The Best Moments From The MTV VMAs

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Lil Nas X accepts Best Direction for «Montero (Call Me by Your Name)» onstage during the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday in New York City.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

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Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Lil Nas X accepts Best Direction for «Montero (Call Me by Your Name)» onstage during the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday in New York City.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

MTV’s Video Music Awards returned to the stage after 2020’s socially distanced show. The show also marked the network’s milestone 40th year.

It was a big night for Olivia Rodrigo, Justin Bieber and Lil Nas X, among others. Here are some of the memorable moments and «Moon person» winners.

Standout performances and memorable moments

The night saw performances from Justin Bieber, Camila Cabello, Chlöe, Lil Nas X, Machine Gun Kelly, Kacey Musgraves, Ed Sheeran, Alicia Keys, Busta Rhymes, Olivia Rodrigo, Shawn Mendes, Twenty One Pilots and others. Watch those videos here.

Some stars were making their VMA debuts with brand new songs. Musgraves performed «Star-Crossed,» the title track off her recently released studio album, while Chlöe (who you may know as half of the sister R&B duo Chlöe x Halle) performed her debut solo single «Have Mercy» onstage for the first time.

Other veterans returned to the stage: Brooklyn legend Busta Rhymes performed a medley of some of his biggest hits, while Alicia Keys honored the anniversary of 9/11 by finishing her performance with a piano version of «Empire State of Mind.»

Some other notable moments, as collected by MTV: Olivia Rodrigo descended onstage from a cloud (Good 4 Her, honestly), Doja Cat danced mid-air after being introduced by fellow gravity-defier Simone Biles (and later accepted an award dressed as a worm) and the Foo Fighters received the VMA’s first-ever Global Icon Award.

See USA Today’s ranking of the performances.

A star-studded roster of nominees and winners

Justin Bieber led with seven nominations, followed by Megan Thee Stallion (who got six but went home empty-handed). Billie Eilish, BTS, Doja Cat, Drake, Lil Nas X, Olivia Rodrigo and Giveon each got five nominations.

Lil Nas X won the top prize for video of the year with «Montero (Call Me By Your Name),» then began his acceptance speech by thanking «the gay agenda.» That video also won for best direction and best visual effects.

Justin Bieber won the awards for artist of the year and shared «best pop» with Daniel Caesar and Giveon for «Peaches.»

Olivia Rodrigo’s «Drivers License» won song of the year and best push performance of the year. She also took home the award for best new artist.

Here’s the full list.

A milestone birthday

The awards show paid tribute to MTV’s history from start to finish.

It opened with a surprise appearance from Madonna, a VMA legend with 20 moon person awards to her name.

The queen of pop celebrated her decades-long relationship with MTV — and New York City — in a video sequence that showed her in the back of a taxi, in Times Square and eventually live onstage at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, surrounding by screens projecting some of her iconic music videos (and dropping her trench coat to reveal a cheeky leather outfit).

SURPRISE! The #VMAs begin with an introduction from the one and only @Madonna

— MTV NEWS (@MTVNEWS) September 13, 2021

«Forty years ago, another underdog arrived in New York City, hoping to create something revolutionary. An all-music channel premiered in the middle of the night and called itself MTV,» Madonna said. «We found each other and formed a bond that changed my life, changed music and created a whole new art form. That’s why there’s only one place to be tonight.»

  • Alicia Keys
  • Justin Bieber
  • mtv

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