After last year's twerk heard 'round the world, what could Miley Cyrus possibly do for an encore at Sunday night's MTV Video Music Awards? Take home the Video of the Year trophy in a surprise upset -- and then turn her acceptance speech into a powerful call to action.
Miley's "Wrecking Ball" clip beat out much more recent and talked-about clips -- from "Fancy" to "Happy" to "Drunk in Love" -- to take the top prize of the night. But instead of coming onstage to accept it, Miley sent an unknown young man instead. Identifying himself as Jesse, he said he was accepting the award for the "1.6 million runaways and homeless youths who are starving, lost and scared right now."
While Miley watched from the side, tearing up, Jesse went on to note that L.A., the entertainment capital of the world, has a disproportionate number of young homeless people. He then invited everyone to visit Miley's Facebook page to see how they could help. She's asking her fans to donate money for "My Friend's Place," a homeless center for young people in Hollywood.
It was the second truly "serious" moment in a night that's usually all about flashy, raunchy, over-the-top performances. The first came when rapper Common mentioned Ferguson, Missouri, which has been a hotbed of protests and occasional violence since unarmed teen Michael Brown was shot by a police officer there in early August.
"The people have used their voices to call for justice and change, and to let everyone know that each and every one of our lives matters," said Common, noting that hip-hop has "always been about truth, and a powerful instrument for social change." Before handing out the award for Best Hip-Hop Video, he called for a moment of silence for Brown, "and for peace in this country and in the world." During the show, a brief public service announcement about Ferguson was also shown.
Of course, there were plenty of flashy, raunchy and over-the-top performances, too, starting with the three-way diva-off of Ariana Grande, Jessie J and Nicki Minaj, who opened the show. Ariana emerged from a rocket ship to sing "Break Free," followed by Nicki in a green bikini, rapping a heavily censored "Anaconda" and twerking like nobody's business. Jessie J then emerged to start up "Bang Bang," and was joined by Ariana and Nicki, who had a serious wardrobe malfunction and spent the number clutching a scanty black dress around her so it wouldn't fall off.
Another performance highlight was Taylor Swift's first performance of "Shake It Off," which she sang wearing a two-piece, midriff-baring fringed sequin number, accompanied by dancing acrobatic men in tuxedos and female backup singers. At one point, she ascended to the top of a giant "1989" sign onstage -- that's the title of her album -- looked over the edge and said, "Nuh, uh. I don't care if it's the VMAs. I'm not jumping off there. All kinds of people are getting bit by snakes...it's dangerous!" That was a reference to the fact that, during rehearsal, one of Nicki Minaj's backup dancers was, in fact, bitten by a snake. She's OK, though.
It was a great night for British and Australian acts -- and we're including Lorde in there, even though she's technically from New Zealand. She took home the Best Rock Video Moonman, accidentally cursing during her acceptance speech and then quickly apologizing. Brit Ed Sheeran won Best Male Video for "Sing," and Brit Sam Smith absolutely slayed with his beautiful, stripped-down rendition of "Stay With Me." Aussie band 5 Seconds of Summer performed "Amnesia" and won the Best Lyric Video award, while Aussie Iggy Azalea stopped the show with her dramatic rendition of "Black Widow," which she sang with Rita Ora.
Maroon 5, in their first-ever VMA performance, took things outside, playing "Maps" in the parking lot in front of thousands of fans underneath an enormous, lit-up "M." They also played a bit of "One More Night" as well.
Of course, the performance to end all performances came from Beyonce, who received the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. It was presented to her by her husband, Jay Z, who was holding their daughter, Blue Ivy . He referred to her as "our greatest living entertainer," and a tearful Beyonce said, "I am filled with so much gratitude. Blue, I love you. My beloved..." -- referring to Jay Z -- "...I love you. My fans, I love you. MTV, I love you!" Then, she, Jay and Blue all walked offstage together. They didn't look like they were heading to the divorce attorney, either.
As for Bey's performance, she basically sang her entire self-titled album. She performed for about 15 minutes, running through, in rapid succession, "Mine," "Haunted," "No Angel," "Jealous," "Blow," "Drunk In Love," "Rocket," "Partition," "Flawless," "Yonce," "Blue" and, finally, "XO," which the audience sang along with her. She wore the same costume, but moved through a series of different sets, with dancers, video screens and lights creating a different distinct mood for each number. The show ended after her performance and acceptance, because really, how could you follow that?
Beyonce was the biggest winner on the night, taking home three trophies in addition to the Video Vanguard Award.
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