Doja Cat, who wore a red hat designed like a chair - among other unconventional outfits - hosted the live broadcast that aired on MTV. Artists ranging from Ed Sheeran to Chloe of Chloe x Halle took center stage to perform some of this year's greatest hits.
Performers included fan-favorites like Alicia Keys, Justin Bieber, Travis Barker and more, according to the MTV performance lineup. Five of the 23 performers also took home awards.
Lil Nas X, who hit the red carpet in a Prince-inspired pastel purple suit-gown mix, won “Video of the Year” for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).” This hit from the “Montero” album collected a whopping 8.9 million likes on Youtube, nearly double the likes of the second most-liked nomination “Save Your Tears” by The Weekend.
During his acceptance speech, Lil Nas X thanked his team while also sliding in a promotion for his long-awaited album “Montero,” released on Sept. 17. The rapper and songwriter also later won the award for “Best Direction.”
Lil Nas X, who rose to fame with the release of “Old Town Road” in 2019, has become increasingly popular since “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” dropped in March 2021, according to Billboard.
“He's really keen on what people want from him, what Gen Z humor is like,” said Gem Miller, a DJ at WMUC and the host of the radio station’s show “No Boys Allowed.” “Having a keen knowledge of, you know, the culture and knowing your audience [is] awesome.”
The music video received a nomination in the category “Video for Good”. However, Billie Eilish’s video for “Your Power” earned the win.
“Even if the actual music video wasn't targeted at saving the world and instead it was him dancing on Satan, I think that [Lil Nas X’s] impact as an out gay Black man is just so good,” said University of Maryland senior government and politics and theater double major, Abigail Landesman.
UMD senior psychology major Monica Doughtery agreed. “It makes sense that he won because I feel like everything that he's doing is standing out in a good way.”
But Lil Nas X was not the only artist who won multiple awards.
Olivia Rodrigo, crowned “Best New Artist of the Year,” also took home VMAs for “Song of the Year” and “Push Performance of the Year” for her song “Driver’s License.”
“‘Sour’ was the best album, I literally listen [to it] on repeat and I love [it],” said UMD senior music composition major, Elian Contreras. “I'm 21 but it's like she's 19, so it's not that big of a difference to relate to angst, you know. [It’s] like Paramore type [of] stuff I grew up with.”
It is easy to enjoy Rodrigo’s music because it is not just pop, said UMD senior public health major Zoe Hall.
Rodrigo’s music comprises elements of the pop-rock and indie-pop genres. However, the artist did not receive a nomination for the “Best Alternative” category. Instead, Machine Gun Kelly received the VMA for “My Ex’s Best Friend,” a music video featuring his girlfriend Megan Fox.
Justin Bieber also took home two awards for “Artist of the Year” and “Best Pop” for his song “Peaches” featuring Daniel Caesar and Giveon. Bieber later returned to the stage to perform “Stay” with Kid LAROI in Bieber’s first VMA performance since 2015, according to MTV News.
While fans gushed over Bieber’s acceptance speech, during which he gave his “bae” Hailey Bieber a shoutout, other fans called out Travis Scott for not mentioning Kylie Jenner in his acceptance speech.
Scott won “Best Hip-Hop” for his song “Franchise” featuring Young Thug and M.I.A. During his speech, the rapper thanked his mother and daughter, Stormi, leading fans to question why he did not mention Jenner.
“I think it's a little weird because [he was] talking about [his] mom and other people,” said Hall. “Kylie definitely had a big impact.”
But artists do not need to involve their girlfriends in their careers, said Doughtery. “It's his win, not Kylie's win… he's just talking about his music.”
While some fans on Twitter are still divided over the issue of Scott’s speech, others on campus are more focused on Harry Styles’ win for “Best Choreography”.
Landesman, who saw the English singer in concert on Sept. 18, said Styles was very free in his dancing during the live performance.
“People went crazy,” she said. “He has a positive impact on people, he was even carrying around the pride flag and the bi[sexual] flag at some point.”
Other award winners included Doja Cat and SZA for “Best Collaboration” on “Kiss me More,” Bruno Mars for “Best R&B” for “Leave the Door Open,” BTS for “Best K-pop” for “Butter” and Beyonce for “Best Cinematography” for “Brown Skin Girl.”
The award show wrapped up with Twenty One Pilots performing “Saturday,” where vocalist Tyler Joseph announced that he and his wife were expecting their second child.
The audience roared while smoke from the stage floated down to the fans in the front row. At the end of the song, Joseph motioned as if to hand the microphone off to the cameraman, wrapping up the 2021 VMAS.