MTV is the TV network most widely associated with short attention spans. So it makes sense that its Video Music Awards would function as a jarring and disjointed jumble of moments — a howl of protest followed immediately by a singer's tears of joy, or a heartfelt speech by a grieving mother giving way to a performance of "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy" by Rod Stewart and DNCE. In such a barrage, it's unfair to expect any one performance, speech or spectacle to rise above the others, especially as the telecast stretched past three hours.
But rise they did: Kendrick Lamar's riveting opening medley, with its copious flames, unfolded like a fire emoji come to life. Always a highlight of performance-driven awards shows, Pink followed a career-spanning greatest-hits set with a gorgeous speech. Lorde danced to her own song without bothering to lip-sync the words — an act that felt bold, even subversive, in the moment.
Aaaaaaaand then there was the other stuff, from Taylor Swift's hotly anticipated video for "Look What You Made Me Do" — which devolved quickly into a mismatched mishmash of dull and recycled provocation — to Katy Perry's game but thudding hosting job. Ed Sheeran winning Artist of the Year over Kendrick Lamar seemed almost perverse, if altogether predictable, after their respective performances, though Lamar thankfully took the biggest prize at the end of the night.
In the world of the VMAs, awards themselves are almost incidental, but here we go. Lamar led the field with six wins, though four of his prizes were of the technical variety, for the visually dazzling, Dave Meyers-directed video that accompanies "HUMBLE." (Lamar and Meyers also took Video of the Year and Best Hip Hop Video.) Elsewhere, Khalid won the Artist to Watch Award, while other prizes went to Fifth Harmony and Gucci Mane (Best Pop Video), Zedd and Alessia Cara (Best Electronic Dance Video), Taylor Swift and Zayn (Best Collaboration), and Best Rock Video (Twenty One Pilots).