Posters like the one above have been all over Los Angeles for the last few weeks. There are others where the 'Pablo The Blowfish' hitmaker straddles her own tongue or looks as though her stomach's being consumed by flesh-eating cartoon insects. They all seem to suggest that this year's MTV VMAs — a show that Miley desecrated in the eyes of literally no well-balanced people two years ago, and is now presenting — will be a gonzo, anarchic and controversial LOLfest.
The truth, as is the way with these sorts of things, is slightly different.
For a start the MTV VMAs take place in what looks like a cinema in a sort of precinct bit near a massive indoor arena. To get there you have to walk past various chain restaurants and bars and flustered touts. Obviously in an ideal world all pop music would exist in some other realm away from normality, and away from heavily-sponsored atmosphere-free emporia, but we don't live in an ideal world.
There is, however, something exciting about the fact that somewhere within this innocuous-looking building, Taylor Swift's rehearsing her various acceptance speeches, perhaps while surrounded by some close friends.
So yes, the cinema. Well it's not a cinema but as you go up the escalator onto the first floor it basically becomes a cinema lobby.
This was quite a popular site for a selfie, as you can imagine. (Selfies in America are tirelessly organised and meticulously crafted — one guy made his friend check the picture he'd taken twelve times before they could move on to photographing their dinner).
Here's a photo of my dinner.
Well, this was just the starter. If you had a fancy shiny wristband all the food and drink was free and, dear readers, I had a fancy shiny wristband.
With drinks and food collected and partially consumed I decided to start my maiden MTV VMAs odyssey. The anticipation was high: would I witness three female popstars kissing while dressed as brides? Would a popstar reveal their pregnancy live onstage? Would a rapper frighten a defenceless popstar by suggesting that perhaps another popstar deserved the award more? Would said popstar then allow the defenceless popstar to come out onstage and accept the award properly? Would a female popstar arrive dressed as a man? Or maybe in a dress made of charcuterie? Whatever was about to happen I had a feeling that there would be surprises (ideally involving Rihanna and a new album, but this is just a pipe dream of course).
4:15 I march over to my seat to survey my surroundings. I take a picture. I then get asked to leave as they aren't supposed to allow anyone in. It's an auspicious start.
4:22 Earlier outside the venue harassed looking record label employees were handing out placards with 'What Do You Mean?' written across them. Inside I overhear a confused dad trying to interact with kids holding the placards. "Are there any other questions?" one asks. "Well, what's the answer?" Indeed.
4:35 Courtney Love wanders past me with two guys in ridiculous linen outfits. She seems to be heading towards the same seats as me, perhaps banished from the famous people seats after she threw her MAC compact at Madonna twenty years ago.
4:58 After my initial faux pas I decide to head into the arena again. There's a remix of 'Bad Blood' playing, which then morphs into Kygo's very good remix of Seinabo Sey's 'Younger'.
5:14 To be honest it's around this point that I start to regret arriving so early. I start playing games on my phone to pass the time.
5:17 That DJ Snake remix of AlunaGeorge's 'You Know You Like It' comes on. Whatever happened to AlunaGeorge? There was that new song a little while ago and then nothing. Shame really. It starts to feel like a very strange club, with really loud EDM being played to an audience mainly sitting down eating hotdogs.
5:31 Becky G's 'Break A Sweat' comes on. It's a good one. By this point I've had two beers, a box of popcorn, some nachos and cheese, and a bag of M&Ms. I feel a bit sick.
5:45 TEN MINUTE WARNING!
5:50 FIVE MINUTE WARNING!
5:55 — The famous people start to arrive, camera flashes going off everywhere. All the excitable fans in the pit at the front turn their backs to the stage to look at them.
6:00 Nicki Minaj opens it all, which is quite exciting. 'Trini Dem Girls' sounds pretty fucking amazing blaring out of a rib-rattling sound system. From a distance it looks as if Nicki's lost her keys and she's trying to find them, with lots of frantic patting of various areas of her body.
6:03 Oh here comes Taylor. I guess this is classed as the first real surprise of the night and yet there's a pungent whiff of the inevitable about it all. Still, nice that after Taylor graciously offered to let Nicki share a stage with her, it's Nicki that budges up for a brief 'Bad Blood' interlude. When the lights go down the pair do another slightly strained-looking hug and leave in separate directions.
6:05 That's not before Nicki has to introduce Macklemore and Ryan Lewis who perform a song in downtown LA. No thanks.
6:10 Shrinking violet Miley Cyrus arrives dressed in a comedy get-up created by Jeremy Scott by sliding out of a psychedelic worm hole.
6:15 I lose the thread of what's going on and before I know it Rita Ora's in a paddling pool full of spaghetti having her picture taken. She seems happy to be there so that's good.
6:17 Miley introduces VMA veteran Britney Spears to the stage by saying she's the only person who answers her calls in an emergency. Britney then emerges out of what looks like a cat's bumhole (see below) to make a joke about how she thought it was Taylor Swift calling. This is about the fourteenth time Taylor Swift's name's been mentioned in the first twenty minutes.
6:18 The first of many many ad breaks causes everyone to go to the bar which has been closed for half an hour. Following Nicki and Taylor's onstage embrace the voiceover lady says, "what other girl beef will be buried tonight?", which is a fairly brazen set up.
6:24 Jared Leto comes on to introduce The Weeknd. People in the crowd go batshit mental for him (The Weeknd that is), especially when he starts dancing like Michael Jackson. There's a bit where he tries to set himself on fire, much like Michael Jackson did while shooting a Pepsi commercial (advert) that time.
6:30 Okay so this is the other 'beef' the voiceover lady was referring to. Nicki Minaj wins Best Hip Hop video and after saying things like "Where all my girls at getting their own money?" and thanking her pastor she says the following things. As you can see in the video Miley looks pretty surprised by it all.
OH MY GOD NO NO pic.twitter.com/sZUSleOR0Y
— armin (@urlbadman) August 31, 2015
6:39 Things probably aren't helped by the fact that in the next video interlude (most of which just ramps up Miley's 'I'm mad, me' shtick which sometimes feels in danger of eclipsing her), there's a Meek Mill/Drake reference. As is the way with the VMAs in the age of Twitter, no zeitgeisty stone is left unturned.
6:42 Personality vortex Nick Jonas walks out to read an autocue. It doesn't go well.
6:44 Taylor beats Beyoncé to Best Female Video and guess what? Yep, Kanye pretends to go up and collect it. Oh how we laugh. No, but seriously, it's pretty funny. But again, it feels quite predictable. Taylor lets 'Blank Space' director Joseph Khan come up and collect the award with her. Shen then allows him to speak and that's when everyone bar the caterer gets a thank you. It goes on a bit.
6:51 Hailee Steinfeld shows up on a big screen to introduce Demi Lovato. Demi performs 'Cool For The Summer' outside the studio, which is a bit annoying. Still it's not as annoying as when Iggy Azalea pops up out of the stage to mumble a superfluous rap part. There's a funny bit when the woman next to me asks who she is. "Is that Christina Aguilera?" she says. :(
7:01 Straight from the ad break and into Justin Bieber's big MTV VMA comeback (he hasn't performed since 2010). Obviously the world has forgiven him now for throwing eggs and pissing in buckets etc, and 'Where Are U Now' has definitely helped with that. It sounds amazing, especially during the various breakdown bits. It morphs into 'What Do You Mean?' (next single: 'What Time's Dinner?' 'Why Didn't You Set The Recorder For Bake Off?', 'Why The Long Face?'), which feels a bit flat in comparison. At the end of the performance a Bieber monologue about learning from your mistakes and growing etc plays and then suddenly Bieber shoots up from the stage, resurrected.
To complete the rehabilitation he apparently bursts into tears at the end. Perhaps the harness was chaffing WHO KNOWS.
7:19 Another video interlude about weed and being stoned etc. Do you see? Miley enjoys recreational drug taking. In one of them she eats weed brownies with Snoop Dogg who then turns into a pig. Or something.
7:21 Poor Tori Kelly. She's got an amazing voice and some good songs but when she's introduced there's a small chorus of "who?" that bubbles around me.
7:26 I have another beer and a hot dog. 7/10.
7: 28 It's a good logo, isn't it. Also, nice of James Bay to show up.
7:30 Kanye West is this year's recipient of the Video Vanguard Award and so a video trailer thing plays that's actually pretty amazing. The whole thing feels quite exciting.
7:34 Taylor Swift arrives onstage to present the award. Yes, that's right Taylor Swift is there to present a special video award to Kanye West. Not any of the myriad people he's worked with or his long-term friends or the person he's married to. "I first met Kanye west six years ago at this show actually," she says, which gets a big laugh. She then talks about how good he is at sewing, which rightly gets no reaction whatsoever.
7:38 And so starts one of the most amazing and baffling speeches of all time. Of all time! Basically he picks up on Taylor's comment about what happened six years ago and runs with it; jumping from chatting about whether he'd do it differently now to grocery shopping with his daughter to making it seem like that one event changed the fabric of society. He doesn't mention the award or his videos once. This weirdly means that Taylor Swift is still the focus of his speech and the show in general. People start getting angry. Someone shouts "get off", while a lady near me quite rightfully just shouts "BEYONCÉ". "I just want people to like me," he says, which then seems to win people over again. Then he starts slagging off MTV themselves, which puts people's backs up again. Then, just when it feels like he might never stop, he says "I have decided in 2020 to run for president". Amazing.
7:48 It feels like the show should probably just end there. It doesn't though and the announcement that Pharrell is coming up doesn't really register. Poor Pharrell.
8:02 I decide to have another hotdog.
8:07 Twenty One Pilots and ASAP Rocky perform.
8:17 The big one — Video of The Year. Of course 'Bad Blood' wins, despite being literally not very good at all. Me and the woman who shouted 'BEYONCÉ' earlier both look disappointed. Still, there's no denying this has been Taylor's year 'vis-a-vis' the whole being the biggest popstar in the world and selling loads of albums thing. It's just that it feels like the Taylor Swift Show and a bit of variety might have been nice.
8:20 Miley flashes her boobs.
8:25 Having teased it all evening, the show ends with a performance of a new Miley song called 'Dooo It' involving streamers, confetti, drag queens, Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips and just about enough star quality to hide the song's lack of brilliance.
It looks a bit like this:
Right at the end of the performance she announces a brand new album called 'Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz' and that it's free to download right now. It's an exciting end to a show that felt like it was missing a truly amazing performance. While there were shocking moments — most of Kanye's speech carried a frisson of WTF — it was also incredibly predictable, with each 'controversial' moment related to the show tied up in neat little bows. Even the Nicki and Miley thing, while apparently genuine, was curtailed quickly by Nicki's mic being switched off.
Regardless, I got to eat two hotdogs while watching some pop-related entertainment, so that for me is a positive evening.
To end, here's a picture of a man holding a dog with drawn on eyebrows dressed as a Mexican. It was the first thing I saw as I left the venue. You're welcome.