From Britney Spears and Madonna’s surprise make out to Kanye West crashing Taylor Swift’s Best Female Video acceptance speech to Nicki Minaj’s “Miley, what’s good?,” MTV’s Video Music Awards (VMAs) have always been delightfully unpredictable. While nothing during this year’s show topped these infamous moments in the award show’s history, the 2016 VMAs, which aired on Aug. 28, still managed to deliver its fair share of memorable moments throughout its nearly three-hour broadcast.
There is no way to discuss the VMAs without talking about Kanye. MTV gave West four minutes to do whatever he wanted on stage and, somewhat unsurprisingly, he talked for six minutes. During that time, he managed to joke about his 2009 VMAs tantrum, give shout-outs to Ray J, Donald Trump and his ex-girlfriend Amber Rose and reference the ongoing Kimye/Taylor Swift feud. It should be mentioned that Swift supposedly missed the VMAs for jury duty. West also talked about his role models, listing “Truman, Ford, Hughes, Disney, Jobs” and — wait for it — West. He then introduced the new music video for his song “Fade,” which featured Tiana Taylor dancing provocatively in a gym. Taylor’s flexibility and athleticism were amazing, and she deserves recognition for making it into a West video after first hitting the scene as the birthday girl in one of the crazier episodes of “My Super Sweet 16” (2005-2008).
Naturally, when talking about West, it’s difficult to avoid mention of his wife, reality show mogul and selfie queen Kim Kardashian West. Before the VMAs, Kardashian West pulled an epic move, tweeting out a poll asking whether she should wear something casual or dressy to the award show; she ultimately showed up in something that easily could have gone either way. Kardashian West knows how to keep those followers happy, as she rocked natural, beachy hair and makeup.
The fashion was mostly a miss this year — sorry, Beyoncé fans, those feathers were not working — but Hailee Steinfeld wins best dressed of the night. Her colorful, crocheted mini struck the perfect balance between creative and chic.
As far as musical performances go, everything pretty much became irrelevant as soon as Beyoncé hit the stage, but there are a few other performances of the night worth noting. Britney Spears had her first VMAs performance in seven years, and the audience appeared to just be happy to see her make it through the whole thing. She stunned in a yellow, glitzy bodysuit, her dance moves were on point and she was up on that stage with a bright smile on her face. Nick Jonas also did a nice job with his song “Bacon,” performing it at an actual New York City diner. The video also featured cameos from Ashley Graham and the members of DNCE, the band of Jonas’ big brother Joe Jonas.
Alicia Keys did not perform but she still sang part of a poem to honor the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. She sang beautifully, but what most people noticed was the fact that she wasn’t wearing makeup, which generated some controversy.
The most romantic surprise of the night came from Drake. After not being there to accept his own Moonman award for Best Hip-Hop Video, he arrived on stage to present Rihanna with the Video Vanguard Award. As if buying her a “congratulations” billboard before the show wasn’t enough, Drake publicly expressed his love for Rihanna on stage, saying, “She’s someone I’ve been in love with since I was 22 years old.” Her decision to seemingly reject a kiss from him sparked interest on the internet, although a touching Instagram post and very public smooching at Drake’s Miami concert quickly put that to bed.
Speaking of Bad Girl RiRi, her four separate performances throughout the night featured a medley of her hits and were solid, if not outstanding. Rihanna has mastered the art of performing without looking like she’s even trying, singing only about one out of every three words and letting a backtrack do most of the heavy lifting. Her final performance of the night, which featured a few of her ballads, was beautiful and made it clear that she does have real singing chops, even if she doesn’t always use them.
The night’s performances, however, were completely outdone by Beyoncé. The bona fide legend came out and crushed a 15-minute set in which she performed huge chunks of her hit visual album “Lemonade” (2016). The exact opposite of Rihanna’s relaxed style, Beyoncé left nothing on the table during her performance. Case in point, she smashed a camera with a baseball bat. In addition to her explosive performance, Beyoncé won Video of the Year for her song “Formation” (2016). It may have been Rihanna’s Vanguard, but it was Beyoncé’s night.
In a nutshell, the VMAs were the typical hot mess they have always been, and the main takeaway of this year is that Beyoncé is still perfect. But who would have it any other way?
An earlier version of this article reported that Kanye West hosted the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards. In fact, though West did attend the awards and speak, this year’s VMAs had no formal host.