Lil Nas X won video of the year at Sundays MTV VMAs on a night that Justin Bieber triumphantly returned to the stage as a performer and as winner of the artist of the year.
“I do not take this for granted,” Lil Nas X said while accepting the night’s final award for the music video for his song, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).”
Much of the early show belonged to Bieber, who for his first VMAs performance in six years rappelled from the ceiling of the Barclays Center at the start of the show for an energetic performance of “Stay” with Kid LAROI and then his single “Ghost.”
The VMAs celebrated MTV's 40th anniversary, mixing moments between early network stars like Cyndi Lauper and show opener Madonna with high-octane performances by newer stars like Olivia Rodrigo, Lil Nas X, Camila Cabello and Chloe.
Bieber was the leading nominee going into the ceremony. He took home the best pop honor for “Peaches,” a song that featured Daniel Caesar and Giveon - who accompanied him onstage.
Sporting baggy clothes and a hoodie, Bieber showed his appreciation for the awards being in-person and thanked his wife, Hailey, for supporting him.
“As we know, there’s so much going on in the world as we speak,” Bieber said during his acceptance speech after winning artist of the year. “I know you guys have probably heard it a lot. We are in unprecedented times with this COVID thing that's happening right now. It's a big deal. Music is such an amazing outlet to be able to reach people and bring us all together. That's why we are here right now. We’re all here together.”
Opening the show, Madonna told the screaming crowd: “They said we wouldn’t last. But we’re still here.”
Moments after Olivia Rodrigo performed her hit “good 4 u,” she collected the night's first award for her massive hit song “Drivers License.” She later won best new artist.
“I feel so grateful that I get to write music, make stuff that I love and call it my job,” said Rodrigo, the first-time nominee. Earlier in the awards, the singer called this the “most magical year of my life.”
Jennifer Lopez, who three days earlier made her re-kindled romance with Ben Affleck official on the red carpet of his new film "“The Last Duel" at the Venice International Film Festival, presented Rodrigo her trophy.
Billie Eilish won the fan-voted video for good for her song “Your Power.” In her acceptance speech, she said Alicia Keys kissed her on the cheek, spoke about the satisfaction of writing the song and women empowerment.
“We need to protect our own women at all costs,” said Eilish, while her brother-producer Finneas applauded his sister from his seat. “We need to remember that we all have power. We have to remember not to abuse it.”
Lauper, who presented Bieber with his first award, advocated for equal rights for women.
“Girls still want to have fun,” said Lauper, known for classic melody “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” “But we also want to have funds, equal pay, control over our bodies, you know, fundamental rights.”
Lil Nas X hit the stage with Jack Harlow, then he performed his controversial song “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)." Kacey Musgraves and Shawn Mendes also hit the stage.
Olympic gymnastic champion Simone Biles introduced Doja Cat — the show's host — who went aerial during her performance. With wires holding her up, Doja Cat glided over the crowd and landed on stage as she performed “Been Like This” and “You Right.”
Stars shine at 2021 MTV Video Music Awards
Before the show, Machine Gun Kelly got into a heated argument on the red carpet with UFC fighter Conner McGregor. Video showed McGregor being held back by security from Kelly who later won best alternative for his song “My Ex's Best Friend,” featuring Blackbear.
Kelly said he initially didn't want to release the song, but thanked his label for going against his wishes. He also gave thanks to the director of the song's music video, despite their squabble on set.
“I haven’t talked to you since we did because we got into a fight on set, but it’s a great video and I’m so glad we won,” he said. “We won!”
Megan Thee Stallion entered the show as the second-leading nominee with six nominations. BTS, Doja Cat, Drake, Giveon, Lil Nas X and Rodrigo each had five nods.
The Foo Fighters performed and then accepted the Global Icon Award, an honor handed out for the first time at the VMAs. The award recognizes an artist or band “whose unparalleled career and continued impact and influence has maintained a unique level of global success in music and beyond.”
The prestigious award was previously presented at the annual MTV Europe Music Awards. Past recipients include Queen, Eminem and Whitney Houston.
The rock band – comprised of Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett, Pat Smear and Rami Jaffee – performed several of their hits including “Learn to Fly” and “Shame Shame.” It was their first performance at the VMAs since 2007.
Eilish presented the Global Icon Award to the group, who thanked MTV veterans from Kurt Loder to Tabitha Soren.
“Thank you very much for this award,” Grohl said. “We’ll see you in another 26 years.”