Who booked all the amateur acts to open for Beyoncé?
Amateurs, anyway, is what Beyoncé made a room full of stars look like when she closed the
Finally, there was the name of an artist she might've recognized from her own league.
Would the production that preceded Beyoncé's mini-concert have seemed as lackluster without her to measure it against? It's impossible to say. But there's no denying that this year's edition of the VMAs -- an awards show celebrated for its anything-goes factor -- felt decidedly tame, especially as compared with the 2013 edition, which climaxed with
Another dogged striver,
Several acts made deeper impacts. Sam Smith was a model of centered intensity as he looked directly into the camera during "Stay With Me," his beseeching torch song.
And after announcing last week to much fanfare that she'd appear again on the VMAs, Cyrus brilliantly upended expectations by sending a young homeless man to accept her award for video of the year. As the man exhorted the entertainment industry to address the homeless situation in the United States, Cyrus looked on in apparent tears, an enfant terrible turned grown-up bleeding heart.
Yet even that surprising move had only a fraction of the gravitas that Beyoncé brought to her grand finale. A sort of rapid-fire digest of her portion of the shared stadium tour she's on with Jay Z, the performance pulled from all manner of sounds and styles, juxtaposing harsh electronic beats and rubbery neo-soul bass, staccato hip-hop rhythms and sweeping vocal melodies. It had dancing that was equally expansive, with severe head-snapping choreography giving way to the singer's writhing on a pole. And then there was Beyoncé's bedazzled leotard, a costume at once flashier and more refined than anybody else's on Sunday.
The show business was, as one of her songs put it, flawless. But what really set her apart was the lifelike range of feeling she was using all that technique to put across. A lover's sexual hunger, a mother's tender devotion, a feminist's impatience with small minds -- Beyoncé embodied them all in a way that made the rest of the VMAs feel brittle and one-dimensional.
"I'm so full," she said as she embraced her family and soaked in the crowd's adulation. You can add self-knowledge to her list of attributes.