The MTV Video Music Awards is an annual treat for music fans. After all, you can always count on the show to deliver memorable television, be it a surprise performance, a controversial outfit, a fight or a stage crasher.
The show’s 30-plus year history is well-documented, but when it comes to the here and now, the buzz is, once again, palpable. Billboard spoke to VMAs executive producers Van Toffler and Garrett English at Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theater, where rehearsals had begun on Thursday, Aug. 27. What can be expected on Sunday night? Here are five MTV moments to watch for…
All About Miley:
Not a network known to steer clear of controversy, MTV takes a calculated risk in having pop superstar Miley Cyrus host this year’s show. The EPs’ hope: that millions will tune in to see what Cyrus wears, says and does, lest anyone forget the foam finger and Robin Thicke grind of 2013.
The backlash that ensued is nothing new for the MTV brass, but when NBC’s Today Show called for the channel to fire Van Toffler the day after, it took all by surprise. “I couldn’t really believe the reaction to it,” says Toffler. “I think it was simply that Miley was known as Hannah Montana, a child star and then she chose to show the world she was an adult with some provocative dancing.”
But now, Toffler adds: “She feels like the perfect host. She’s that that great marriage of music credibility, candor, she uses social media so well to express herself and she’s provocative and chaotic and unpredictable, everything we want for this show.”
English says the singer is at the top of her game and calls the decision to have her host the show a “no-brainer.” Fans can expect some “taped pieces and some moments on stage and various other things,” he reveals. “There is room for change over the next couple of days, so we’re excited to see what happens.”
How do the producers plan to deal with things getting out of hand? “We have [planned] a lot of wide camera shots and a lot of audience reaction shows,” Toffler deadpans. “And we have a delay so we’re prepared for her.”
Kanye Gets His Due:
Rapper Kanye West will receive the Michael Jackson Vanguard Award for his contributions to the visual medium. The always outspoken personality has a long history with the VMAs, famously bombarding Taylor Swift at the 2009 show and proclaiming that Beyoncé deserved the award for Best Female Video.
So, what are the chances that Swift will be the one who presents West with the Vanguard Award? “There’s a chance for anything,” says Toffler with a sly smile. “She’ll be here, so you never know.”
Adds English: “Kanye West sort of personifies the values of the Vanguard Award. I think we are honored to have him here and we’re really excited that he’s gonna be a part of it and to celebrate what he’s done.”
While the VMAs aren’t the Grammys, a show that traditionally delivers more than a dozen unusual artist pairings, the MTV fest is good for a unique collaboration or two. Some standout moments of the past include: Madonna, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera famously kicking off the 2003 edition with a three-way kiss, Chris Brown and Rihanna teaming up in 2007 and the aforementioned Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus performance in 2013.
The 2015 show will feature one such team up, between A$AP Rocky and Twenty One Pilots. They will be performing a new song that English promises will be a “fantastic collaboration between the two acts” and “a fun new music moment in the show.”
The Microsoft Theater’s orchestra section will be jammed with celebrities on Sunday night and Billboard got a sneak peek at where some of those notables are sitting. Kanye West and the Kardashian clan have been assigned to be in the front row dead, sitting dead center in the same row as Britney Spears. Behind them are John Legend, his wife Chrissy Teigen and Ne-Yo.
Meanwhile, Taylor Swift is one section over in the front row and seating very close to Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson and The Weeknd. Justin Bieber is in the third row on the aisle next to Tori Kelly, who are both behind Nick Jonas. No word yet on where Nicki Minaj may end up.
Stage From Space:
The Microsoft Theater is one of the most TV-friendly venues in Los Angeles, beloved by producers for its flexibility. To wit: the VMAs had over 2,000 seats removed to make room for a massive stage, which houses multiple spots for performances, presentations and, of course, acceptance speeches.
Featuring a slick 3-D element that uses perpendicular-hanging LED lights to give the audience the illusion of flying through space, the stage might remind some of Star Wars’ Millennium Falcon blasting off into hyperspace.
Says English, “We’ve been playing around with this sort of visual glitch concept. So it’s been probably about eight months worth of development in terms of coming up with the concept and how it is all coming together. It’s a pretty immersive environment. I think it will play on a very large scale on camera but also has the capacity to be really intimate, which you will see on the show.”
See it all go down when the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards air on Sunday (Aug. 30) at 9 p.m. (ET).