Olivia Riportella ’25
The 2021 VMAs were back in-person for their 40th anniversary this year with nominee and pop icon Doja Cat making her hosting debut. Featuring performances from Lil Nas X, Justin Bieber, Machine Gun Kelly, Olivia Rodrigo, Kacey Musgraves, Ed Sheeran, Alicia Keys, Shawn Mendes, Chlöe, and various other big names, it was not a show to miss.
MTV legend Madonna opened the show by surprising the audience with a toast to the ceremony. The queen of pop has a decades-long relationship with the VMAs. With 20 wins and 68 nominations to her name, Madonna holds the record of most Moon Person awards for an artist.
Justin Bieber, however, was the leading artist in nominations this year with a total of seven. He took home two wins in the Artist of the Year and Best Pop categories for “Peaches,” which he shared with Daniel Caesar and Giveon. Bieber also took the VMA stage for the first time in six years, performing his hit song “Stay” with The Kid Laroi and Justice’s “Ghost.”
Trailing Bieber in nominations was Megan Thee Stallion with a total of six, four of which were for her collaboration with Cardi B, “WAP.” Sadly, she ended up going home empty-handed. Artists that received five nominations each were Billie Eilish, Doja Cat, Olivia Rodrigo, BTS, Drake, and Giveon.
Lil Nas X was the night’s big winner with three wins and six nominations. He proved to be the star of the show, on and off the stage. His sparkly purple Versace suit dress caused quite the stir on the red carpet, with most praising the stunning piece. Unfortunately, one journalist interviewer, Jamila Mustafa, was not a big fan of the icon’s look. When he asked her if he looked good, she responded, “Listen—I’m not going to say I’m hating on the ‘fit but…let’s move on.” Ouch.
Nonetheless, Lil Nas X proved to be a show-stopper during his performance of his number-one hit “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” and his more recent song “Industry Baby” feat. Jack Harlow. Later in the night, he was awarded Best Direction and Best Visual Effects for “Montero.” He was also the winner of the top prize of the VMAs, with “Montero” taking home the Video of the Year award.
Breakout artist Olivia Rodrigo also proved herself a force to be reckoned with this year, taking home three Moon Person awards. Her smash hit “Drivers License” won Song of the Year and her May 2021 rendition received the Best Push Performance of the Year award. She was also honored as the Best New Artist against tough competition such as The Kid Laroi, Polo G, Saweeti, Giveon, and 24kGoldn.
Chlöe (from the sister R&B duo Chlöe x Halle) made her VMA debut with the performance of her first-ever solo single “Have Mercy.” Another artist making her VMA debut was Kacey Musgraves, performing the title track “Star-Crossed” from her newly-released studio album.
Legendary rock band Foo Fighters received a special honor this year: the first-ever US Global Icon award. According to MTV, the award honors “an artist/band whose unparalleled career and continued impact and influence has maintained a unique level of global success in music and beyond.” Foo Fighters also received three nominations for their song “Shame Shame” in the Best Rock, Best Cinematography, and Best Choreography categories. The group returned to the VMA stage to perform for the first time since 2007.