Look, MTV — you knew she was trouble when she walked in. If you didn’t want Taylor Swift wreaking chaos at the MTV Video Music Awards, you shouldn’t have invited her. Tay sure knows how to make a glorious mess on her way to the exit. When she won Video of the Year at the end of the night, for her epic, self-directed “All Too Well (10-Minute Version),” she casually dropped a bombshell. “I thought it would be fun to tell you that I have a brand new album coming out October 21,” she told the crowd. I swear you could hear a hairpin drop, right when we felt the moment stop.
Thanks, Taylor — that’s quite a BTW to drop on your way out, while everybody’s grabbing their coats and jangling their keys, but there was something deliciously star-powered about the moment. And the VMAs this year were all about star power: Nicki Minaj held court all night. Lizzo danced on piano keys. Blackpink and Annita gave star-making performances. And Bad Bunny won Artist of the Year while he was in the middle of a triumphant gig at Yankee Stadium.
Early in the night, Avril Lavigne announced, “So all year long, MTV helps amplify incredible musicians, connecting them with new fans all over the world!” Tragic footnote: This does not, in fact, happen. Nope, MTV notices music once a year, right on schedule, when it’s time to squeeze in a few hours of celebrity glam between innovative ideas like Teen Mom: The Next Chapter and Jersey Shore Family Reunion. Host LL Cool J called it “the biggest music party of the year,” but it feels more like “You think you can handle a night off from Ridiculousness and Catfish?”
Jack Harlow kicked off the show with “First Class,” featuring an assist from Fergie — it was the Dutchess’ most glamorous VMAs moment since she did “London Bridge” on the red carpet in 2007. Jack also served as Lil Nas X’s sidekick when they won for “Industry Baby” — Lil Nas X was one of the show’s most brilliant comic highlights, in a barely-there leather outfit. (“I’m up here like half naked!” he said onstage.) Watching Lil Nas X pose and preen on his walk to the stage was more fun than most of the night’s music.
Nicki Minaj turned the show into her own personal party, winning her long-overdue Video Vanguard Award. As presenter Becky G said, “It’s her night.” Nicki has so much to celebrate — has anyone in history ever won that award while they happen to have the Number One hit? She did a medley of her classics, including “All Things Go,” “Monster,” “Beez in the Trap,” and her current chart-topper “Super Freaky Girl.” She also gave a touching speech giving it up to her rap influences: Lil Wayne, Foxy Brown, Lauryn Hill, Jay-Z, Slick Rick (i.e. “the guy with the thing on his eye,” as she called him in “Super Bass”) and Doug E. Fresh. She added a lot more names later when she won Best Hip-Hop Video, including Salt-N-Pepa, Kid ‘n Play, Elton John, and “Taylor Swift, who had a huge part in the success of ‘Super Bass.’”
The most surprising name on her thank-you list? Mariah Carey, her co-star in one of the most comically beef-intensive American Idol seasons ever. Even a devout Barb like Lil Nas X seemed surprised — the camera caught him with a priceless look of shock on his face. Nicki also paid her respects to the dearly departed. “I don’t know why, y’all,” she said. “But this was in my spirit to say: I wish Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson were here.” She added, “I wish Pop Smoke, and Juice Wrld, and Nipsey Hussle were here.”
Since this is an MTV award show, the night would have been incomplete without a few unbearable moments of DJ Khaled. (He missed last year’s VMAs, a blessing that was too good to last.) DJ Khaled decided to give a theological discourse explaining how God is a huge fan of his music, a claim that the Supreme Being did not seem in any hurry to cosign, though any omnipotent deity probably has access to livelier music than DJ Khaled. (That has to be one of the job’s main perks.)
Blackpink did a sensationally sultry blow-out of “Pink Venom,” their first-ever gig on an American awards show. (Definitely not the last.) Lisa, Jennie, Jisso and Rosé channeled the mojo of a vintage Eighties hair-metal band, strutting their stuff through billows of pink smoke, while boasting about the deadly force of their foxiness. Best moment: Rosé announcing, “I’m so rock & roll!” Yes, she is. Later in the show, Lisa won Best K-Pop Video, setting up a touching moment when her bandmates sent her love from deep in the crowd.
Bad Bunny won Artist of the Year in style — onstage at Yankee Stadium, right after a mighty version of “Titi Me Pregunto.” He accepted the prize from the Lakers’ Carmelo Anthony. It was yet another triumph from Bad Bunny’s world-conquering year, right down to the way he gave his whole speech in Spanish, ending, “¡De Puerto Rico para el mundo entero!”
The Red Hot Chili Peppers won the Global Icon Award, which is probably not the same thing as the Video Vanguard Award, though anyone who claims they can tell the difference probably had a puff of Snoop’s stash. They got a heart-warming introduction from the classic Seventies stoner comedy duo Cheech and Chong, in all their “Dave’s not here!” glory. (These days, Tommy Chong might be most fondly known as the Pineapple who did “I Will Survive” on The Masked Singer.)
The Chili Peppers got serious — you can always tell because Anthony Kiedis keeps his shirt on — while John Fruiscante gave bold-as-love guitar vibes in “Black Summer” and “Can’t Stop.” Chad Smith touchingly dedicated the award to the late great Taylor Hawkins, saying, “Fly on, Hawk. Fly on, brother.” But Flea’s manic speech was one of the night’s highlights, as he raved, “I love cockroaches and dirt and trees and every human being in the fucking world. And fish, and deers, and deer antlers, and birds, and the sky and love. And everything that isn’t love is cowardice. I love you!”
Lizzo gave a passionately uplifting performance of “About Damn Time” and “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready).” Her pal Harry Styles won Album of the Year for Harry’s House, just a few minutes before starting his own show at Madison Square Garden. He gave his speech via video, saying, “I’m sorry I can’t be with you there tonight — I’m about to go onstage, just down the road. But I hope you’re having a wonderful evening and thank you so much.”
Anitta did a steamy “Envolver,” prowling the stage in a red catsuit, asking, “Did you think I wasn’t going to shake my ass?” (It’s safe to say literally nobody thought that.) Johnny Depp made a clumsy cameo as a moonman, basically a remake of Howard Stern’s classic 1993 VMAs entrance as Fartman.
Snoop Dogg and Eminem did “From The D 2 the LBC,” but they got swallowed up by tedious effects based on the Bored Apes NFT project, despite Snoop’s larger-than-life blunt. J Balvin and Ryan Castro repped Colombia with “Nivel de Perreo,” overshadowed by a magic twerking ass. Panic! at the Disco came in at the end of the night to close the goddamn door with “Don’t Let the Light Go Out.” The VMAs seemed to be closing down quietly when Swift won Video of the Year — and casually announced her new album, Midnights. It was a fittingly melodramatic finale to the VMAs bash — and let’s face it, without melodrama, the VMAs would be no fun at all.