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Nick Jonas, "Levels"
Jonas employed a tracking shot for his red carpet performance of his new single “Levels”—and he was backed by a cadre of moonwomen dancing in his wake. We can’t explain Kelly Osbourne uncomfortably dancing on a pedestal front-and-center, but the JoBro proved he's one of this decade's best male pop stars. A-
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Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift, "The Night Is Still Young" and "Bad Blood"
What bad blood? Despite a Twitter debate about the VMAs nominations in July, Taylor Swift made a surprise appearance during Nicki Minaj's show opener and the two tore through Minaj's "The Night Is Still Young" and a tongue-in-cheek version of Swift's "Bad Blood." But even without the televised peace treaty, Minaj slayed with her performance of "Trini Dem Girls." A
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The Weeknd, "Can't Feel My Face"
Abel Tesfaye may have gone maximalist on The Weeknd’s latest Beauty Behind the Madness, but he injected the VMAs with some of the minimalist groove that defined his earlier work. The pop crooner passed on glitzy costumes and props, instead letting his smash single “Can’t Feel My Face” do the work as he performed in front of a backdrop of pulsing red lights and a relatively modest allotment of flamethrowers. B+
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Justin Bieber, "What Do You Mean?"
Justin Bieber’s new, Skrillex-produced single “What Do You Mean?” has only been out for three days, but it felt like a classic when the pop star took the VMAs stage Sunday night for the first time in five years. Bieber brought slick dance moves, plenty of showmanship, and even ascended into a beam of light to conclude a performance so emotional that he kneeled and wept after he landed. B+
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Tori Kelly, "Shoulda Been Us"
The singer who once auditioned for American Idol at 16-years-old tore a page out of Abel Tesfaye’s playbook with her relatively minimalistic approach to her MTV VMA debut Sunday night. With her band way back and the blue lights turned way down low, Kelly’s soulful pipes positively shined. She was simultaneously gal-with-a-guitar authentic and power pop diva. A-
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Demi Lovato and Iggy Azalea, "Cool For The Summer"
The pop star pulled out all the stops for her performance of “Cool For the Summer,” taking the stage with neon-clad backup dancers and massive purple cherries. While the energy dipped when Iggy Azalea appeared to debut a verse for the song, Lovato reignited the heat when she was was carried into the crowd on a massive inflatable raft. B
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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, “Downtown”
The Seattle rapper went for a literal interpretation of his new single by taking an enormous entourage—including the song’s guest stars Eric Nally, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, and Grandmaster Caz—out to the L.A. streets to party. But despite the over-the-top production, this was pure cheese. C
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Walk The Moon, “Shut Up And Dance” and “Different Colors"
The Ohio quartet opened the night during the VMAs Red Carpet pre-show with their breakout anthem, which lost out on Best Rock Video shortly thereafter to Fall Out Boy. And while the song is one of the year's most undeniable ear worms, they came across as gimmicky on TV, from the matching paint splattered suits to perfectly timed high kicks. It also didn't help that their performance had a planned cut-away to a Demi Lovato interview mid-song—or that fans only heard a snippet of their new single. B-
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Twenty One Pilots & ASAP Rocky
In recent years, Twenty One Pilots have emerged as one of the buzziest live bands—singer Tyler Joseph has been known to climb up lighting rigs at shows—and while the energy of most performances don't quit come through on the small screen, their collab with A$AP Rocky was a scorcher, they flowed through “M’$,” Rocky’s tribute to the late A$AP Yams, and fan-favorite “L$D", Twenty One Pilots’ “HeavyDirtySoul” and “Lane Boy.” B+
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The singer-producer introduced his track about breaking free from oppression with a short speech of a similar message. And while the song is uplifting, the same couldn't be said about his performance at the VMAs. B-
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The night's hostess closed out the most cannabis-friendly VMAs ever with a technicolor, electro-tinged new song recorded with the Flaming Lips—and she brought out her own squad of drag queens decked out in technicolor outfits. Sure, the track itself felt a bit underrehearsed, but one thing's for sure: it was the most eye-popping, bonkers performance of the night. The VMAs were made for this. A