TORONTO – Teenaged reality TV starlets Kylie Jenner and Kendall Jenner presided over a milestone 25th Much Music Video Awards on Sunday that was slick, brisk and almost entirely free of the ramshackle volatility that once defined the annual outdoor bash.
B.C. pop outfit Hedley took home a leading three trophies — including video of the year for their ebullient aspirational anthem “Anything” — while absent Toronto rapper Drake won a pair to lead the way. The of-the-moment Jenners provided a competent, if dispassionate hosting presence, mostly ceding the spotlight to a series of splashy performances from international pop stars including New Zealand songwriting wunderkind Lorde and Grammy-winning British songwriter Ed Sheeran.
“This crowd is amazing!” said Kendall, 18, at the onset of the show.
“We’re here to make sure this year’s MMVAs are the best ever,” added Kylie, 16.
Well, the 25th instalment of the reliably raucous bash illustrated just how much the MMVAs have changed over the years.
At one point, the MMVAs were a whimsically disorganized affair. In fact, many of the most memorable moments in the show’s history — Avril Lavigne accidentally partially mooning the audience when heavy sound equipment tugged her pants down, a crowd-surfing Gavin Rossdale battling fans to retain his guitar or off-colour on-camera impromptu remarks by Spice Girl Geri Halliwell or Tori Spelling — were in some way tied to its slightly amateurish nature.
But this is no longer the show that David Bowie cheerfully remarked in 1999 seemed “like it (was) run by children.” The MMVAs have become seamless and sleek, and nowadays the show relies on eye-catching stagecraft — think Lady Gaga’s flaming bra at the 2009 edition — to get people talking.
And Sunday’s show certainly had some of that.
Ariana Grande — the 20-year-old Nickelodeon product nicknamed mini-Mariah for her industrial-strength pipes — closed the show with her swaggering song-of-the-summer front-runner “Problem,” stalking about surrounded by a battery of torso-baring male dancers who flipped and cartwheeled acrobatically around the stage, which was rimmed with sparking fire.
Slick Las Vegas pop outfit Imagine Dragons performed their downcast hit “Demons” as an appetizer for their ubiquitous “Radioactive,” which prompted all the members to pound drums while massive streams of pyro danced and rocketed through the air.
Flame-haired Calgary dance breakout Kiesza performed her surprise international hit “Hideaway” — which has hit No. 1 in the U.K., Belgium and Netherlands — with a grimy New York motif, replete with a yellow taxi and chrome park bench, though her fleet feet were the featured attraction.
Others opted to stand out via starker presentations.
Seventeen-year-old Lorde stalked the stage during an ominous performance of her moody dirge “Tennis Court” before contorting her body in knots while singing her frothy smash “Team,” which concluded with the singer collapsing while gripping a lamp. (She also won for best international video of the year by a solo artist, thanking “everyone who’s always supported me in Canada”).
Even less theatrical was a sweater-clad Sheeran, who performed his strummy summer jam “Sing” with an almost defiant simplicity, the stage dressed only with some electric tube lights.
His red-carpet entrance was less austere; he strolled up in a bright blue food truck before distributing cones of french fries to fans.
That was one among the usual lineup of splashy entrances. The pyjama-clad members of Marianas Trench sprawled in a feather-fettered bed being dragged by a truck, Toronto rap-rock group Down With Webster thundered onto the carpet in a honking shiny black Mack truck while Imagine Dragons elicited attention with the opposite approach, puttering onto the carpet in a modest, dirt-encrusted Toyota.
Later, they won for best international video by a group, and frontman Dan Reynolds led a collective singalong of “Happy Birthday” for guitarist Wayne Sermon.
“This is an incredible honour,” Reynolds said. “I just want to say that we’ve been a band for five years and Canada was one of the first places in the entire world to play our music. So I want to say a big thank you to all our Canadian fans.”
Other winners included an absent Justin Bieber for the fan-chosen Your Fave artist or group, Selena Gomez for Your Fave international artist and Sam Roberts for rock/alternative video of the year.
Meanwhile, the Jenners mostly stayed out of the way. They delivered a deadpan opening, modelled after a flight crew’s safety demonstration, and later mock-bickered over who deserved the privilege of introducing Lorde.
Still, their performance had to be considered a success given that Kendall had famously flubbed an introduction to the band 5 Seconds of Summer at this year’s Billboard Awards — telling the crowd then: “Guys, I’m the worst reader.” She briefly made light of the mistake onstage (with help from a garbled cue card), but suffered no similar gaffes Sunday.
And, in their 25th edition, neither did the increasingly polished MMVAs.