The Winners And Losers Of The 2016 Video Music Awards | Gradient
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The Winners and Losers of the 2016 Video Music Awards

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You don’t really go to the MTV’s Video Music Awards expecting much. Frankly, you shouldn’t go to any awards show expecting much, but let’s stay focused. The VMAs have generally promised little more than some onscreen mayhem and in-audience drama, and that’s the way MTV likes it. It allows the aging dinosaur to get back to their brand in a mass market friendly way because MTV — by virtue of its name, if not always its programming — has always been about music videos.

2016 saw music videos roaring back to life in a way that probably made MTV execs dizzy with glee, so the VMAs had a chance to justify their own existence. Did they succeed? Well…

Winner: Beyoncé

Let’s just say it. The night’s winner was Beyoncé, and it wasn’t even close. Other performances were fine — some were even good — but none came close to touching the power and conviction of the world’s most famous living person. From the Serena Williams introduction to the Formation’s choreography to the Bey’s own vocals, there was not a single part of the production that didn’t astonish.

Loser: Nick Jonas

There was never a reality in which the VMAs would launch Nick Jonas to a new stratosphere of pop genius. The best that could be hoped for is that the dude wouldn’t be embarrassingly forgettable but, alas, not even performing at NYC’s Tick-Tock Diner could make a hopelessly unmelodious song sound like anything other than a half-baked Justin Bieber ripoff. I swear I am trying with all my might to remember one single thing about the song, and coming up totally blank.

Winner: Rihanna

The night was supposed to be dedicated to Rihanna, since she was the recipient of the “Video Vanguard Award” or whatever, meaning she had to play four (4!) performances. She covered the breadth and depth of her singles, from “Don’t Stop the Music” to “Work,” and some songs worked better than others. But the best was saved for last, when Rihanna took on a few of her ballads like “Diamonds” and “Love on the Brain,” and her under-appreciated vocals had a chance to shine. It’s saying something that Rihanna is just 6 months shy of 29, and she’s already got a back catalog that would make Barbara Streisand jealous. And if that doesn’t wow you than consider this: Rihanna makes Drake nervous.

Loser: Key & Peele

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Whooooof. On paper, these two made sense. They’re popular, funny and well-liked. But in practice, their whole bit boiled down to “social media, amirite?”. Key and Peele are at their best when they’re able to lampoon the disconnects between different cultures and the limitations of code switching. The VMAs didn’t really give them the material for that, which meant they had to resort to jokes about Twitter. The only truly great moment was their appreciably gobsmacked expressions following the Beyoncé performance. Hey, speaking of…

Winner: Beyoncé

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Let’s revisit this, because it was just flames front to back. Beyoncé brought the Warsan Shires’ poetry that gave Lemonade its feeling of bracing intimacy and the beats that made it instant bangers. Beyoncé has more charisma and magnetism in a single look than most pop stars have in their entire repertoire.

Loser: Kanye West

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This is a qualified L, because Kanye’s debut of his new video for “Fade” — starring Teyana Taylor in the sexiest workout video of all time — definitely commanded attention. But Kanye’s speech, while contained and focused by his standards, suffered in comparison to everything else. He listed himself as an “artist and merchant” on the level of Steve Jobs and Harry Truman, which is typical Kanye stuff, but he backed it up by pointing to his placement of Donald Trump next to Anna Wintour in “Famous”. Kanye’s got several pieces of art that definitely suggest some level of defiant genius. The “Famous” video isn’t one of them.

Winner: Britney

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Again, this is qualified. A resurrected Tupac would have a hard time following Beyoncé, and putting Britney’s comeback on the spot like this almost smacked of pettiness on MTV’s part. What has Britney ever done to MTV besides stoke their relevance throughout the early ’00s? All that being said, Britney did a great job. Her dancing was on point, she sounded like Britney (no mean feat!), and she overcame the wild gyrations of rabid fan and self-styled “rapper” G-Eazy to deliver a solid performance. It wasn’t a staggering enough redemption story to win over the haters, but it was much better than her last VMA showing. Let’s call it a win.

Loser: Jimmy Fallon

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 28: Jimmy Fallon presents Video of the Year onstage during the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards at Madison Square Garden on August 28, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/MTV1617/Getty Images for MTV)

We were all Michael Phelps at the initial promise of Fallon taking the stage in Ryan Lochte cosplay, but the material itself just bellyflopped. Fallon’s generally reliable goofball impersonation antics failed him with one-liners that felt like he scribbled them down on the limo ride over. Actually, Fallon, Key & Peel and Jay Pharaoh all felt like they’d come to collect a paycheck and little else. Only DJ Khaled and Nicole Byer felt really up to the task of providing fun commentary throughout.

Winner: Chance the Rapper

Blessings keep falling in his lap.

Winner: The US Olympics Gymnasts

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Gabby Douglas wasn’t feeling well and had to miss out on joining her teammates on stage to meet Beyoncé, but even Gabby is ultimately a winner because she is one of the greatest athletes in the world. And her teammates are also winners because they met Beyoncé. Get better soon, Gabby! Hope you get to meet Beyoncé. Hey, speaking of…

Winner: Beyoncé

Did you guys see that Beyoncé performance or what?

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