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BEST: Kendrick Lamar gets the show off to a fiery start
The evening's most-nominated artist kicked off the show with a medley of his Top 5 singles from this year, "DNA." and "HUMBLE." The performance wasn't as overtly political as some of the rapper’s recent televised performances, but he did keep the sampled Fox News banter — from The Five's critical analysis of his 2015 turn at the BET Awards — as the introduction to "DNA.," providing some fascinating awards show continuity. But Lamar always visually impresses, and his performance, which culminated as he rapped “HUMBLE.” while ninjas climbed a flaming scaffolding behind him, was another entry in his rapidly growing oeuvre of memorable awards show appearances. —Eric Renner Brown
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BEST: Ed Sheeran and Lil Uzi Vert mashup “Shape of You” and “XO TOUR Llif3"
Following Kendrick is no easy feat — especially when your pyro lacks a breakdancing samurai totally engulfed in flames. But if there’s a star confident enough in his craft to pull it off, it’s Sheeran, who brought his tropical house-inflected megahit to the Forum on Sunday night. The crowd loved it — especially Noah Cyrus and Ellen DeGeneres, who both got plenty airtime while singing along — and just when it felt like it had gone on long enough, the night’s Song of Summer winner, Lil Uzi Vert, joined the stage. At their best, the VMAs are a bit of a glorious trainwreck of fun, and this fit that bill perfectly. —Madison Vain
3 of 10
WORST: Julia Michaels gets cut off
WTF, MTV? Michaels broke out this year as a solo artist with “Issues,” which peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June. And while you could feel the support of the room, which included some of the artists she’s penned hits for (Fifth Harmony, Hailee Steinfeld) over the years, that still apparently doesn’t earn you a full performance broadcast. Instead her raw anthem got treated as an outro to commercial break, ending before we could even sing along. What a bummer. —M.V.
4 of 10
WORST: Lorde goes mute
The Kiwi star impressed with an extensively choreographed routine for "Homemade Dynamite," a standout from this year's impressive Melodrama. But, sadly, her dancing was the only highlight: Prior to the show, the 20-year-old singer tweeted she had the flu and was receiving an IV, which may have been why she didn’t sing any of the song's vocals live. Props to Lorde for soldiering on with admirable gusto — but if ever there was an instance to cancel a performance, it was this. —E.R.B.
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BEST: Miley rocks out with “Younger Now”
She promised she’d be good — and she was. Looking like she'd just come from Graceland, Cyrus owned the Forum stage with the title track from her upcoming Younger Now LP. The performance was at times cheeky (cue a grandma literally spanking Miley’s bum) and occasionally cutesy (say hello to the kindergarten-aged motorcyclists waiting in the wings), but the antics — including an interpolation of the Link Wray classic “Rumble” — never detracted from the main event: the 24-year-old’s grade-A pipes, which are finally center stage. —M.V.
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WORST: MTV’s botches tribute to Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell
Since May, the hard rock world has lost two of its guiding lights: Soundgarden and Audioslave’s Chris Cornell and Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington. Jared Leto, who knew both singers, provided a heartfelt speech in tribute and spoke directly to viewers struggling with depression. But he then segued to a tribute that wasn’t much of a tribute at all — just old MTV footage of Linkin Park from the 2010 VMAs that the network cut from halfway through for commercials. Cornell and Bennington were such musical forces and surely deserved a more fleshed-out homage than this. —E.R.B.
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BEST: Pink delivers career-spanning medley and moving acceptance speech
Kicking off with “Get the Party Started” and ripping through past hits like “Raise Your Glass” and “So What,” Pink reminded fans just what we’ve been missing during her four-year absence from the pop charts on Sunday night. The 37-year-old rode a flying convertible, hopped on a John Deere, and totally ruled — all while singing live. She ended with a performance of her new single “What About Us” with a group of dancers from almost every conceivable ethnic background, all holding onto one another. After, in her acceptance speech for the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, she proved she’s the mom we all deserve when she preached about inclusion, acceptance, and self-love as her 6-year-old daughter watched, smile plastered across her adorable face. —M.V.
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BEST: Logic makes a rousing, heartfelt speech
Joined by Alessia Cara and Best New Artist winner Khalid, the 27-year-old rapper brought “1-800-273-8255” and its resonant message about suicide prevention to the Forum. And he didn’t stop there. “We are all born equal, but we are not treated equally, and that is why we must fight,” he testified at the performance’s conclusion. “We must fight for the equality of every man, woman, and child.” —E.R.B.
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BEST: Heather Heyer’s mother announces the Heather Heyer Foundation
After an introduction from Rev. Robert Wright Lee IV — a direct descendant of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, whose statue was at the center of the demonstrations in Charlottesville — the mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed during an anti-racism protest, took the stage. Susan Bro thanked the public for their support and announced the Heather Heyer Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting hatred. Coupled with the presentation of the Best Fight Against the System award, her appearance was a fitting, inspiring almost-end to the evening. —M.V.
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WORST: DNCE and Rod Stewart revive “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”
No, it's not a pitch for the next installment of the Hangover franchise: DNCE and Rod Stewart beamed in from Vegas with a performance of the latter's 1978 hit "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" From the stiff club where they played to the sterile, 2017-ified instrumental, they presented a compelling case for “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” —E.R.B.