One of the night’s big winners: Taylor Swift, whose shrewd decision to go nowhere near this shitshow was a reminder that actual stars do help make award galas more stellar. Because as she must have known, this was strictly Beyoncé’s night, and Beyoncé made everybody else who set foot onstage look like a sniffly child.
Britney Spears stormed the MTV Video Music Awards stage on Sunday night, performing her scintillating new single “Make Me” from her recently released seventh album Glory. She enlisted rapper and collaborator G-Eazy to help her celebrate the track live.
Our take on pop star’s ninth album
Spears started the performance alone, dancing in front of a large projector screen. Her gold outfit represented the main color onstage, with her dancers wearing black and white.
G-Eazy sauntered onstage, mugging for the camera when he wasn’t casually rapping his verses. Spears danced around him suggestively, with the two performers ending the song with a quick hug.
“Make Me” has helped solidify G-Eazy as one of the hottest collaborators in music. “It was just a no-brainer,” he told Rolling Stoneabout getting the call from Spears to do the track. “That’s [the] kind of thing you just drop whatever you’re doing to do … Watching the VMAs when we were kids, [Spears] was one of the biggest entertainers in the world.”
Spears has had a colorful VMA history, including the epic 2003 show in which she performed Madonna’s “Like A Virgin.” At the end of the performance, Madonna memorably kissed both Spears and fellow pop queen Christina Aguilera onstage. Spears won Best Pop Video in back-to-back years in 2008, 2009 and again in 2011. That year, Lady Gaga presented her with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award.
We’re lying in the sun, getting pleasantly sloshed, when Halsey confesses that she’s read a story I wrote for Rolling Stone in April, about Planned Parenthood and a miscarriage I had. “I felt like I was suffocating reading that article,” she says. “Like someone put a shopping bag over my head. I didn’t want to meet you at all. I was really terrified of you, because I knew as soon as I saw you, I was going to need to tell you that last year on tour I got pregnant.” Then, at a breathless pace, she’s describing being in a hotel room in Chicago before Badlands even came out, back when her whole career could have easily been ruined (“What happens? Do I lose my record deal? Do I lose everything? Or do I keep [the pregnancy]? What are the fans going to think? What are the moms going to think? What is the Midwest going to think? What’s fucking everyone going to think?”), and before she can even decide what to do, she’s screaming on a hotel bed, bloody, naked from the waist down, hours before she’s to go onstage. “I’m like, ‘I have to cancel this show!’ And everyone’s kind of like, 'Well, it’s Vevo LIFT, and it’s 3 million impressions, so …’ No one knew what to do.” Eventually, Halsey sent her assistant to the drugstore to buy adult diapers. She put one on, took two Percocet and went to the venue to do her job. “It’s the angriest performance that I’ve ever done in my life,” she says, her voice breaking. “That was the moment of my life where I thought to myself, 'I don’t feel like a fucking human being anymore.’ This thing, this music, Halsey, whatever it is that I’m doing, took precedence and priority over every decision that I made regarding this entire situation from the moment I found out until the moment it went wrong. I walked offstage and went into the parking lot and just started throwing up.”
Halsey says she isn’t sure why she had a miscarriage, but it’s easy for her to blame herself. “I beat myself up for it,” she tells me, “because I think that the reason it happened is just the lifestyle I was living. I wasn’t drinking. I wasn’t doing drugs. I was fucking overworked – in the hospital every couple of weeks because I was dehydrated, needing bags of IVs brought to my greenroom. I was anemic, I was fainting. My body just broke the fuck down.” The part that bothers her most is that, as insane as it was to play that concert, no one forced her to do it. “I had a choice,” she says, though she did the thing that made her feel like she didn’t. She looks off toward the fields where children play in the distance. “I want to be a mom more than I want to be a pop star. More than I want to be anything in the world.” Later, she says, “I’m really scared of being alone.” We sit on the blanket, clutching our drinks. “I’m not trying to upset you,” she says softly. “I’m really sorry.” - Rolling Stone Magazine
Bay Area rapper Daveed Diggs had never seen a Broadway show before he was cast as Hamilton nemesis Thomas Jefferson. “I knew Fiddler on the Roof, because my mom really liked that and we always had the album around the house growing up, and that was about it,” Diggs says. “But I was totally intrigued the second I heard the demos of the songs in Hamilton and read through the music. The rapping is good – that’s what really got me.”
“When you’re developing your voice as a rapper, you figure out your cadence – your swag – and that’s how you write,” Diggs says. “Lin managed to figure that out for all of these different characters – everyone has their own swag, and it feels germane to them. And that’s really impressive. Hercules Mulligan [a Hamilton pal who spied on the loyalists during the American Revolution] raps exactly like a dude named Hercules Mulligan!”
Even more radical than the catholic musical approach is Hamilton’s reckoning with our country’s creation myth. There’s an almost indescribable power in seeing the Founders, in an otherwise historically rigorous production, portrayed by a young, multiracial cast. “It is quite literally taking the history that someone has tried to exclude us from and reclaiming it,” says Leslie Odom Jr., who comes close to stealing the show with his turn as Hamilton killer Aaron Burr. “We are saying we have the right to tell it too.” If every presidential administration gets at least one mass-cultural moment it deserves, then Hamilton has become the Obama era’s Wall Street, its 24, its Spice World – even more so, perhaps, because the show has actually managed to fulfill candidate Obama’s promise to bridge the divide between Red and Blue America. Fans of Hamilton include Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Dick Cheney and the president himself.
Christopher Jackson, Hamilton’s towering George Washington, has known Miranda the longest of any of the major cast members, having previously starred in In the Heights. “Lin told me about his idea for Hamilton a few days after that fateful vacation,” Jackson recalls. “We were actually onstage doing Heights. He said, 'I’ve got the next thing. It’s about the Treasury secretary!’ And then he paused, and before I could say, 'What?!’ the music started and we had to do '96,000.’ When Ron Chernow came to see Heights, I had never seen Lin that nervous. He said, 'Ron Chernow’s here!’ I said, 'What does that mean?’ And he said, 'The show needs to go well today.’”
Odom first saw a workshop version of Hamilton at Vassar and found himself responding, almost viscerally, to “The Story of Tonight,” an early number in which Hamilton and three friends (Mulligan, the Marquis de Lafayette and John Laurens) boisterously drink together in a tavern on the eve of the Revolution. “That’s the one that made me a puddle, because it was four men of color onstage singing a song about friendship and brotherhood and love, and I had never seen that in a musical,” Odom says. “I had seen white guys do it, in Jersey Boys, in Les Miz. Never seen a black guy. So I was a mess, and from that point, I was along for the ride.”
Phillipa Soo, who makes her Broadway debut as Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, says that she had to figure out her relationship to her stage husband, to answer questions like, “Who is this man to me, and why do I love him?” In the end, she realized her “research was already here for me. It became less about finding facts about Eliza and Alexander Hamilton and more about just watching Lin. I remember him coming into the rehearsal room in his slippers, because he’d been across the street writing. And I was like, 'Oh, my God, this guy is nonstop!’ Kind of like Hamilton.”