Taylor Swift’s World-Conquering Opening Medley
As Lover continues to crush the competition during its first week of release, Taylor Swift popped by the VMAs for a winning night that began with an undeniable performer. “You Need To Calm Down” got the eye-popping, candy-colored treatment, but it was the Lover title track that left the lasting imprint; seeing Swift onstage, with a guitar in her arms and the audience swaying along with the song, made for a surprisingly affecting throwback to the early part of her career.
Another Hilarious Cardi B Acceptance Speech!
This time for Best Hip-Hop, the rap superstar cackled, goaded on a “Car-di!” chant and thanked her “Money” director Jora Frantzis for helping to “smooth my cellulites out” in post-production. Cardi would return later to honor Missy Elliott, but each and every Cardi B awards show acceptance should be appreciated for the wonder it inevitably brings.
J Balvin & Rosalia Get Emotional, Urge Amazon Action.
It was truly touching to watch Balvin bow down to Rosalia when “Con Altura” took home the Best Latin trophy, and inspiring to hear the Latin star implore viewers to take action with regards to the environmental crisis in the Amazon rainforest. Meanwhile, Rosalia appeared choked up when getting on the mic for her first major English-language awards-show acceptance: “I come from Barcelona,” she said. “I’m so happy to be here representing where I come from.”
Lizzo’s Mid-Song Monologue.
The combination of “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell” was always going to pay off for the rising star, with the latter finding Lizzo chugging from a flash and her dancers engaging in a literal hair toss when they simultaneously removed their wigs. Yet it was her mid-song speech, about earning her place on that stage and changing the industry around her to find acceptance, that made for the most memorable moment in a night full of them for the new powerhouse.
Jonas Brothers Traipsing Around Asbury Park.
Who doesn’t love a good Jersey Shore trip? Playing “Sucker” from the Stone Pony, the JoBros stepped outside and let the girlish screams wash over them before pivoting to rising single “Only Human” and bringing a little ska-tinged pop-rock to the boardwalk. Maybe if we’re lucky they’ll indulge in another beach bash for Labor Day Weekend.
Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” Jokes
Kudos to the new all-time Hot 100 king for delivering a spirited, choreo-heavy performance of follow-up single “Panini,” but the pre-taped video prior to the performance -- from a distant future, in which “Old Town Road” Remix No. 3162 was being teased -- was priceless fun, especially when “Old Thug” was teased as one of the guests. Later, when he accepted the Song of the Year award with Billy Ray Cyrus, the rapper declared that “This is my first award, ever, before dropping a ridiculously long scroll as a faux-speech. Never say that Lil Nas X lacks a funny bone!
Missy Elliott’s Show-Stopping Medley...
The recipient of this year’s Video Vanguard award in honor of groundbreaking visual work, Missy Elliott’s return to the VMAs stage felt fiercely earned, and all of her hits sounded like they hadn’t aged one bit. Songs like “Get Ur Freak On,” “Work It” and “Lose Control” are all over a decade old, but that certainly didn’t stop the Prudential Center from buying into their combined energy, and Missy from re-creating some of her iconic visuals (the fish-eye lens for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”! The farm from “Pass That Dutch”!).
...And Her Lovely Acceptance Speech.
“I have worked diligently for over two decades, and I never thought I would be up here,” Missy Elliott told the crowd while accepting the Video Vanguard trophy. Like Elliott herself, the speech was wholly unique: Busta Rhymes, Janet Jackson, Peter Gabriel and Madonna got shout-outs for inspiring her music video verve, while the “next generation” of dancers, as well as the dance community at large, were honored for being instrumental to her vision. She said she wasn’t going to cry giving the speech, but you’d be forgiven if you shed a tear or two at home.
Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello Nearly Kissing At Every Turn.
They know what we want to see, and their denial of a quick smooch has turned deliciously theatrical. The two young superstars have tremendous chemistry regardless, as new No. 1 single “Señorita” gave the back half of the telecast an alluring highlight.
John Travolta’s Video of the Year Near-Screw-Up.
We didn’t know we needed another Adele Dazeem, but we sure got it at the VMAs.
Taylor Swift Calling For Political Action.
While accepting the video of the year award for “You Need To Calm Down,” Swift urged the White House to do the exact opposite of her song title, pressing the Trump administration to move on the Equality Act, which has “five times the amount” of signatures needed to warrant a response. The watch-tap pantomime was meme-ready, but Swift’s words will hopefully result in real change.
Miley Cyrus’ Raw Emotion.
Cyrus’ new single “Slide Away” is a somber look at a spoiled relationship, and the pop singer -- who certainly has a colorful history at the VMAs -- went black-and-white for a stripped-down performance, with a full orchestra behind her. Although the heartache was genuine, Cyrus never let her vocals fall anywhere below riveting.
H.E.R. and Normani Providing Black Girl Magic.
Grouping H.E.R. and Normani into a single performance felt a little clumsy given how different their respective sounds are, but the joint bill capped off a magnificent night for women of color: H.E.R. was thoughtful as ever while performing in front of an evolving green screen, and then Normani showed off her show-stopping dance moves on new hit “Motivation.” Both have distinct voices, and will be around for a long time.
Big Sean and A$AP Ferg Represent Modern Hip-Hop.
While Missy Elliott deserved her due and New Jersey rap pioneers were given a medley, it was also nice to see two 2010s stars take the stage and spit with abandon. Big Sean and A$AP Ferg’s “Bezerk” performance stayed simple and focused on the rhymes, which was all we needed from these two technicians anyway.
Multiple Spanish-Language Performances Bring the VMAs Global.
How encouraging it was to see a pair of performances -- first Rosalia with an assist from Ozone and her many dancers, and then J Balvin and Bad Bunny wandering through their own cartoon universe -- opening the Video Music Awards up to an international audience with hits like “Aute Cuture” and “Que Pretendes.” A smart decision from MTV was boosted from a handful of talented and deeply charismatic rising Latin artists.
A New Jersey Hip-Hop Tribute? Why Not!
Grouping Redman, Naughty By Nature, Fetty Wap, Wyclef Jean and Queen Latifah together to celebrate the Garden State -- since the show was in Newark, after all -- sure was a strange way to end the ceremony, but hey, who doesn’t want to hear “O.P.P.,” or watch Queen Latifah ride a motorcycle? This will probably be the only New Jersey hip-hop tribute in VMAs history, so let’s just enjoy it, I guess!