MTV Video Music Awards Recap: Taylor Swift, Doja Cat and More

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The MTV Video Music Awards returned to the Prudential Center in Newark on Tuesday night, as Nicki Minaj hosted a nearly four-hour show that included the members of ’N Sync coming together to present a Moon Person trophy to Taylor Swift (who gushed directly to the boy band, “I had your dolls”) and Sean Combs receiving a global icon honor (and telling the crowd his career had humble beginnings, as a paperboy). The Brazilian pop star Anitta delivered one of the event’s most solid one-liners — “I want to thank myself because I worked so hard,” she said in an acceptance speech — which she also proved onstage, performing both a solo medley and a collaboration with the K-pop group Tomorrow X Together. At the end of the night, the following five moments stood out.

One of pop-rap’s most unpredictable voices turned out the night’s most polished and high-concept performance, capturing the anxiety of return to office in a look perhaps best described as “business sexual” while surrounded by dancers doused in ghoulish red paint. The audience looked confused and a little terrified as Doja Cat glided around the stage nailing her marks, the calm in an increasingly hectic storm.

Olivia Rodrigo’s “Vampire” video dramatizes an awards show performance gone wrong, and though it has 54 million YouTube views, none of those evidently came from V.M.A.s audience members like Selena Gomez, who looked stricken when Rodrigo partly recreated the clip Tuesday night. After the song’s first section, lights seemingly burst onstage and a curtain fell as a “stagehand” ushered the singer away — only to return seconds later grinning and performing another song from her new album, “Guts,” the bouncy “Get Him Back!”

Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s first televised performance of their hit “WAP” came at the 2021 Grammys, and their salacious choreography caught the attention of over 1,000 viewers who complained to the Federal Communications Commission, Rolling Stone reported. The duo reunited last week with a fresh collaboration called “Bongos,” and played it relatively safer on the V.M.A.s stage. The censors caught most of the profanities and the audience camera caught one of the night’s many shots of Swift dancing along.

Performing a mega medley to celebrate receiving the video vanguard award, the Colombian pop star didn’t appear to be doing much live singing, but her lengthy number included plenty of choreography, hair flipping, microphone stand tossing, guitar playing, a quick wardrobe adjustment, crowd surfing and a lift bringing her high above the crowd. But a truly eye-grabbing moment came halfway through, when she wielded two knives, dramatically running one across her torso before tossing them aside.

The Grammys went big with a tribute to 50 years of hip-hop earlier this year, but MTV’s celebration of rap’s anniversary had some highlights, too: After Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh gave the crowd a lesson on the genre’s beginnings, Minaj emerged with “Itty Bitty Piggy,” one of her beloved early mixtape tracks, then reunited with her mentor Lil Wayne for “A Milli.” LL Cool J commanded the stage for two of his own songs, then went (shell) toe to toe with Run-DMC’s Darryl McDaniels on “Walk This Way.” (The performance mostly elided the 1990s, but Diddy’s eight-minute performance earlier in the night covered that era.) It was a reminder that MTV was once the home of “Yo! MTV Raps,” and used to spend a lot more time on music.

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