performances on television.
Kanye West was given four minutes for whatever he wanted to use. While expectations for a political manifesto or stream of consciousness “riff” on popularity were high, he used the time to mention murders in Chicago, his beef with Taylor Swift and a list of “greats” that culminated in his own inclusion. The big news was the premiere of his sweaty, “Flashdance”-inspired video for “Fame,” starring Teyana Taylor and her husband, the NBA player Iman Shumpert.
For Britney Spears’ much-anticipated return to the VMAs, she performed her new single “Make Me” from her recently published seventh album Glory with rapper and collaborator G-Eazy. Britney glowed onstage in a skimpy, sparkly gold unitard (while her dancers wore black-and-white ensembles) and suggestively danced around the rapper for a fervent performance.
The VMAs star award recipient, Rihanna, celebrated her life-achievement Moonman with not one performance but a total of four genre-crossing medleys. For her second performance, Rihanna led her crew in a dancehall suite that doubled as her court to Caribbean music, performing parts of “Rude Boy” and “What’s My Name?” that segued into her 2016 smash “Work.” Her third medley — which contained “Needed Me,” the banger-brooder “Pour It Up,” the vengeful “Bitch Better Have My Money” — had her dancers wearing black T-shirts with RIHANNA in a death-metal-styled logo.