The 10 Best (And Worst) Moments From The Blackest VMAs I've Ever Seen

MTV screenshot
MTV screenshot

The realization occurred during Rihanna's extended dancehall set.

As I watched her emerge from a sea of dozens of niggas from Flatbush grinding and winding and puppy-tailing on the VMA stage, I couldn't help but wonder if I'd ever seen that many Black people on the VMAs at the same time. (No.) Which then made me ask if at that point — an hour into the night — there'd been any White performers. (Just Ariana Grande. Who earned honorary Black sympathy points by dating Big Sean, so she doesn't even really count. Thank you for your service, Ariana. May your wings forever be well-cooked and properly seasoned.)


Which then led me to conclude that I was watching the Blackest VMAs ever. Not the best — as the only actual memorable performances on stage were Beyonce's set and Rihanna's cheekbone jumping between her lips and Drake's lips and taking the bullet. But as someone who's watched enough VMAs to consider himself a VMA watching veteran (which is the most depressing thing I consider myself to be), I can't recall a Blacker time. The hosts were Black, the co-hosts were Black, the presenters were (mostly) Black, the performers were (mostly) Black, the winners were (mostly) Black, and even Kanye was (mostly) Black last night.

Anyway, these are some of my thoughts on the night MTV stole BET's steez.

1. If you're not a fan of Key & Peele, I imagine last night was a 180-minute-long confirmation of why you find their absurd and at times too esoteric humor to be grating. If you are a fan of Key & Peele (as I am) I imagine last night was the equivalent of convincing your friends to accompany you to a restaurant they're not particularly fond of.

"Trust me!" you say. "The food is gonna be great this time!" So they come with you, already skeptical, and eat the food…and hate it. "Well" you say in response to their collective irritable bowels "it's an acquired taste."

That said, even as a fan, I have to admit they had more misses than hits last night.

2. I've come to believe that the only reason I have a baby is that when she's mature and advanced enough to communicate complex thoughts, she finds a way to help me understand why Future is a thing. And I'm saying this as someone who actually doesn't actively dislike his music. I think it's generally okay, and I really liked "Same Damn Time" for nearly three weeks in 2012. I just feel the same way about him that I feel about cucumbers. They're fine in salads and on vegetable trays and shit. But if cucumber cafes suddenly became a thing — popping up in spades in every gentrified neighborhood — I would go into the nearest cucumber cafe, stand on a table and scream "WHY ARE YOU PEOPLE HERE?!? CUCUMBERS ARE NOT IMPORTANT ENOUGH TO BE A THING!!! THEY DON'T EVEN TASTE LIKE ANYTHING!!! CAN SOMEONE PLEASE EXPLAN THE CUCUMBER THING TO ME BECAUSE I JUST DON'T GET IT AND IT'S DRIVING ME CRAZY!!!"

3. That said, as an admirer of performative petty, I appreciate the cameraman who zoomed in on Desiigner while Future was performing. That was top-notch, Grade-A petty. If Future is a cucumber, Desiigner is a water chestnut.


4. Jay Pharoah's Kevin Hart is his Mona Lisa, his masterpiece. It's so good that he should attempt to convince Hollywood to save a few million with the next Kevin Hart movie and just start casting him doing a Kevin Hart impression instead of Kevin Hart.

5. Alicia Keys seems to be firmly ensconced in and committed to this "bless her heart" phase of her career, and it's sweet. Her heart is blessed. She is nestled in try-hard; burrowed in earnestness; snuggled up in a blanket of African Arts Festival tent residue. And, last night, she invented a new genre: spoken word classic rock. Good for her!


6. Listening to Kanye West speak on stage in 2016 is like waiting in a two-hour-long line for a broken roller coaster. The anticipation of what he might say far surpasses the interestingness of what he actually says. Which, for him, is unfortunate. Because his music is still very good. As is (some of) the things he has to say when it's not "Kanye is saying things now" time. But the residue of the fatigue of his increasingly transparent attempts at provocation — which is now actually, kinda just boring — has a way of permeating how the music is processed and assessed.

7. I'm glad White America knows who Teyana Taylor is now. Welcome to the party. And I just hope her insane performance and her literally unbelievable body — it was like watching a live-action Elastagirl — doesn't distract them from the fact that Iman Shumpert and the Cleveland Cavaliers fought back from a 3-to-1 series deficit to defeat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.


8. Beyonce…Beyonce just Beyonced. There's nothing else to say. Beyonce just Beyonced the fuck out of that stage. And Beyonced the fuck out of the backstage by having the mothers of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Oscar Grant as her guests.

(Of course, the obvious question here is "What about Sandra Bland's people?" But, well, um, let's just move on.)

Yes, Laurie Hernandez, we all felt the same way when watching her perform.

9. So, we've already established that scheduling Britney Spears's much-hyped comeback performance right after Beyonce was cruel and unusual punishment. This was ultimately the VMA's equivalent of waterboarding. Even Britney herself seemed shellshocked at MTV positioning her to be the Sam's Club Splenda to Beyonce's Lemonade.


But what's the alternative? You can't really open or close the show with her now in 2016, so she was always going to be stuck in the middle somewhere. So why not schedule her directly after Beyonce — a time you know most people will be watching? I guess that question doesn't have a very satisfying answer either. Maybe next year, when, I don't know, Pink or someone wants to make a big comeback splash, they should just send her to voicemail. And then pick up at the last moment like "Oh, I didn't know you were calling. Did you want to be on the show?" And then Pink says "Yes!" And they're like "We only have one slot left. After Beyonce. Are you cool with that?" And then Pink, already deep in "left like 16 voicemails already" fatigue, just says yes and accepts it.

10. Of course, the entire night was ultimately a prolonged culmination to Rihanna's acceptance of the Video Vanguard Award. Which ultimately served as a contrived meet-cute to get Drake and Rihanna on stage together. Let's talk about that!


Remember on The Wire, right before Michael killed Snoop, when she said (paraphrasing) "You never could have been one of us" — her way of saying that Michael just had too much of a conscience to be like Snoop, Chris, and Marlo? Well, I feel the same way about Drake and "being a fuckboy." He makes fuckboy anthems — shit, he makes entire fuckboy albumstries to do fuckboy things, dates fuckboy magnets, and even apparently became BFFs with Future, who's basically Fuckboy Emeritus. But I just don't think he has it in him to be that type of guy. He just seems to like women too much to be one. And not "likes women" in a "likes having sex with women" sense. (Although I assume he enjoys that too.) But actually likes their company, companionship, and friendship.

Of course, this is not a bad thing at all. It's actually, for lack of a better term, refreshing. And, with his H&M tux draped on his Dominican Uncle torso last night, his very obvious affection for Rihanna was palpable and endearing. Which is why her curve last night — and yes, she totally gave him the "we're better as friends" cheek turn when he attempted to kiss her — was so cringe-worthy to watch. It was like throwing someone an alley oop…and then watching them just watch the ball drift out of bounds while they made no effort to get it.


Let's watch again, from a different angle!


Now, to be fair, Rihanna's reaction could have been less "awww, bless your little Canadian heart " and more her being pissed that Drake was making her moment about himself. During his speech, I'm sure she was thinking what many of us were thinking while watching it: "This nigga better not propose."

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



Drake actually strikes me as stealth fu ckboy. King of the fuc k boys if you will. He does it so well people actually think he's genuine. Rihanna gave his lame as s a chance a couple of years ago. He had Robyn Fenty out in these streets publicly wearing his clothes from the night before - a very public declaration that they were smashing - aaand then he pretty much immediately got caught with some Instagram model. That was when I knew he was full of it.