The 2016 MTV Video Music Awards show re-emphasized the holistic and cultural visuals that accompany an artist’s musical compositions. Presented at Madison Square Garden, musicians paid tribute to the Big Apple by making New York City a symbol for home. In addition to the show’s diverse collection of awards, the unexpected revival of the Best Long Form Video award came from a 25-year evolution of the music scene. According to longtime VMAs executive producer Jesse Ignjatovic, the VMAs “[are] always trying to stay on the cusp and reflect culture and what artists are doing.”
Beyoncé, who won the Breakthrough Long Form Video Award for her visual album Lemonade, broke the record for most all-time VMA wins with 21 total Moonmen over the course of her career. While showcasing songs such as “Formation” in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and “Daddy Issues” to to tell a personal story, Lemonade is reflection of both Beyoncé’s personal experiences and contempoary culture. The visual album’s victory at the ceremony served as a reminder that music transcends beyond an artist’s voice.
Pleased by Beyoncé’s long-awaited win, Kanye West also unexpectedly featured his latest music video “Fade” from his album The Life of Pablo after shedding light on his erotic, contentious video for the track “Famous.”
“It was an expression of our now, our fame right now, us on the inside of the TV,” West said. As a headlining artist who has expanded his visual aesthetic to fashion, West spoke to the prominent position fame puts artists in as “the influence, the thought leaders” of the music industry.
Aside from the presentation of videos nominated for awards, the live performances also enhanced the audience’s perception of the artist’s music. Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj remodeled the center stage into their personal workout area while performing their sensual duet “Side to Side,” Rihanna brought the house down with an authentic club performance of her upbeat hit “Work” and Beyoncé reenacted a sweet medley of hits from Lemonade that covered sour topics such as Jay Z’s rumored infidelity.
As the show unfolded, pop music veteran Britney Spears performed her latest single “Make Me” with rapper G-Eazy, signaling the end of her nine-year hiatus from televised performances since the 2007 VMAs. Joe Jonas secured the acclaimed Best New Artist award with his band DNCE, whose members have been active in the music industry for the last 10 years.
The VMAs not only recognized its longtime favorites, but applauded newcomers such as Troye Sivan, Bryson Tiller and Alessia Cara. Rihanna stunned the crowds with four special performances at the show, and was presented with a Video Vanguard Award for her achievements in the music industry. Rihanna’s boyfriend and rapper Drake presented the special honor to the singer after delivering a heartfelt speech about his admiration for her since 2005.
Rihanna herself shed light on achieving the musical American Dream as a foreigner: “All I could think of was my country … My success started as my dream, but now my success is not my own -—it’s my family’s, it’s my fans’, it’s my country’s, it’s the Caribbean as a whole, it’s women, it’s black women.”