Eminem, Taylor Swift and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were among the winners during Sunday night's live webcast from New York. But the awards were sort of beside the point as Jonze and others directed live videos with Eminem, Gaga, M.I.A. and rapper Earl Sweatshirt, and Schwartzman and Watts careened about the soundstage with only notecards to point the way.
Eminem was named artist of the year before performing a word-perfect version of his new lung-busting tour de force "Rap God," filmed in black and white. Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble" won YouTube phenomenon and Macklemore and Lewis won YouTube breakthrough.
Actress Gina Gerwig kicked the awards off as the protagonist of a live video of Arcade Fire's "Afterlife," directed by Jonze. Gerwig appears to break up with her boyfriend, then expresses the emotions she's feeling in an interpretive dance that moves from apartment to forest to soundstage with a little visual trickery.
A short while later Schwartzman and Watts admitted they would be working the 90-minute show without a script - with just notecards standing between them and awkward pauses and brief technical difficulties.
"This is all about anything happening," Schwartzman said, and it sort of did.
Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler stepped into the shot to take photos with his iPhone, the show's hosts ran through the crowd a few times, climbed a ladder, participated in face-painting, performed not one but two improvised songs and in the show's most awkward moment carried babies through the crowd and tried to interview Macklemore and Lewis as they cried.
"So do we get to keep the babies?" Macklemore asked.
Schwartzman said the night was about creativity, and it certainly was creative.
Earl Sweatshirt and fellow rapper Tyler, the Creator, performed their song "Sasquatch" in the midst of a mosh pit, using hand-held cameras to relay the frenetic experience. Lady Gaga went the opposite way, performing her new song "Dope" wearing just a black cap, sunglasses and a plaid shirt. She sat alone at a piano, with the camera tight on her face. She removed the glasses to reveal tears on her face as she sang.
Avicii played the dumb hot guy part in a short film that concluded with a blood-spattered faked double suicide and Butler made a return to the stage when he jokingly interrupted as a group of Swift fans accepted her award, recreating the infamous moment when Kanye West rushed the stage during Swift's win at the MTV Video Music Awards.
"Not Taylor Swift," Butler said. "I'm gonna let you finish. Not Taylor Swift. The YouTube phenomenon of the year was definitely the 'Harlem Shake.' I don't know. No disrespect, but everybody knows that if you've ever been on YouTube, so whatever." He then dropped the mic and walked off stage.
Other winners included Girls' Generation, DeStorm and Lindsey Stirling and Pentatonix.
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