Pink, ''Blow Me (One Last Kiss)''
Just when you were thinking, ”An aerial act? Again?” Pink pulled out something far crazier: a full lineup of dancing lips. And not just dancing, either. They sang, blew confetti, and perform a Bathing Beauty-worthy routine — part Rockettes, part Rocky Horror — in black lace lingerie. And leading them all is Pink, somehow totally pulling off a rockabilly fauxhawk paired with sequined hot pants and suspenders, getting carried away by her lip ladies with all the grace of the lady in the moon. A
Green Day, ''Let Yourself Go''
Leave it to the sole punk band on the bill to paint an X on the ground and call it a stage. Playing a loud-fast bruiser from their forthcoming album ¡Uno!, Green Day kept it classic: no neon pyramids,no dancing lips, just the best bad attitude of the night. (”Who wants to be on TV?” sneered Billie Joe. ”Let’s go!”) Extra points for wearing that Pussy Riot t-shirt, backup guy. B+
Frank Ocean, ''Thinking About You''
The space-camp-on-fire set was the only overstated thing on stage when the R&B wunderkind unfurled his spare falsetto ballad. Ocean’s performance was a little bit Prince, a little bit D’Angelo, and a whole lot of his own quiet-storm charisma. B+
Taylor Swift, ''We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together''
Awesome song, but didn’t that performance feel a little like an Old Navy commercial? And didn’t the furry costumes look a little too Oogieloves? Oh well. Did we mention it’s an awesome song? Even Swift’s never-ever-again ex-boyfriend (though not, reportedly, the target of this particular kiss-off) thought so, judging by that lingering shot of Taylor Lautner, clapping politely as the camera zoomed in. MTV, why you gotta be so mean? B+
Alicia Keys feat Nicki Minaj, ''Girl on Fire''
Keys bowed her new, no-not-actually-Hunger-Games-related single ”Girl on Fire” (or more accurately, ”Girl on Fiy-ahhhh”) on a relatively unadorned set — just giant matrix-dot dancing ladies projected overhead, and her own gladiatrix-with-a-piano fierceness at the center. Minaj’s guest spot was serviceable, but quickly upstaged by little Gabby Douglas, bringing her casual ”Oh, this old Olympic-champion thing?” bendypants magic to her floor-routine cameo. As for the song itself? First listens at a show like this are always tough, but its banging backbeat and ”oh-oh-whoa-whoa” chorus built quickly, and well. B+
Rihanna, ''Cockiness'' and ''We Found Love''
Rihanna kicked off the 2012 VMAs with all the necessary elements of a killer Rihanna performance: A fresh look (red chiffon! head wraps!), rapid-fire choreography (crotch pats!), and no shortage of phallic imagery (we all know what the snakes stand for, RiRi). ”Cockiness” was just a throbbing, slinky set-up for ”We Found Love,” which saw Rihanna storm into the crowd and surf across Calvin Harris’ pulsing groove. Even A$AP Rocky tricked out as a baseball umpire from the future couldn’t derail the balloon-drop finale. B
One Direction, ''One Thing''
For a VMAs debut that was hyped non-stop since the pre-show, One Direction’s showing was strangely formless. After elevating their way to the stage, the band low-fived their way through ”One Thing” on their way to that elevated platform that Rihanna already used. Though the girls on stage were going predictably ham, the rest of the audience reaction was mixed: Katy Perry was clearly swooning (she is officially 1D’s Mrs. Robinson), but Zöe Saldana was completely non-plussed. We’re with Uhara on this one. C for the performance, A+ for Garnier Maximum Hold Spray, or whatever else was keeping those coifs aloft.
2 Chainz, ''Yuck'' and ''No Worries''
2 Chainz is best absorbed in small doses — he’s like Waka Flocka Flame, but without as much manic energy. So his five minutes on stage at the VMAs were sort of static. He barked his way through the opening verses, then welcomed a skateboarding Lil’ Wayne to the stage (though it seemed to take a minute or two before Wayne’s mic went live? Correct us if we’re wrong). Sure, we get that Chainz and Weezy are supposed to be guttural representations of the raw power of hip-hop, but this is the VMAs. Where’s our acrobats? Our lightning strikes? Would it have killed them to light Weezy’s dreads on fire for a few seconds? A little bit of staging goes a long way, guys. C-