Inside the Puppy Room, the 2017 iHeartRadio MMVAs' Backstage Highlight

Courtesy of Much
“Issues” singer-songwriter Julia Michaels won’t let go of this puppy from the Paw Pup Room iHeartRadio MMVA Awards.

Better than any award, the hit of the night at the 2017 iHeartRadio MMVAs in Toronto on Sunday (June 18) was the backstage puppy room. Among the cuddlers of the nine six-week-old, Husky-mix furballs in the Paw Pup Room were Joe Jonas, Imagine Dragons, Camila Cabello, Post Malone, Julia Michaels, Tasha The Amazon, Scott Helman, Shawn Hook, LIGHTS, Tyler Oakley, Lilly Singh, The Tragically Hip’s Rob Baker, and Grimes.

Michaels, who performed “Issues” on the Canadian televised music video awards show, told Billboard, “It was the first thing I did when I got here. I actually named one of them. There’s one that has a green bow with white stripes on it. I named him Daniel.” (The puppies actually already had auto-inspired names, including including Ferrari, Lamborghini and Miata.)

The writer behind songs for Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez has her own dog at home, Sampson, who is almost a year-and-a-half and 90 pounds, so cuddling these little guys brought back memories. “When I got him he was that small and seeing him grow up so fast is so sad. I’m like, ‘No, stay cute and snuggly,’” she laughed.

Dan Kanter -- who has been musical director for artists including Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes and directed Julia Michaels' performance at this year's MMVAs -- joked to Billboard, “Usually the VIP bar is the place to see and be seen; this year it was definitely the puppy room. All the stars were gushing over and cuddling with the puppies.”

The Paw Pup Room, whose adoptable dogs were from Finding Them Homes in Barrie, Ontario, just north of Toronto, was one of the must-stops on the press circuit on the second floor of Bell Media, that included a Q&A room, a photo stop with Toronto photographer George Pimentel, and one-on-ones with key media.

“I didn't hear of anyone that didn't want to come to the room,” executive producer and “champagne puppy” Kyle Joe told Billboard. “We had almost all the stars come in except Lorde, Niall [Horan], and Iggy [Azalea]. Many stars tried to come in multiple times and were upset that they couldn't stay the whole night. We had to nudge Shay Mitchell out and she, jokingly, tried to steal one. Camila didn't want to be anywhere else and both said it was the best thing Much has ever done. I heard Darren Criss was allergic, but that didn't stop him.”

Producer Neil Karassik emailed Billboard some other tidbits behind-the-scenes. The room got so overcrowded they had to add a velvet rope, security guard, and bouncers at both entrances. No stars or couches got peed on — but several Paw Pup Patrol crew members did. Only one puppy peed on the Puppy Red Carpet. Camila Cabello asked them to remove her Ring Pop candy from her finger so she could cuddle the puppies, and was so enthralled she forgot it afterward. 

Joe got the idea for the puppy room from MTV. He was in a production meeting for the MMVAs, brainstorming on how to make people arriving on the red carpet “go really nuts and really lose their minds” and remembered the VMAs had a puppy pen a couple of years ago.

“I said, ‘We need to bring puppies on the red carpet,’ but we didn’t want to over-stress the puppies, so I thought, ‘I need to do a puppy room,’” Joe said. “Plus, I’m not gonna lie, sometimes it’s a struggle to get artists to come and chat with you in these spaces and I need a good lure and what is better than puppies for a lure?  So we worked with this really great organization that adopts puppies and they foster them.”

Rapper Tasha The Amazon, the first female to win best video in the awards’ 27-year history (first known as Canadian Music Video Awards, then MuchMusic Video Awards, then simply as MMVAs and now the iHeartRadio MMVAs) for her track "Picasso Learning,” found herself on the couch doing an interview while one munchkin chewed on her braid.

“The puppies are awesome. They’re really adorable. I think I have all slobbery braids now,” she told Billboard. “I’m normally a cat person but I don’t know the tides might’ve just changed. This is the last press we’re doing so it’s a perfect way to end the night. Hang out with puppies, go to some after-parties. Perfect night.”

Joe said the room was such a success that there was a line for interviews. He said Bell Media plans on bringing it back for future events. “This is not exclusive to the iHeartRadio MMVAs.”