The MTV: Video Music Awards were kind of fantastic. It's a tough show to pull off: So much of the show's success depends on the quality of a given year's popular artists. So we lucked out this year with Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, and a very skinny Eminem. Welcome to Top Moments, VMA edition.
10. Least Shocking Wardrobe: Pink's heart-shaped, nipple-covering pastie proves a stupid distraction from her performance of "Sober," and fails to shock, given that her outfit is really just a watered-down version of Lil Kim's from a few years back. (Check the two-minute mark.) Her trapeze act is still kind of a mind-blower, though.
9. Most Underused Performer: Good for MTV to include witty and wily emcee Wale (pronounced wall-eh) on the show. Boo for only letting him do interstitial music around the commercial breaks and awards. He deserves better than being relegated to Russell Brand's sideman.
8. Most Adequate Performance: Muse's song is pretty awesome, but they could be awesomer. These guys are, after all, responsible for perhaps the best video of the last decade.
7. Best Cameo: Cyndi Lauper turns up with Eminem and Tracy Morgan to sing "Time After Time" in one of their funny skits. She appears just long enough to get the laugh and props for a beautiful song. It's a good example for the many, many VMA guests (Jack Black, the cast of Twilight) who appear (and outstay their welcome) only to hawk their latest projects. It's also nice to see Eminem looking good after months of babble about his weight gain.
6. Best Homage: After a tribute from Madonna the show rolls tape of Mark Goodman, one of the originals MTV VJs, introducing the world premiere of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" some 25 years ago. This leads to a moving dance tribute to Jackson that crescendos with his sister, Janet, dancing in syncopation with MJ against the backdrop of their duet, "Scream." She looks great, and it's hard not to be moved by the tribute.
5. Most Inspired Idea: Taylor Swift performs in a Times Square subway station, like a traditional busker, then rides the train to Radio City Music Hall. We have no idea what kind of production magic was involved in the performance, but it's a great tribute to New York's underground musicians - lots of talented people who will probably never get a shot at MTV.
4. Best Shock: Lady Gaga turns in a predictably solid performance of "Paparazzi," but takes things to the level of performance art when she starts fake bleeding from her torso. Later she accepts her Best New Artist award with her face caked in red gunk. We don't know if she's goofing with us or making a sincere statement, but we're in.
3. Best Performance: Jay-Z, backed by Alicia Keys, pays respect to host city New York City that reminds us once again why he's the best rapper alive. Keys shines as one of a surprising number of performers who seem to have passed on lip-syncing. Beyonce mouths along with Keys, and it all feels like the kind of performance you see at the end of a movie.
2. Best Performer: As good as many other artists were, Michael Jackson outshines them all, even in death, in footage of his posthumous rehearsal film This Is It. It allows us to see Jackson as artistic and authoritative. Dancers fly through the air throughout the footage, but no one is more amazing than Jackson.
1. Biggest Insult: Kanye West interrupts Taylor Swift's acceptance speech for Best Female Video to announce that nominee Beyonce had "one of the best videos of all time." Later, Beyonce wins Video of the Year and invites Swift back onstage to "have her moment." Was it all scripted? Whatever, it's a lot of fun.