The 2023 VMAs: Everything You Missed

Fittingly, the VMAs began with Olivia Rodrigo, who’s captivated both the charts and popular culture with her second, critically acclaimed album GUTS. She kicked off the festivities with a live performance, chiefly centered around “vampire” & “get him back!” The “drivers license” singer didn’t earn nominations in the main section of the show, unfortunately. But, it felt entirely appropriate for her to begin the ceremony in earnest.

For our first awards moment, we got Nicki Minaj. Once set up correctly, Nicki gave an obligatory shoutout to Young Money founder Lil Wayne for his quick performance of “Uproar.” She then kicked over to all of the members of NSYNC. Reunited for the first time in a decade, they were on task to award Best Pop Video, which ended up in the hands of Taylor Swift for the “Anti-Hero” music video.

A Massive Night For Taylor Swift

Taylor accepting the VMA award for “Song of the Year”

While initial shots caught the superstar’s shock at the announcement of NSYNC’s presence as presenters, it wasn’t just for the cameras. In accepting her award, she spent the opening moments of her speech lauding the boy band for how they inspired her in her adolescence. In the main section of her thoughts, though, she noted how she’s loved spending time in different genres throughout her career, but that making pop music has always been her home.

Later in the show, she’d take home two more awards for that massive single: Song of the Year and Best Direction. For the former, she thanked “her close friend” Jack Antonoff and again seemed a bit starstruck, remarking that she was “millenial[ly] triggered” by her presenters, Timbaland and Nelly Furtado. She did also clear space to note that this song in particular personally stands out in her catalog, with the takeaway being that the huge success it enjoyed makes her feel as if “we all have the same problems.”

For Best Direction, Tay took to the stage alongside her cinematographer and editor, to whom she handed the award in the end. She lauded both those collaborators for the magic they bring to her visual art. At the very end of the show, she received Video of the Year for, you guessed it, the “Anti-Hero” music video once again. She made special note of how much she values winning a fan-voted award. And, for the more dedicated Swifties out there, this was a full circle moment—2022’s VMAs gave us the announcement of Midnights, and now it has swept the 2023 edition clean.

Celebrating Two VMA Icons

Shakira performing live, shortly after receiving the Video Vanguard award.

As is tradition for the VMA awards, the selection committee looked back on two occasions to celebrate some notable standard bearers. Diddy earned one of those nods, with Mary J. Blige helping usher him in as a “Global Icon.” The rapper herself spoke to why he’s deserving of that title on multiple fronts, as a musician himself, as a business mogul, and as a label executive. In a displayed mashup of his biggest moments, huge hits of his, from “Mo Money Mo Problems” to “I Need A Girl (Pt. 2)” (notably sampled by another honoree), made their appearances.

Then came Shakira, the newest inductee to the pantheon of Video Vanguards. Her performance alone spoke to how enduring of a career she’s enjoyed. She spanned multiple decades with a lineup from “Hips Don’t Lie” to her 2023 smash “BZRP Session 53.” When it came time to hand out thank yous, she acknowledged collaborator Wyclef Jean, her music video directors, the litany of women who helped put her in the place she is, and her family. It was a bilingual speech where the final send-off was in Spanish, speaking to one of the overarching themes of the night.

Honoring the Global Nature of Today’s Music World

That theme was internationality. The VMAs celebrated many global genres, and the first up on that list was Kpop. Stray Kids were the big winners, bringing home “K-Pop of the Year” for “S-Class.” Best Latin went to Anitta, who notably shouted out her home genre of Brazilian funk and its growing influence. When listening to the earlier-performed “Bongos” (Cardi B & Meg Thee Stallion), it’s clear that she’s right on the money.

Karol G shortly after brought in an award for her collaboration with Shakira, “TQG.” The “Hips Don’t Lie” singer was exuberant in her thanks, boldly proclaiming “que viva” Mexico, Latin music, and Karol G herself. Finally, we got a brand new category awarded for Best Afrobeats, which ended up in the hands of Rema & Selena Gomez. The singer presented a wide-ranging list of progenitors to thank, and Selena responded in kind—extending a huge thank you to the country of Nigeria.

Hip-Hop Earns Plenty of Notice at the VMAs

Of course, the dominant genre of the past two decades got its time in the sun. Doja Cat got a chance to perform a few of her recent hits; “Attention,” “Paint the Town Red,” and “Demons.” The sequencing felt intentional, in that the most high-energy and hip-hop forward came last. It might be a sign that she’ll deliver on her promise of a rap-focused project when her album arrives next week. Metro Boomin brought out Nav, Future, A Boogie & Swae Lee to grace the crowd with material from his Heroes & Villians, and Nicki Minaj brought home Best Rap Song.

The crown jewel of the night’s performances, though, was undoubtedly the celebration of hip-hop’s 50th birthday, a continuation of worldwide celebrations we’ve seen throughout 2023. That began in the only place it could, with Grandmaster Flash, who performed with a cadre standing in front of him, pointing directly back as if to say, “it all started here.” Doug E. Fresh was next up, before Nicki once again took the stage to run through some of her recent material. Hinting earlier in the night that she had “a big surprise,” she brought out Lil Wayne for an electric performance of “A Milli.” LL Cool J and Run DMC played out the segment with a rendition of “Walk This Way,” before all the previous performers joined on stage. Even with a limited amount of time to showcase such a dynamic and storied genre, this was a perfectly executed set.

Something New

Finally, we got celebrations of everything “new.” In that vein, the VMAs saw a couple debuts of brand new music—TXT gave us a new collab with Anitta, and Nicki played unheard cuts from her upcoming Pink Friday 2. One of the more highly publicized awards of each VMA, Brand New Artist, was the second-to-last award. Dove Cameron did the honors here, and though it was a stacked category with a field including Renee Rapp, Peso Pluma, and Pinkpantheress, there was a clear and obvious favorite. Ice Spice did in fact end up taking home the award, and alongside the obligatory shoutout to her fans, the Bronx earned a huge shoutout in her speech.

The longest edition of the awards to date, there was a ton to cover and a ton of stars that filled the airtime. With what feels like the most diverse and varied music scene we’ve ever had, it was a fitting celebration of everything we’ve come to love.

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