Unlike most award shows that have at least one controversy or upset, the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday night were fairly free of scandal on the awards end (Celeb drama is a different story – looking at you, Conor McGregor and Machine Gun Kelly). But that’s not to say the night was boring – quite the contrary. Fan favorites comprised the nominee and winner lists, and the attendees were more than willing to put on a good show on stage and on the red carpet. As far as award shows go, the VMAs are always a lively affair with a younger demographic of celebrities and their bright – sometimes outrageous – outfits. Exhibit A: the official host of the night, Doja Cat, and her rotating wardrobe of wacky looks. My favorite? The chair hat.
Let’s get to what the VMAs are all about: the awards. American rapper Lil Nas X took home the top prize of Video of the Year for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).” He also deserves an award for being able to pull off a mullet on the red carpet; it was probably the lavender two-piece set with matching shoes and a side train from Atelier Versace that sold me on the look. The video for that song was also nominated for Video for Good and Best Art Direction (by John Richoux). Lil Nas X was also nominated for Song of the Summer with “Industry Baby” featuring Jack Harlow. Everyone’s favorite “Old Town Road” artist also won Best Direction with Tanu Muino for “Montero” and Best Visual Effects (by Mathematic) for the same song.
In his characteristically campy performance of “Industry Baby” and “Montero,” Lil Nas X raised awareness about those living with HIV. American actor Billy Porter, who recently shared his own HIV positive status, introduced the artist for his performance. Lil Nas X had the Southern AIDS Coalition’s director of community investments, Mardrequs Harris, join him on stage. Harris’ outfit had the number 433,816 in red, representing the “universal color of recognition and support for HIV” and the number of people living with HIV in the south as of 2015, according to The Hollywood Reporter and GLAAD.
Apparently still relevant since his teenage heartthrob days in 2013, Justin Bieber actually nabbed the first performance slot of the night, performing “Stay” with The Kid Laroi and following it up with a stripped-down version of his song “Ghost.” The pop singer led the list of nominees with seven nods and took home Artist of the Year and Best Pop with “Peaches” featuring Daniel Caesar, Giveon.
The breakout pop star Olivia Rodrigo is making up for lost on-stage performances and award ceremonies with her first-ever VMA performance, giving the live crowd an electrifying, perfectly-angsty-angry performance of “Good 4 U” before picking up the award for Song of the Year for “Driver’s License.” She also won Push Performance of the Year for the song. Rodrigo’s Best New Artist win further contributed to the acclaim she has accumulated in such a short amount of time since joining the music scene as an actress and singer in Disney+ original series “High School Music: The Music: The Series.”
Another debut VMA performance came from country-pop singer Kasey Musgraves with her fiery rendition of the title track of her recently released album “Star Crossed.” And although he hasn’t performed at the awards show in awhile – his VMAs appearance since 2017 – Ed Sheeran sounded as pitch perfect as ever for his performance of new song “Shivers.” The single joins “Bad Habits” as part of the English artist’s upcoming album “=” (“Equals), dropping Oct. 29. And can’t talk about VMA performances without mentioning Chlöe’s first live performance of her latest song, “Have Mercy,” introduced by her sister and other half of the artist duo, Hailey Bailey.
Other winners include Doja Cat and SZA’s “Kiss Me More” for Best Collaboration, John Mayer’s “Last Train Home” for Best Rock, Machine Gun Kelly and Blackbear’s “My Ex’s Best Friend” for Best Alternative, Billie Eilish and Rosalía’s “Lo Vas A Olvidar” for Best Latin, BTS’ “Butter” for Best K-pop, Harry Styles’ “Treat People With Kindness” for Best Choreography and more. Check out the full list of nominees and winners on MTV’s website.