After a year of celebrating virtually in 2020, MTV’s Video Music Awards returned to the stage in glitz and glamour, also marking the show’s milestone 40th year. This year’s awards show paid tribute to MTV’s history from start to finish and opened with a surprise show from Madonna, a VMA legend with 20 moon person awards to her name.
The queen of pop commemorated her decades-long relationship with the youth leading entertainment brand MTV in a video series that showed her in Times Square in the back of a taxi and lived on stage at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Surrounded by giant screens projecting some of her iconic music videos, the “Crazy for You” singer gave her opening speech. “Forty years ago, another musical underdog arrived in New York City, hoping to create something revolutionary. Instead, an all-music channel premiered in the middle of the night and called itself MTV,” she said. “We found each other and formed a bond that changed my life, changed music, and created a whole new art form. That’s why there’s only one place to be tonight.”
Other veterans were also present for the 40th celebration of the show. Cyndi Lauper, the first-ever award winner of the moon person in 1984, reminded viewers of the difference between now and then. She later presented an award right after tying her hit song to the agitation for women’s rights. “Yeah, girls still wanna have fun,” Lauper said to a cheering crowd. “But we also want to have funds. Equal pay. Control over our bodies! You know, fundamental rights.”
The night was star-studded with Justin Bieber, Camila Cabello, Chlöe Bailey, Olivia Rodrigo, Lil Nas X, Machine Gun Kelly, Ed Sheeran, Kacey Musgraves, Alicia Keys, Busta Rhymes, Shawn Mendes, Twenty One Pilots, and many others. Some also made their VMA debuts with new songs. For example, Musgraves performed “Star-Crossed,” the title track off her recently released studio album, while Chlöe Bailey performed her debut solo single “Have Mercy” onstage for the first time.
The VMAs were hosted by the indefatigable Doja Cat, who redefined the term “show host” with her charmingly casual non-performance as the award show’s nominal emcee. She ignored the teleprompter, went on an opening monologue, and said, “If you like famous people, keep watching!” Later, she switched costumes, dressed up like a worm, put a chair on her head, and wished the viewers a good night.
The memorable evening ended with another nod to the past. “Video Killed The Radio Star” by the Buggles’ was the very first video to air on MTV in 1981, playing over the closing credits. When it first went on air, the first video was accompanied by the image of an astronaut and an MTV flag planted on the moon’s surface.