Sept. 14, 2009 -- The memory of Michael Jackson dominated MTV's Video Music Awards Sunday night, but in keeping with the ceremony's reputation for being the music industry's most raucous party, the show was anything but somber.
Madonna opened the two-and-a-half hour long extravaganza at NYC's Radio City Music Hall, calling the late King of Pop a hero and sharing an anecdote about the man she got to know over dinner and a movie in 1991. She signed off with the simple declaration, "He was the king. Long live the king," vacating the stage as Jackson's "Thriller" video took over the big screen and performers broke into his iconic graveyard dance.
"Thriller" merged into a medley of Jackson's greatest hits that led up to the night's marquee act: Janet Jackson, clad in black patent leather, dancing in sync with Michael against the backdrop of their 1995 duet, "Scream." She nailed it, paying tribute to her late brother like only his sister could.
The VMAs closed with a preview of "This Is It," the documentary of rehearsal footage for what would have been Jackson's long-awaited and final series of concerts, which hits theaters for two weeks beginning Oct. 28. Though brief, the trailer alone depicts Jackson's dedication to his fans in vivid detail.
"This is an adventure, a great adventure," Jackson says about his show in the two-in-a-half-minute clip. "We want to take them places that they've never been before. We want to show them a time that they've never seen before." (Go to ThisIsIt-Movie.com for the full trailer and more info.)
VMA Highlights: Kanye West vs. Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga's Grandiose Getups
But Kanye West stole the spotlight from Jackson, and fittingly, did so by stealing the microphone from someone else: Taylor Swift, during her acceptance speech for Best Female Video, the first award of the night.
As the 19-year-old embraced her first Moon Man statue and started speaking, West made his way onto the stage, grabbed the mic and interrupted, "Yo Taylor, I'm really happy for you, I'm gonna let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time."
While some of the audience clapped for West's endorsement of Beyonce Knowles, whose "Single Ladies" was nominated for Video of the Year but not Best Female Video, many started booing when producers ushered both West and Swift off the stage, cutting off her chance to finish her speech. (It should be noted that West, who infamously threw a tantrum backstage at the 2007 VMAs when he failed to bag any trophies, would probably have been quick to bang out a caps-locked rant like "WTF MAKES TAYLOR SWIFT THINK SHE CAN STEAL STAGE TIME FROM ME?????????" on his blog had their roles been reversed. )
But the celebrity wheel of karma came full circle and all worked out in the end. Swift got another go at the mic thanks to an uber-gracious Knowles, who offered Swift the opportunity to finish her speech after winning the Video of the Year award.
And true to form, West apologized to Swift by posting the following on his blog late Sunday night: "I'M SOOOOO SORRY TO TAYLOR SWIFT AND HER FANS AND HER MOM. I SPOKE TO HER MOTHER RIGHT AFTER AND SHE SAID THE SAME THING MY MOTHER WOULD'VE SAID. SHE IS VERY TALENTED!" Late Monday he took to his blog again to compare the incident to the movie "Meet the Parents." "I feel like Ben Stiller in "Meet the Parents" when he messed up everything and Robert De Niro asked him to leave," Kanye wrote. "That was Taylor's moment and I had no right in any way to take it from her. I am truly sorry."
More From the VMAs
Other moments of note included:
Swift singing the song that won her a VMA, "You Belong With Me," on a subway platform and then a moving subway car.
Pink performing her hit "Sober" while simultaneously suspended in mid-air in a trapeze act.
Host Russell Brand apologizing to the Jonas Brothers for making fun of their chastity vows at last year's VMAs, then adding that they had to forgive him regardless because they're Christian.
Jay-Z and Alicia Keys bringing down the house with their duet of "Empire State of Mind," off the epic rapper's just-dropped album, "The Blueprint 3."
But Lady Gaga deserves special mention. The pop sensation of the moment showed up with Kermit the Frog on her arm and orchestrated no less than three wardrobe changes from red carpet to ceremony's end. Her accoutrements included a gold neck brace, a feather-adored Victorian-esque collar, a white, spiky face-framing wreath and a red lace face mask/hat.
Gaga stripped off that last head-enveloping accessory while accepting the award for Best New Artist, the better to clearly thank "God and the gays." For at least a few seconds, everyone could read the enigmatic pop star's poker face just fine.