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There were highs and—of course—some lows from last night’s MTV Video Music Awards held in New York City.

Beyoncé has now surpassed Madonna for most VMA wins. The singer, who arrived with her daughter Blue Ivy in tow, performed a mashup of several pieces from her visual album Lemonade, captivating every soul who watched. As someone who loved Lemonade at first watch (unlike Beyoncé’s previous album), I found it very impressive to see her pouring out her heart and the complex emotions of a woman scorned, fresh on the stage. I don’t know why she had to wear a pseudo-thong while doing so, but apparently these are the VMAs, an event where every single female who performed on the main stage wore either a bodysuit tailored to accentuate her butt hanging out or a halter top showing underboob. Indeed there was not a single female musical performer who did not exploit her sexuality while showcasing her music. Thanks, Madonna?

No, seriously, I wondered if Madonna realized that her novel performances decades earlier, pushing the envelope of expressing female sexuality in music, would usher in an era when it became the new conformism. Because all things considered, at the end of the night, Beyoncé’s outfit was comparatively tame, and at least her performance was talent plus sex, whereas others, such as Britney Spears’, were just sexual (very creepy predatory vibe with the shadow hands, BTW).

Incidentally, though, among the most powerful performances of the evening was the only one sung by a woman fully dressed. Rihanna sang hit songs “Stay,” “Diamonds,” and “Love on the Brain” right before she was presented with the coveted MTV Video Vanguard Award.

Judging by the Twitter storm that followed, if you heard about Rihanna’s award last night, you probably heard about it in the context of the man who presented the award to her. Rapper and longtime friend Drake presented the award to Rihanna, but not before gushing over his contemporary: “She’s someone I’ve been in love with since I was 22 years old; she’s one of my best friends in the world. All my adult life, I’ve looked up to her even though she’s younger than me. She’s a living, breathing legend in our industry.” Drake then went in for a kiss that Rihanna coolly sidestepped to accept the award, saying, “This is such an important moment in my career.” Don’t steal the lady’s moment, Drake!

Despite himself, though, Drake did give a good speech, the best part of which was this: “What’s most impressive is the person. Some artists need to play a character to achieve success; some need to downplay their own natural instincts to blend in. She succeeds by doing something no one in this industry does, which is being herself. This woman has surpassed all competition while still being the same girl from Barbados surrounded by the same friends, speaking with the same accent. . . .” Rihanna’s rocky personal life aside, Drake’s words highlight a quality that is rare and that everyone would benefit from implementing—and certainly a vision the music industry could use more of. Less playing a character to achieve success; less downplaying one’s self to blend in. Yes, please.

Which brings me back to Rihanna’s pre-award performance. If you’re looking for an unadulterated, heartfelt, quality performance from a female vocalist at the VMAs, these five minutes are all you need to watch. Yes, folks, Rihanna supplied the classiest moment of the evening. The understated delivery was the one that most pushed the envelope—a brief moment of reprieve from the narrow mold all the other performances partook in. A vanguard moment, indeed.

Photo Credit: ET Online