Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj Perform
In the second performance of the night, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj rocked their collaboration “Side to Side,” off Grande’s album Dangerous Woman. Grande started sitting on a stationary bike in an all-white outfit and some sky-high pink heels, then jumped off to traipse around a few bodybuilders, don a sheer pink robe, and, finally, climb atop a pommel horse. Minaj joined her onstage wearing a shiny pink leotard, and the number ended with a pair of male backup dancers kneeling suggestively in front of the ladies. As the newsy “correspondents” covering the show in lieu of a more traditional host, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (playing their characters LizardSheeple and TheShamester) debated how to tweet the performance after it ended. “Life goals: be an exercise bike,” Peele offered. But Key topped it: “Nicki Minaj is a very cunning linguist.”
Alicia Keys Honors Martin Luther King
This year’s VMA show fell on the same night as the 53rd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, a fact Alicia Keys pointed out when she took the stage to present the award for Best Male Video (which went to Calvin Harris for “This Is What You Came For”). In honor of the meaningful anniversary, she recited a poem: “If war is holy, and sex is obscene, then we got it twisted in this lucid dream,” she began. “Baptized in boundaries, schooled in sin, divided by difference, sexuality, and skin.” Keys transitioned from reciting to singing a capella, and her song ended on the hopeful note, “Maybe we could love somebody instead of polishing the bombs of holy war.”
Kanye West Debuts "Fade" Music Video
Amid chants of “YEEZY!” Kanye West took the stage to introduce his provocative new music video, for The Life of Pablo’s “Fade” — but “before I do that,” he began, “I’mma talk.” It didn’t quite top his Video Vanguard acceptance from last year, but the speech was an instant Kanye classic. “Later tonight, ‘Famous’ might lose to Beyoncé,” he acknowledged, “but I can’t be mad. I’m always wishing for Beyoncé to win.” Commenting on his controversial Video of the Year-nominated video, he said, “It was an expression of our now — our fame right now. Us on the inside of the TV… We came over in the same boat, now we’re all in the same bed.” It ended, of course, with a note about Kanye: “My role models are artist-merchants. There’s less than 10 that I can name in history. Truman. Ford. Hughes. Disney. Jobs. West.”
Future Makes His VMAs Debut
Future made his VMAs debut at Sunday’s show, and was introduced by a big fan — record-breaking Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. “If there’s one thing that’s been constant through my entire career, it’s the motivation and the inspiration that I get from hip-hop,” Phelps said, revealing that he was listening to Future when he made the face that blew up the internet. “I might have all the gold, but this guy’s got all the platinum.” The rapper, wearing all-over red (right down to his sunglasses) then launched into an energetic performance of “F— Up Some Commas,” off his album DS2.
Nick Jonas Performs In a Diner
Introduced by Rita Ora and Ansel Elgort, Nick Jonas took the telecast out of Madison Square Garden and into the Tick Tock diner, where he sang “Bacon,” off his album Last Year Was Complicated. He strolled around the diner, joining brother Joe Jonas’ band (and VMA’s Best New Artist this year) DNCE in a booth and singing to Ashley Graham, among other celebrity pals. The lights dimmed, people break-danced on tables, and Jonas headed outside, where Ty Dolla $ign delivered his verse standing between two vintage cars. Jonas finished up the song on an outdoor stage, in front of an adoring crowd.
Britney Spears Does It Again
Between “Satisfaction,” the kiss from Madonna, and Banana the python, Britney Spears was a VMA icon of the millennium — until her lackluster delivery of “Gimme More” at the 2007 ceremony. But tonight, “making her triumphant return to the VMAs after a nine-year hiatus from the show,” as presenter Kim Kardashian introduced her, “it’s Britney, bitch!” The Princess of Pop appeared in silhouette behind a screen, then emerged wearing a sparkly yellow leotard and matching over-the-knee boots to perform “Make Me…,” the lead single off her album Glory, which dropped Friday. Backed by dancers wearing black-and-white geometric suits and then joined by G-Eazy, Britney transitioned into “Me, Myself, and I” then back into her own song. It wasn’t as shocking as she’s been in the past, but Britney still puts on a great show, bitch.
Beyoncé Steals the Show
All hail the queen. Beyoncé took the stage about halfway through the telecast for a showstopper to rival her 2014 Video Vanguard medley, this time performing songs off Lemonade. She opened with “Pray You Catch Me,” looking angelic in a long white coat, which she dropped to reveal an elaborate black leotard for “Hold Up.” From there, she picked up a baseball bat and hit the camera, before launching into “Sorry,” then “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” and finally concluding with eventual Video of the Year winner “Formation.” The performance ended with all of her backup dancers, appropriately, getting into formation — of the woman symbol, when viewed from above. She got a standing ovation; Key and Peele were left utterly speechless; Twitter exploded. Beyoncé ain’t sorry — and for this performance, there’s absolutely no need to be.
Jimmy Fallon Impersonates Ryan Lochte
The night ended with the Video of the Year award, which went to Beyoncé, as Kanye West predicted, for her powerful “Formation” video. On hand to present the award was…Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte! Just kidding. Jimmy Fallon, sporting bleached hair, a track suit, a fake medal, and neon yellow sneakers, took the stage as the scandal-embroiled athlete (to the evident delight of Lochte’s teammate Michael Phelps, who took out his phone to take a picture and visibly mouthed “Awesome!”). “Is it too late now to say sorry?” Fallon-as-Lochte began before pretending to take credit for all of the nominated music videos: “I’m the one who gave Adele the flip phone,” he bragged; “I had a 30-way with Kanye West.” He loved them all so much, he said, he could never pick a favorite — “even if there was a gun to my head.”
Rihanna Receives the The Video Vanguard Award
The night belonged to Video Vanguard nominee Rihanna, who took the stage four times over the course of the ceremony to perform countless hits from her long career. As Key and Peele described, “You’re watching an extended Rihanna concert featuring the VMAs.” RiRi’s four performances could leave no doubt — if anyone had any to begin with — that she was deserving of MTV’s highest honor. After her final turn onstage, for which she wore a breathtaking silver gown and sang through some of her ballads, her billboard-buying boyfriend Drake presented her the award. Recalling when he first met Rihanna in 2005, he said, “We love the music which could change styles from album to album. We love the videos which change their artistic vision from year to year. But most of all, we love the woman who hasn’t changed since day one.” After gushing that he’s “been in love with [her] since I was 22 years old,” he handed Rihanna the Moonman. In her brief acceptance speech, she honored her family, fans, collaborators, and home country of Barbados, before finally thanking Drake and MTV.