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VMAs put music ahead of moments

2012 MTV Video Music Awards - Show

2012 MTV Video Music Awards - Show

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Updated: October 9, 2012 2:48PM

MTV’s annual spectacle of, well, spectacle actually kept the lid on Thursday night and delivered two hours of stunt-free, solid live performances.

It’s a weird cultural moment for the 31-year-old cable network and its annual Video Music Awards. The top three singles so far this year — fun.’s “We Are Young,” Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” — and all of the other nominees Thursday became popular via numerous means, none of them MTV.

YouTube views, tweets, Facebook likes — these are the street-level metrics determining what’s momentarily hot and what’s not nowadays. MTV has tried to fit in (the O Awards, anyone? Web 2.0 #fail) but largely has rested on the laurels of the VMAs’ annual festival of carefully crafted outrageousness.

This year, though, despite the usual advance hype about how totally cray the show would be, Friday morning’s online a la carte video snippets will be short on shock value (other than the fact that dull boy band One Direction led the wins with three awards) but long on actual entertainment.

The highlights:

• The always reliable Pink — appearing with a platinum blond, Robyn-esque mohawk (and introduced by Miley Cyrus, sporting the same hairstyle!) — belted “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” amid dancing, inflated lips. It was another balanced cocktail of cheek and charm.

• Frank Ocean sang “Thinking About You” as he did at Lollapalooza last month in Chicago — cool, calm and collected. On a stage decked out with a bonfire and beach grass, the rising R&B talent tipped in and out of falsetto and raised the same gooseflesh that Adele got last year.

• Immediately after hitting the stage amid a flash of pyro, 2 Chainz (due Friday night at Chicago’s Metro) was off both of them. Then Lil Wayne rolled in on a skateboard as the two rappers tore into “No Worries.” The censor had plenty, though, bleeping out a good third of their rhymes. Still, two guys, no stage bling, just flowing and killing it — the crowd didn’t need Wayne’s stage dive in order to go wild.

• Fresh off a hospital stay in Italy, Billie Joe Armstrong was back in front of VMA near-perennial band Green Day to blast through new single “Let Yourself Go” on the arena’s floor. A bit of punk fluff that doesn’t exactly justify three upcoming back-to-back albums, it still hit hard and thrilled the crowd.

• Alicia Keys’ performance of her new “Girl on Fire” was unsteady, but Nicki Minaj’s added rap introduced Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas, who added tumbles during the song. Gabby: 9.9! Alicia: 3.2.

• Taylor Swift closed the show with her new single, too, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” acting out her own video. Given the title, the camera shot of ex-boyfriend Taylor Lautner was kinda priceless.

In a smart cameo — here’s MTV quickly latching onto a viral online hit — South Korean singer PSY appeared all too briefly with the show’s useless, unfunny host Kevin Hart. He didn’t say much, but we at least got a little horse dance. Some “Hot Cheetos & Takis” would have clinched the night.

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