Singer Frank Ocean performs at the MTV Video Music Awards at Staples Center… (Kevin Winter / Getty Images )
"Whatever happened to the days of Madonna and Britney Spears?" That's the question my date to the Video Music Awards asked me at the conclusion of the show with a shrug. It was a semi-nice way of saying this year's ceremony felt pointless (though maybe not for the performers who got solid album plugs).
But no one was more shortchanged than the few thousand who filed into the Staples Center on Thursday afternoon hoping for a spectacle-filled show. Here are a few moments that stuck for this writer in his seat.
Where are we? The most head-scratching element of the night was the venue. For some unfathomable reason, MTV moved from L.A. Live's Nokia Theatre across the street to the massive Staples Center for the first time.
Perhaps it was the network making a power play by moving to the home of the Grammys? But this wasn't a year that needed to be packed into an arena. Other than Pink's fabulous aerial assault and Green Day's floor performance, the venue's size made it so the sea of 1,500 or so people willing to stand for two hours and serve as one mass prop were shuffled like cattle at pretty much every commercial break.
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Teenage dream: I suppose we have to address One Direction. In exploring the recent resurgence of boy bands, I thought we'd all be exhausted by their snappy hairdos by now. Was I wrong.
In a show that had Pink, Green Day, Frank Ocean, an appearance from the women's Olympic gymnastics team and a plug for the upcoming "Twilight" saga, nothing elicited more excitement than the fresh-faced five piece.
Granted, the teenybopper set is the one with the disposable free time and social networking prowess to commit to making anyone with debatable vocal ability and oh-so-adorable looks pop, and to this crowd, these boys are superstars.
The screeching started during a commercial break as One Direction made their entrance on a rising platform that hovered above their screaming fans.
As I struggled to hear above the shrieks, my mind shifted to one thing: How long before a cuter gimmick replaces this? They've smartly booked a massive tour through 2013, but what happens after? And kudos to MTV for trying to build a bit of tension by having their rivals, the Wanted, descend on the stage right after. I really wanted Harry to flip them the bird so that I'd have something to talk about. Instead the boys continued a dance off as their platform was lowered back from the clouds.
This is awkward: We touched on this in the postmortem of the show, but MTV seemed determined -- actually desperate -- to tap into the perceived love triangle among Rihanna, Chris Brown and Drake. Host Kevin Hart opened with a monologue encouraging Drake and Brown to bury their exhaustively covered feud. It continued when Brown bested Drake for the honor of best male video and cameras cut to Rihanna and bff Katy Perry snickering. The tension felt forced and Brown and Rihanna seemed amused by it all.
And Drake? Not sure where his head is in all this, but he got a statue, which means -- like any grade school soccer match -- they all win. Though I didn't spot him getting the warm reception RihRih showed Brown when walking to her seat earlier in the night. She gave the latter a close embrace and cheek kiss. She even played with his bleached blond locks, which will surely ignite another year of media speculation about their romance starting now.
Are we done yet? Following Taylor Swift's cupcake performance of an equally sweet quickie smash, "We Are Never Getting Back Together" (her cheery performance could have been turned into a commercial for the Gap), the audience had no idea the show was indeed over. MTV had planned a tight show from the beginning, especially given President Obama's scheduled speech to the Democratic National Convention, but the crowd kept hoping for a post-Swift surprise. Nope, nada. The row in front of me started asking aloud, "This is it?" Yep, sadly, it was.
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