With a performance lineup including Ed Sheeran, Justin BeiberThe Foo Fighters, Alicia Keys, Olivia Rodrigo, Lil Nas XThe MTV VMAs 2021 sought to integrate veterans with new kids.
After last year COVID forced combination of outdoor live footage and pre-recorded productions, the annual Music Awards Show took a crack at the normality of award showtime by returning to the traditional vibe at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
It paid off. Fireworks, arena-sized groups and a live audience (wearing face masks) combined for the most exciting prize show in recent memory.
Here’s a look at the offerings as they develop:
Justin Bieber, “Stay with the Kid Laroi”; ‘ghost’
Kid Laroy, looking ready to pilot a flight in dark aviator glasses, gave a caffeinated opening with Bieber – where he debuted six years ago – as they roam the stage in unison against the fake mountains. But after their warm embrace, Bieber, in work clothes and a hoodie, ponders the meaning of the lasers around him in his new song “Ghost.”
Olivia Rodrigo for her role in Good 4 U
Surrounded by masked dancers, a darling of this year’s VMAs followed the twinkling drum of her drummer as she shrugged and fumble with her #1 hit. Balloons, cardboard, and a pyro supported her performance as she played the song’s hook, “Maybe I’m too emotional” with a sort of middle finger that said For viewers, no, it’s fine, thanks.
Casey Musgrave, “Star-Crossed”
For her first VMA performance, the country singer took the elegant route. Surrounded by candles and a female guitar soloist, her warm voice immerses herself in a heart-wrenching personal song. As a statue of the heart behind her in flames and the rest of her band, Musgraves was still the undeniable focal point of a short but touching performance.
Twenty-one pilots, ‘Saturday’
Starting with the meandering vibe highlighted by singer Tyler Joseph playing the ukulele, the ukulele already marked 180 of the band’s usual fare seemed airy and forgettable. With the waves crashing (video) that surrounded the stage, Joseph got involved in some moves with the duo’s backup vocalists as live trumpets added some depth and Josh attacked without his drum set. The blond striker also used his time on stage to mention that his wife is pregnant, an announcement oddly appropriate given the enormity of the song.
Ed Sheeran for “Shivers”
Playing live from Pier 3 at Brooklyn Bridge Park, the lovable Ginger stood atop a triangular stage in his first VMA appearance since 2017 to release his catchy pop tune. Skinny and smiling—parenthood and marriage seemed to suit him—Sheeran seemed perfectly noticeable. While it was weird to see him supported by a band (Sheeran and their loopers are a happy longtime couple), the addition of background vocalists and jabs of electric guitars suggest this song is really designed for the inevitable to follow up on his next tour. A new album “=” (” equals) is scheduled to be delivered on October 29.
Lil Nas X, “Baby Industry” with Jack Harlow; Montero (Call me by your name)
Borrowing from Beyoncé and Taylor Swift as the marching band enters, the headliner quickly strips down to reveal his ripped torso. Hopping with a band of dancers dressed in bright pink, the Atlanta native performed “Industry Baby” in front of a “Montero Prison” set complete with “inmates” lining up on the footpaths. The song’s featured guest, Jack Harlow, appeared in the middle of the song, wearing a glamorous version of a huge bag, but soon left to allow Lil Nas X more time to undress. He sang nothing more than the chorus of “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”, but the setting afforded him the opportunity to dress in sparkly fuchsia pants amid a group of men in lingerie.
Camila Cabello for Don’t Go yet
Injecting some scandalous Latin pop into the evening, Cabello embraced her Cuban heritage with a full production number complete with a sexy one-shoulder, leg-width dress. The combination of the song’s chorus and ace dancers obscured Capello’s limitations as a singer. Yes, she’s a totally fun performer, but it’s not the “iconic legend” that she presented as Charli XCX. Let’s save the exaggeration for artists who lived at least a decade ago, cool?
Shawn Mendes and Tinny, “Summer of Love”
Always a romantic, Mendes walked on stage in wide-legged pants that looked as if he had raided Harry Styles’ closet singing the dreamy song. Passing his hands through his fancy locks and flashing his billion dollar smile on his hands outstretched in front of him, Mendes is a simple heart — and looked more at the part hiding in the clouds of dry ice. Also, having such a pure sound is a bonus.