Beyonce isn’t afraid to throw a curveball or two: dropping surprise albums, making pregnancy announcements mid-performance, changing the game with visual albums. And, of course, who can forget the Super Bowl 50 halftime performance?
Well, all that is child’s play after Sunday’s 2016 MTV Video Music Awards. The queen of pop not only made a surprise appearance, but she graced us with a 17-minute medley of songs from “Lemonade,” accompanied by standout costumes, flawless dance moves and pyrotechnics.
None of the other artists stood a chance.
Though Queen Bey’s performance was the moment of the night, we’d be remiss if we didn’t highlight the other notable performances of the evening — both stunning and mediocre.
1. Beyonce slays
Hardly anyone would protest the queen’s spot at No. 1. After an introduction by tennis superstar Serena Williams, Beyonce launched into a medley of songs from her “Lemonade” album: “Pray You Catch Me,” “Hold Up,” “Sorry,” “Don’t Hurt Yourself” and “Formation.”
While her dance skills, emotion and special effects brought the audience to its feet, it was her not-so-subtle political commentary that made her a standout.
She employed images of young black women struck down by violence in “Pray You Catch Me,” while she stood resolute in angel-white garb. Her songs deftly described the black experience — with mentions of Malcolm X, afros and “Jackson Five nostrils” — and female empowerment in the face of a cheating spouse. Her dozens of dancers formed a Venus symbol at the end of the performance. Oh, and note that mic drop.
The singer went on to win eight VMAs: for video of the year (“Formation”), best pop video (“Formation”), four technical awards for “Formation” and best long-form video for “Lemonade.”
Her best female video award for “Hold Up” was presented by …
2. The Final Five (almost)
… gold-medal gymnasts Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian, Laurie Hernandez and Simone Biles. Each of the women received a hug from the singer, and Hernandez perhaps summed up their reactions the best.
Gabby Douglas, unfortunately, missed out due to illness.
But they weren’t the only Olympians present.
3. Jimmy Fallon as Ryan Lochte
When he presented the award for video of the year (hey, Beyonce!), “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon took a few shots at Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte. Fallon dressed in a track suit, wore a silver medal and sported a platinum ’do.
With a tongue-in-cheek reference to Lochte’s fabricated story of being robbed at gunpoint during the Rio Olympics, Fallon told the audience that he (as Lochte) had directed all five of the nominees for video of the year. But he couldn’t choose the best video “even if I had a gun to my head.”
Michael Phelps, who looked amused as he sat in the audience, appeared to mouth the words: “This is awesome.”
4. Britney Spears’ “comeback”
Performing after Beyonce can’t be easy. Staging a career comeback show after Queen Bey must be impossible.
Spears, whose album “Glory” dropped on Aug. 26, tried her best when she performed “Make Me” in a sparkly gold getup. G-Eazy joined her, and she briefly covered the chorus of his hit “Me, Myself and I.”
Opinions of the performance were mixed. Spears is known for lip-syncing, so it wasn’t a surprise she did so during the VMAs. Some pointed out that Spears’ lip-syncing and wearable microphone only proved the singer was stuck in the 2000s.
5. Drake *hearts* Rihanna
Rihanna did a rousing dancehall mix for one of her four performances, but it was Drake’s confession as he gave her the Michael Jackson Vanguard Video Award that set the internet abuzz.
The two artists have had an on-off relationship for years and only recently got back together. But Drake made it clear that his affection for her never wavered.
“She’s someone I’ve been in love with since I was 22 years old,” he said. “She’s one of my best friends in the world. All my adult life I’ve looked up to her even though she’s younger than me. She’s a living, breathing legend in our industry.”
Rihanna smiled as he introduced her and playfully rolled her eyes at his admission of love. Even odder, they appeared to go in for a kiss at the end of the introduction — but instead had an awkward embrace. After her speech, a tweet showed the two giving each other the kiss they denied the TV audience.
To further put boyfriends around the world to shame, Drake paid for a billboard ad to celebrate Rihanna’s win.
6. Calvin Harris disses Taylor Swift
It appears the two exes still have bad blood between them: In Harris’ acceptance for best male video for “This Is What You Came For,” he noticeably forgot to mention lyric writer Swift.
Turns out the result is a little more mainstream: She’s on jury duty.
7. Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj exercise … on stage
While performing “Side to Side” off Ariana Grande’s new album, the two donned pink ’80s-inspired exercise threads for a set that involved the pop princess taking a spin class, dancers lifting weights and some implied naughty business.
Even more remarkable? Grande nailed every single note, even after breaking a sweat on a spin bike.