From Madonna cruising through Versailles to Beyoncé’s baby bump reveal, the MTV Video Music Awards have never skimped on drama.
The fireworks are expected to continue during Sunday’s show in Newark, New Jersey. Despite a less star-studded lineup than in previous years, the telecast still promises memorable performances from top musicians including Lizzo, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bad Bunny. Meanwhile, five-time VMA winner Nicki Minaj will celebrate her Video Vanguard award with a career-spanning medley of her greatest hits.
As artists take to the Prudential Center stage throughout the night, here are our live reviews of the best and worst performances:
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Nicki Minaj, Video Vanguard Award medley
And that’s why she’s still the current queen of rap. As this year’s recipient of the Video Vanguard Award, which honors an artist’s impact on music videos and pop culture, Nicki Minaj blew through nearly a dozen of her most recognizable songs in a pink outfit and dazzling violet, with a giant bow. After an overly rushed start that didn’t give her “Monster” career its due, the rapper settled into a groove with crowd favorites “Moment 4 Life” and “Super Bass” as she twerked and strutted around the Dreamhouse-inspired Barbie Scene. She ended the medley with a fun and playful version of her No. 1 single “Super Freaky Girl,” a Rick James sample, a deserved summer song if we’ve ever heard one.
J Balvin and Ryan Castro, ‘Nivel de Perreo’
The Colombian superstars returned to the early-night telecast for a steamy rendition of their “Nivel de Perreo” collaboration, backed by a line of faceless, latex-clad backup dancers straight out of “American Horror Story.” But the real scene-stealer was a projection of a giant silver woman in a bikini, bringing a certain “Jack and the Beanstalk” reality to the VMAs as she twerked and towered over the crowd for the entire three minutes of the song.
Lizzo, ‘2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)’
After singing a few bars of her infectious No. 1 hit ‘About Damn Time’, Lizzo channeled Tom Hanks to 1988’s ‘Big’: playing a glowing floor piano with her feet as she launched into her new single high energy “2 Be loved (am I ready). It was hard not to get swept up in the genuine enthusiasm of the genre-busting performer, especially as she danced around in a bubblegum pink ensemble against the backdrop of dozens of miniature Lizzos. We only wish she enjoyed the setup better, as she clung to the back of the stage for most of the performance and was often swallowed up by the huge wall of projections behind her.
Jack Harlow and Fergie, “First Class”
Fresh off of his smash hit last summer with Lil Nas X’s “Industry Baby,” Jack Harlow delivered an instant classic VMAs performance. Dressed as a flight attendant, the suave rapper walked down the aisle of an airplane as he performed his ‘First Class’ hit, playfully interacting with ‘passengers’ including Avril Lavigne along the way. . He then took to the stage at the Prudential Center, revealing surprise guest Fergie, whose 2007 hit “Glamorous” is heavily sampled in the track. The screaming crowd – which included several Taylor Swift cutaways – happily rode the nostalgia, with Fergie and Harlow their effortlessly charismatic captains.