Beyoncé proved once again that she is the pre-eminent contemporary rock star, and used the MTV Video Music Awards stage to showcase her skills, outshining her peers, including Rihanna and Britney Spears.
Beyoncé won eight awards, including video of the year, and performed five songs from her visual album Lemonade during an epic 16-minute performance at the event on Sunday that had the audience at Madison Square Garden watching in awe.
She sang live, danced and worked the crowd as she ran through Pray You Catch Me, Hold Up, Sorry, Don't Hurt Yourself and Formation, which won the top prize over work by Adele, Drake, Justin Bieber and Kanye West.
"First of all, I'd like to thank my beautiful daughter and my incredible husband for all of their support," said Beyoncé, who walked the carpet with her daughter, Blue Ivy, and the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner – who died in separate incidents involving police officers – who all appeared in the Lemonade movie.
It was reminiscent of the 2014 VMAs, when Beyoncé also performed for 16 minutes and accepted the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award. This year, that honour was given to Rihanna, who split her performances throughout the night, singing hits including Work, We Found Love and Love on the Brain.
But the biggest moment for Rihanna came when Drake – in a tuxedo – presented the award to his former girlfriend. He said he met Rihanna in 2005 on the set of her first music video, for Pon de Replay.
“She’s someone I’ve been in love with her since I was 22 years old,” Drake said as Rihanna blushed and the audience cheered loudly. “She’s one of my best friends in the world. All of my adult life I’ve looked up to her, even though she’s younger than me.”
Rihanna, 28, thanked her family, friends and hometown of Saint Michael, Barbados, for helping her succeed during her 11-year-career.
“My success started as my dream, but now my success is not my own – it’s my family, my fans, my country ... it’s women, it’s black women,” she said.
Beyoncé's top-notch performance starkly contrasted with that of Spears, who returned to the VMA stage after a 10-year absence. Not only did she lip sync, in typical fashion, but she did so badly. She performed her hit Make Me... and danced slickly, but didn't sing a word of the song live. She was joined by rapper G-Eazy – and she lip-synched the hook to his hit song, Me, Myself and I.
In true Kanye fashion, when he took to the stage he ranted, touching on subjects ranging from music and his beef with Taylor Swift to violence in his hometown Chicago, before he debuted his music video for Fade, which stars Teyana Taylor.
He talked about his Famous video, which features what appear to be naked images of himself, his wife Kim Kardashian, Swift, Donald Trump and others. He even pointed to former girlfriend Amber Rose, who was in the audience and is also in the video.
Drake won best hip-hop video for Hotline Bling, and Calvin Harris won best male video for This is What You Came For.
David Bowie – who died from cancer this year – received four nominations for Lazarus and won best art direction.
Performers on the night included Nick Jonas, The Chainsmokers, Ty Dollar $ign and Ariana Grande, who brought spin class to the VMA stage when she sang the reggae-tinged Side to Side with Nicki Minaj. In one of several odes to the recent Olympic Games, Michael Phelps said he was inspired by hip-hop music before introducing Future, who Phelps said he listened to before swimming and making the grimacing face that went viral during the Games. The rapper-singer-producer performed his hit **** Up Some Commas.
Jimmy Fallon, who presented video of the year, dressed as swimmer Ryan Lochte and even sported platinum blonde hair. Mimicing Lochte – who is dealing with the fallout after filing a false robbery report about an incident during the Rio Olympics – Fallon lied onstage about writing Justin Bieber’s Sorry and directing the clips nominated for video of the year.
Adele was close behind Beyoncé with eight nominations, but the British singer did not attend the show and did not win any gongs. Beyoncé’s wins included best female video, pop video, breakthrough long-form video, choreography, direction, cinematography and editing.
Complete list of winners of Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards, presented at Madison Square Garden in New York:
Video of the year: Beyonce, Formation.
Female video: Beyonce, Hold Up.
Male video: Calvin Harris feat. Rihanna, This is What You Came For.
New artist: DNCE.
Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award: Rihanna.
Pop video: Beyonce, Formation.
Hip hop video: Drake, Hotline Bling.
Rock video: twenty one pilots, Heathens.
Electronic video: Calvin Harris & Disciples, How Deep Is Your Love.
Collaboration video: Fifth Harmony feat. Ty Dolla $ign, Work from Home.
Breakthrough long-form video: Beyonce, Lemonade
Song of summer: Fifth Harmony feat. Fetty Wap, All in My Head (Flex).
Art direction: David Bowie, Blackstar (Jan Houllevigue).
Choreography: Beyonce, Formation (Chris Grant, JaQuel Knight, Dana Foglia).
Direction: Beyonce, Formation (Melina Matsoukas).
Cinematography: Beyonce, Formation (Malik Sayeed).
Editing: Beyonce, Formation (Jeff Selis).
Visual effects: Coldplay, Up&Up (Vania Heymann).