With pop star Doja Cat as the ringmaster, MTV’s 2021 Video Music Awards scored high marks for bringing eye-popping performances and show-stopping surprises back to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Sunday, September 12, after the show was displaced by the pandemic last year.
From Madonna’s bootylicious opener to wild outfits to unexpected snubs, shade and actual brawls, here’s a recap of the best and worst moments of the night.
Best: Madonna’s rear view
The Material Girl left some of her material at home as Madonna brought the party in honor of MTV’s 40th. In a skimpy leather ensemble, the “Like a Virgin” legend opened up the VMAs with a sultry birthday salute.
“And they said we wouldn’t last,” she teased of her controversial relationship with the network. “But we’re still here, motherf—kers.” Madge then pivoted away from her microphone, giving viewers an eyeful of her 63-year-old, incredibly taut bare bottom.
Worst: Lil Nas X outfit shade
Style shade eclipsed Lil Nas X’s red carpet moment in the most cringeworthy way. Despite his fashionably fierce efforts in a lilac Atelier Versace pantsuit-gown, the “Industry Baby” artist was brutally shot down by VMAs pre-show host Jamila Mustafa when he went fishing for a compliment. “Do I look good?” Nas asked. “Listen, I’m not going to say I’m hating on the ‘fit,” Mustafa sniffed. “But, let’s move on.” The rebuke immediately went viral on social media. “OH MY GOD WHY WOULD SHE SAY THAT,” tweeted @blairsmani, expressing the sentiment of many viewers.
Best: Cyndi Lauper’s feminist speech
Before Cyndi Lauper presented the Best Pop trophy to Justin Bieber, Giveon and Daniel Caesar for “Peaches,” the “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” firecracker made a powerful feminist plea. “The girls still wanna have fun,” the 68-year-old said. “But we also want funds. Equal pay.” She then spoke out about the burning abortion controversy, saying: “[We want] control over our body. You know, fundamental rights.” The audience roared with applause.
Worst: Conor McGregor and Machine Gun Kelly’s brawl
Disputes are nothing new at MTV’s big show. But the VMAs almost stood for “Very Messy Assault” when UFC legend Conor McGregor and Machine Gun Kelly nearly came to blows on the red carpet. McGregor allegedly tossed his drink at the “Daywalker!” rhymer just moments before MGK and girlfriend Megan Fox walked the red carpet.
Photos show McGregor throwing a punch in Kelly’s direction (but missing) and being restrained by security. The cause was unclear, but Kelly’s rep denied to Page Six that the scuffle even happened. Kelly and Fox made it clear that they had escaped McGregor’s wrath unscathed when the couple shared a passionate kiss for the paparazzi.
McGregor previously got in trouble at Barclays in 2018, when he was caught on tape hurling a hand truck at a bus full of UFC fighters. Although he had faced felony charges, the brawler pled guilty to disorderly conduct and was ordered to attend anger management courses. Guess those didn’t work.
Best: Doja Cat as a ‘worm’
The VMAS are known for naked fashion. This year, while other women — J. Lo, Madonna, Megan Fox, Chloe — chose to show a lot (a lot) of skin, show host Doja Cat donned a puffy quilted number that enveloped her head and shoulders, leaving just a hole for her face. (It was reportedly designed by the usually staid Thom Browne.) “I look like a worm. That’s dope!” the singer exclaimed while accepting Best Collaboration honors for “Kiss Me More” with SZA. Later, Doja came out wearing a bistro chair as a hat, then closed out the show in a pair of cartoonish chicken “feet” — reminding everyone that fashion can be fun as well as sexy.
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Worst: Billie Eilish snubbing Jennifer Lopez
As Jennifer Lopez made an appearance to present Olivia Rodrigo with the Song of the Year Moon Person for “Driver’s License,” she received cheers from the audience — but not Billie Eilish. Cameras caught the awkward moment with Eilish seeming to look anything but impressed as J. Lo took the stage. Instead of clapping, the “Happier Than Ever” singer just sort of … twiddled her fingers.
Best: Normani getting super close to Teyana Taylor
Pushing lustiness to its limits, Normani punctuated her VMAs performance of “Wild Side” with a steamy girl-on-girl grind. In the last 30 seconds, Teyana Taylor appeared onstage strapped to a bondage board. Normani then proceeded to climb the board and get very, very close to her special guest. It was all a tribute to Janet Jackson, who slayed a similarly saucy presentation in her 2002 Live in Hawaii performance of “Would You Mind.”
Best: Ashanti and Ja Rule’s reunion
Ashanti and Ja Rule lavished fans with welcome warm and fuzzy nostalgic vibes as the 2000s twosome — responsible for chart-toppers like “Always On Time,” “Mesmerized” and “Down 4 You” — took the stage to present Doja Cat and SZA with the Moon Person for Best Collaboration. Millennials immediately flocked to Twitter, praising the duo for creating the soundtrack to a less chaotic time. “I’m convinced that if Ashanti and Ja Rule stand on the #VMAs stage long enough, the world will just … heal? That’s the last time I remember things being truly good,” tweeted @AndySwift.
With additional reporting by Zachary Kussin