The XX Factor

Lady Gaga and Florence and the Machine Steal the VMAs

Before last night’s MTV Video Music Awards aired, the buzz on women in the awards show was all about hostess Chelsea Handler, the first woman to host the VMAs since Roseanne Barr led the show in 1994. Though some reviewers were diplomatic- EW called Handler’s performance “workmanlike” -others were less generous. The New York Times Jon Caramanica sums up the more common reaction to Handler’s hosting : “She was among the worst in the show’s history-purposefully out-of-touch, with brief, alarming flashes of off-color racial humor.” On Twitter, former MTV VJ Dave Holmes added, ” Our culture deserves better than Chelsea Handler.”

However, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t remarkable women on last night’s show, specifically Florence Welch, the stunning “flame-haired” lead singer of Florence and the Machine , and Lady Gaga. Florence’s voice was strong and true when performing her hit song (best known as the music in the Eat Pray Love Trailer ) “Dog Days Are Over.” Lady Gaga had a great night as well, winning eight awards , but even more noteworthy is how she chose to use her time on stage: to honor her guests, three soldiers affected by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Gaga’s guests included Katie Miller, the West Point class of ‘12 dropout who left the academy because she didn’t want to serve in an environment where she had to hide her sexual orientation. In her acceptance speech for best female video, which she won for “Bad Romance,” Gaga said, “Thank you to the discharged soldiers who came with me tonight, I love you.”

The other much-talked- about moment was when Taylor Swift performed the song she wrote about Kayne West stealing her thunder at last year’s VMAs. For those who missed the kerfuffle, when Taylor Swift went on stage to collect an award at the 2009 VMAs, Kanye snatched it out of her hand and ranted about how Beyonce deserved the prize. Yes, that’s right, there was a whole performance devoted to that time when “[o]ne millionaire was mildly mean to another millionaire,” as Choire Sicha put it in the Daily Beast last year . For a more genuine clip, check out that Gaga acceptance speech, where she tears up talking about the late Alexander McQueen, who provided the costumes for her “Bad Romance” video. Underneath her considerable artifice, it seemed like a true moment (though Camille Paglia begs to differ ).