ENTERTAINMENT

It's fair to say Beyonce stole the MTV VMAs with an extended performance inspired by "Lemonade." It was also a special evening for Rihanna, who performed throughout the night before Drake presented the Vanguard award to the woman he's "been in love with since [he] was 22 years old." And Britney Spears returned to the VMAs stage; it was an admirable effort, but even those shadow fingers couldn't come close to topping Beyonce.

Rihanna explores her discography with ambitious Vanguard performance at 2016 MTV VMAs

Rihanna performs onstage during the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards at Madison Square Garden on August 28, 2016 in New York City. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
Rihanna performs onstage during the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards at Madison Square Garden on August 28, 2016 in New York City. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Rihanna turned the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards into her own personal showcase.

To accept the night’s biggest honor, the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, the pop singer didn’t showcase her hits in a 15-minute retrospective the way previous winners Justin Timberlake and Beyoncé have. 

Instead, Rihanna appeared throughout the show, dedicated five-minute segments to the many different personas that define her chameleon approach to pop hitmaking.

There was dance-pop Rihanna, opening the show with a set that focused on her biggest dance hits. 

Clad in a bubblegum-colored cutout pants. a Hood by Air T-shirt, pink boots, rose-colored shades and her hair up in ponytail — she effortless channeled her most uptempo cuts in a dizzying, dance-heavy medley. 

Club smash “Don’t Stop the Music” gave way to “Only Girl (In the World).” The dance-hall rhythms of her debut single “Pon De Replay” flourished before she tore through rave anthems “We Found Love” and “Where Have You Been.”

The Barbadian singer paid tribute to her island roots with a set pulled from her infectious reggae and dance-hall-inspired jams. 

She dusted off “Rude Boy” and the sultry “What’s My Name?” and ripped her smash “Work,” while flanked by dozens of dancers that grinded on her.  

Next, she explored the woody trap records she’s cut on her most recent work. “Needed Me,” “Pour It Up” and “Bitch Better Have My Money,” all got tackled as the singer was dressed in a black leotard, knee-high boots, chain necklaces and even a purple boa flung across her shoulder.

For her finale — her fourth set of the night — Rihanna belted her biggest ballads in an elegant closer befitting pop’s reigning hitmaker.

Wearing a ruffled silver gown and backed by a full orchestra she sang “Stay,” her ethereal smash “Diamonds” and the doo-wop-inspired “Love on the Brain,” the latest single from her most recent album “Anti.” 

“This is such an amazing moment in my career,” she told the audience after being presented with the award by collaborator Drake. “My success started as my dream. And now it's not my own, its my family’s, my fans, women, black women … so many people.”

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