Always pushing the envelope, Lady Gaga stunned the audience when she kicked off the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards dressed as her male alter ego, Jo Calderone. It was one of the highlights of an awards show that also honored Britney Spears for her music video legacy and included a tribute to Amy Winehouse and a public revelation from Beyonce.
Wearing a black suit and a white T-shirt, wearing a wig that looked like a dark pompadour with slicked-back sides, Gaga started the show, smoking like a chimney, and claiming to be Gaga's ex-boyfriend. Complaining about Gaga, "Calderone" said, "What's with the hair? At first it was sexy, and now I'm just confused." Later in the speech, "Calderone" said, "I want her to be real. She says, 'No, I'm not real. I'm theater. And you and I, this is just rehearsal.'" Then Gaga launched into "You and I," backed by dancers dressed in black pants and white T-shirts. Brian May, guitarist for Queen, did a high-octane solo.
The cross-dressing move confused the celebrity audience, with many of them, including Justin Bieber, looking solemn and confused. The only person who seemed to get the joke was presenter Katie Holmes, who looked delighted.
Gaga stayed in character even when she presented the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award to Spears to honor her for her influence on music videos and dance. Handing over the award, Gaga gave Spears a brief kiss. Then, stepping back, Spears eyed Gaga/Calderone nervously, and her lip trembled as she seemed to consider locking lips again, then discarded the idea: "No, I've already done that once," referring of course, to her famous kiss with Madonna at the 2003 VMAs.
Declining a controversial kiss was only one sign of Spears, who turns 30 this year, striving for a more mature image. She wore a simple black minidress with a conservative neckline. And when she accepted the Moonman for Best Pop Video for "Till the World Ends," she thanked God, eliciting a few boos from the crowd. Justin Bieber followed suit, thanking Jesus when he accepted his Moonman for Best Male Video for "U Smile," and Kanye West thanked "God and Katy Perry" for their shared Moonman for Best Collaboration for "E.T."
Beyonce's performance of "Love on Top" seemed pretty standard fare, until she unbuttoned her purple sequined tuxedo jacket and rubbed her baby bump, thus officially revealing that she's pregnant.
In addition to the usual crop of musicians and comedians, a few TV personalities, such as "Glee's" Chord Overstreet, "Wizards of Waverly Place" star Selena Gomez, "VICTORiOUS" lead actress Victoria Justice, and reality TV star Kim Kardashian, presented awards.
The girls of "Jersey Shore" engaged in a funny bit with actress Chloris Leachman ("Raising Hope"). Leachman said, "I have a lot in common with the girls from 'Jersey Shore.' No one my age knows who you are. Everyone your age thinks I'm Betty White." The girls thanked her for coming to Italy "to hang with us." Leachman claimed she'd been answering a booty call from Pauly D.
In other highlights, comedian Russell Brand delivered a touching tribute to the late Amy Winehouse, calling her music incredible, "like a roar from the guts of humanity." Legendary crooner Tony Bennett called her "a true jazz artist in the tradition of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday." And Bruno Mars sang an energetic version of "Valerie," a song Winehouse famously covered.
Chris Brown brought the house down with a dance sequence including former Moonman-winning songs, and a finale to "Beautiful People" that had him swooping between the two main stages with the help of wires.
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