This is how we rank the 16 performances from the VMAs in 2021.
16. Shawn Mendes feat Tainy, “Summer of Love”
“Summer of Love” is not over as Shawn Mendes and Tainy reminded their fans during their TV debut performance of their latest collab. After Mende’s girlfriend Cabello sweetly introduced him as “my guy”, the superstar popped into every other girl in the audience. The performance did not completely melt any hearts and only made them beat from Tainy’s bouncing production.
Twenty-one pilots, “Saturday”
The duo’s ukulele-led performance of “Saturday” Trojan horseed the audience into believing that Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun would deliver a snooze party. But starlight and flashing lights woke everyone in Barclay’s Center and made them loud as if it were a Friday.
14. Machine Gun Kelly featuring Travis Barker, “Paper Clips”
Introduced by their girlfriends Megan Fox and Kourtney Kardashian, who called them their “future baby daddy”, MGK and Barker’s debut performance of their single “papercuts” cut deep … into the rapper’s face, drawing a clear picture of what is Born with horns, the title of MGK’s upcoming sixth studio album, is similar. From fire outbursts erupting from the stage and backup dancers with blood-red flower petals sprouting out of their faces, their performance brought the VMAs to a screaming, guitar-smashing stop.
13. Ed Sheeran, “Shivers”
Sheeran took Brooklyn Bridge Park by storm, with masked fans surrounding the outdoor scene experiencing “Shivers” up close and personal. Its alternative location outside the Barclays Center made the English pop star’s performance stand out from the rest of the awards show. But his ability to hold his own cannot be discredited as Sheeran’s mini-concert sprayed lightning of energy into the crowd.
12. Alicia Keys featuring Swae Lee, “LALA” and “Empire State of Mind”
Keys’ TV debut performance of her and Swae Lee’s brand new collab “LALA” honored her home state of New York and the VMAs home base. But the golden-golden duo was not the completely golden performance at night; her solo piano performance, however, got everyone in the real “Empire State of Mind” towards the end, when a shot of the Empire State Building brought the Keys home, back behind a piano and back to 2009 with her Hot 100 No. 1 Jay-Z collaborates.
11. Ozuna, “La Funka”
The shining Latin hitmaker embodied joy in the form of his branded Care Bears during his performance of “La Funka.” As a massive teddy bear rose from the toy-filled claw machine behind him and floated across the ceiling of the Barclays Center, Ozuna left a smile on everyone’s faces — and changed the face of MTV’s giant Moon Person to a teddy bear to further his dominance.
10. The Kid LAROI featuring Justin Bieber, “Stay” and “Ghost”
These moonmen (not to be confused with the actual VMA hardware) fell on stage and landed on top of a mountain that LAROI and Bieber, the latter of whom were back after a six-year hiatus from performing at the VMAs, claimed their rightful place at the top while performing their Hot 100-topping hit “Stay”. The electrifying performance, greeted with a chorus of screaming girls, was the right way to start the night. But hoodie-and-overalls-dressed Biebs had a kind of hard-as-the-mountain-he-descent-over transition to his emotionally charged Justice highlight “Ghost”.
9. Camila Cabello, “Do Not Go Yet”
Cabello’s black-and-white performance of her latest single “Don’t Go Yet” was hot by the press with her legion of dancers — and as her performance colored, we saw that it was hot pink from the press. The Knockout Dance Holiday paid homage to her Latin roots and maintained her princess status after she recently premiered her adaptation of Cinderella.
8. Kacey Musgraves, “Star Cross”
Musgraves set the dream scene for her first ever VMA appearance off the title track of her fifth album star-crossed. The lukewarm candlelit display had neon signs of dagger piercing hearts scattered across the stage, while a heart-shaped fire further illuminated the star. As Musgraves’ new album dissects life after her divorce from Ruston Kelly, the country singer reminded everyone that there is still light at the end of the tunnel and she is the source of it.
7. Doja Cat, “Been Like This” and “You Right”
Tonight’s host took everyone along Planet Here, which revolved around the floating red-hot star as she rumbled the album’s deep track “Been Like This” inside a light ring. When she finally returned to the Barclays Center stage on Planet Earth, Doja took on a flashing version of “You Right” without her collaborator The Weeknd, defying the song’s lyrics about wanting a man and proving that VMA viewers only needed her to out-of-this-world achievements.
Olivia Rodrigo, “Good 4 U”
Rodrigo also kicked the VMAs off with her virtual butterfly and balloon-assisted descent into her punk-driven “Good 4 U” performance. Wearing a cute purple corset dress and making the song’s f-words brutally blow out of the show, the 18-year-old hitmaker who won this year’s song for “Drivers License” shortly after her performance, MTV on her 40th birthday, reminded how one correctly addresses their target audience of troubled teenage music lovers.
5. Busta Rhymes, “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” https://news.google.com/ “Ante Up” https://news.google.com/ “Scenario” https://news.google.com / “Touch It” https://news.google.com/ “Look at me now” https://news.google.com/ “Pass The Courvoisier”
Swizz Beatz let the kids know that Busta wanted to show them how it was done when they introduced the hip-hop legend, and Brooklyn MC did just that in his hometown, which he proudly repeated. After recreating the eye-catching music video “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See”, Busta (with none other than Spliff Starr hyping him next to him) spat his stage-stealing guest verses on MOP’s “Ante Up,” A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” as well as his signature fast-fire section in Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” and takes away the audience’s breath (and his own). While saying to Brooklyn, “Never forget it,” the 49-year-old rapper also reminded the kids that he is the reasonable rhyming spearman who has also delivered, as Swizz said earlier, “the most important times videos” and would have been worthy to the video preview award (had it not been removed from the show for the second year in a row).
4. Foo Fighters, “Learn to Fly” https://news.google.com/ “Shame Shame” https://news.google.com/ “Everlong”
The first ever recipients of the Global Icon Award returned to the VMAs scene for the first time in 15 years, giving the night some much-needed rock n ‘roll edge with their 90s hits “Learn to Fly” and “Everlong” as well as “Shame shame “from their album in 2021, Medicine at midnight. While the screen behind them took the crowd back in time through the decades-long career of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame depositors, Foos lived it out right there on stage and shone a posthumous spotlight on late Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts with “Charlie RIP” written on Taylor Hawkins’ drum kit.
3. Normani, “Wild Page”
Normani’s show-stopping performance of “Motivation” at the 2019 VMAs demanded her major return this year, and the pop star certainly did not disappoint while showcasing her “Wild Side.” The Silver Star swept the stage (literally!) And filled her futuristic rock-infused performance. While fans followed her across multiple screens at first, all eyes remained on her as she tracked Teyana Taylor’s strapped body with her own in a show-stop tribute to Janet Jackson’s performances.
2. Chlöe, “Be Merciful”
Fresh from the pink heels at the release of his first solo single “Have Mercy”, Chlöe brought his bootylicious visual to life. The 23-year-old singer took the stage by storm as her male backup dancers quickly fell under her spell and crumbled to the ground. Half of Chloe x Halle left her mark on the VMAs scene, which absorbed her tectonic record-changing choreo and emblematized her name on screen.
1. Lil Nas X feat. Jack Harlow, “Industry Baby” and “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”
Following a famous introduction by Billy Porter, Lil Nas X and his marching band emerged for the master’s theme “Industry Baby”, assisted by Jack Harlow. After someone quickly ripped off his shirt – it would not be a proper LNX performance if he was fully clothed, right? – the rapper lined up the hot pink inmates of “Montero Prison” and eventually stripped them down in astonished panties to perform the outro from “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).” Although the 22-year-old hitmaker already has a “pair number”, Lil Nas X continues to push the envelope on how to hand them out at award shows. It came as no surprise that his name was on the envelope as this year’s video winner.