MTV VMAs 2021: Recap, Highlights & Winners

Unlike last year’s pre-recorded performances on green-screen sets and sound stages, this year’s MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) took place in person. With some of the hottest and biggest names in the music as well as the entertainment industry taking the stage in all their glory at the Barclays Center in New York City on Sunday.


The 2021 MTV VMAs kicked off with the legendary pop star – Madonna’s surprise appearance in an all-leather ensemble to commemorate MTV’s 40th anniversary. She stepped on stage to her 1990 hit ‘Vogue’ saying, “And they say we wouldn’t last, but we’re still here motherf***ers,” after a visual of the singer arriving in New York City in a yellow taxi.

She was the first artist in the award show’s history to win twenty awards and did a surprise introduction, celebrating MTV’s 40th anniversary with a tribute video to the channel’s iconic performances.

“Around 40 years ago, I came to New York City with nothing but 35 dollars and a pair of dance shoes,” the ‘Material Girl’ star began. “I told the taxi driver to take me to the center of it all. He dropped me off in Times Square. I was 19 and terrified. But it was just the first step. I knew that someday, with a lot of hard work, I’d be known not just in New York City but all over the world.”

Madonna continued, “Forty years ago, another underdog arrived in New York City hoping to create something revolutionary. An all-music channel premiered in the middle of the night, and it called itself MTV. We formed a bond that changed my life and created a whole new art form. That’s why there’s only one place to be tonight.”


This show celebrated music and joy and was hosted by Doja Cat who was nominated for five awards.

She also delivered a wonderful performance along with other musical artists debuting their latest hits – from Lil Nas X’s outstanding performance for ‘Industry Baby’, to Normani’s Janet Jackson inspired spectacular performance (as always!) for ‘Wild Side’, to Justin Bieber returning to the VMA’s stage to perform his latest hit – ‘Stay’ with The Kid LAROI.

Bieber and Olivia Rodrigo were up for some of the biggest awards, with Justin bagging two and the latter three VMAs. Olivia Rodrigo, BTS, and Lil Nas X won the most VMAs this year with each accepting three awards. Lil Nas X took home the Video of the Year award for ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’.


We take a look at some of the greatest performances and memorable moments from the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards –


Justin Bieber and The Kid LAROI open the 2021 VMAs with a performance of their hit single ‘Stay’

Justin Bieber marked his return to the MTV VMAs stage alongside The Kid LAROI (who is nominated for Push Performance of the Year and Best New Artist) by descending from above and landing onto a cliff set up on stage to perform their hit single ‘Stay’. After the track that brought energy into the room ended, the duo embraced each other.

The Kid LAROI made his exit and the skies darkened as Bieber who rocked a hood crouched low to the ground with smoke swirling around him to perform the song ‘Ghost’ off his recent album ‘Justice’. Towards the end of his time on stage, he returned to the top of the mountain concluding his performance by singing atop the cliff while raising his hand to the sky and lowering his head.


Olivia Rodrigo’s camera-smashing ‘Good 4 u’ performance

The set for Rodrigo’s performance channeled her ‘Sour Prom’ aesthetic. The background had floating butterflies, disco balls, and metallic balloons as she descended from the heavens on what looked like a cloud of metallic balloons to perform her emo energy-packed song ‘Good 4 U’ from her debut album ‘Sour’ which is nominated in the Best Pop category.

Olivia performed in a purple satin dress, gripping the mic with her matching purple lace-up gloves as the audience belted the lyrics at the top of their lungs. The ‘Driver’s License’ hitmaker ended the song by smashing the camera lens following a confetti explosion and flames of fire behind her. She wrapped up the performance by striking a pose alongside her talented crew of dancers.


Normani shows off her ‘Wild Side’ with a mind-blowing performance

Normani’s performance at the VMAs is her Television debut of her latest single ‘Wild Side’. The singer and her backup dancers donned metallic outfits inspired from the TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’ music video performing the choreography very reminiscent of Aaliyah’s music video for ‘One in a Million’ (‘Wide Side’ also samples ‘One in a Million’).

Originally, Cardi B featured on Normani’s track, however, she brought out Teyana Taylor at the climax of the show-stopping performance. Normani gave a mid-air lap dance to Taylor who was wheeled out onto the stage strapped onto a metal board paying tribute to Janet Jackson’s iconic ‘Would You Mind’ performance from her All For You tour. The number was concluded by the singer hanging by her feet off dancer and singer, Teyana.


Billie Eilish and Cyndi Lauper speaking up for women’s rights

The iconic pop star Cyndi Lauper attended the 2021 MTV VMAs to present an award for the Best Pop Record. But, that’s not all, she also had a message in mind. “How are you doing? I won a Moon Person at the very first VMAs in 1984. Things are a little different now,” said Lauper – ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ hit singer. “Yeah, girls wanna have fun. But we also want to have funds. Equal pay. Control over our bodies! You know, fundamental rights.”

Billie Eilish also used her platform to share an important message while accepting her Video for Good Award. Eilish said, “I just want to say that we need to protect our young women at all costs. For real.” She implored the crowd to consider the song’s message, “We also need to remember that we all have power, and we have to remember to not abuse it.”


And the VMAs Global Icon Award goes to… FOO FIGHTERS!

Being one of the biggest bands in rock, the Foo Fighters were honored with the show’s first-ever Global Icon Award. This award is bestowed to an artist/band “who has left an indelible mark on the musical landscape and continues to influence, inspire and evolve”. In addition to this, the band is nominated in three categories – Best Rock, Best Cinematography, and Best Choreography — all for their ‘Shame Shame’ video.

The group delivered a medley of ‘Everlong’, ‘Learn to Fly’ taking the audience back to the 90s, and a dark rendition of ‘Shame Shame’. Billie Eilish introduced the band’s performance by saluting the group as one who “an entire generation of music fans grew up with,” and Dave Grohl gave Eilish a big hug.

As they were performing, a split-screen montage simultaneously played clips from dozens of Foo Fighters videos from the course of their career and drummer Taylor Hawkins paid tribute to late Rolling Stones timekeeper Charlie Watts with a “Charlie R.I.P.” message on his bass drum. The videos on the split-screen were displayed both behind and underneath them and projected onto the actual stage.


Chlöe Bailey is a superstar as she Makes Her Solo Debut

Chlöe – Chloe Bailey of sister duo Chloe x Halle made her solo performance debut with ‘Have Mercy’ that was released recently and her command over the VMAs stage was phenomenal!

Donning a hot pink corset the singer began the performance with an electrifying, operatic prelude highlighting her extensive vocal range and delivered a killer performance backed by a team of varsity-jacketed dancers with brilliant choreography and her flawless singing. The star ended the number with a sultry microphone lick.


Lil Nas X brings the ‘Montero State Prison’ to the VMAs Stage

Rapper Lil Nas X took the VMAs stage to perform his hit single ‘Montero: Call Me By Your Name’ followed by ‘Industry Baby’ alongside Jack Harlow. The young star made his grand entrance with a pink marching band following him to the stage and the climax of the first number led to a steamy shower dance which transitioned to his next song.

He was not only there to put on a great show but was also nominated for five VMAs. The 22-year-old’s flabbergasting video for “Montero: Call Me By Your Name” won the night’s biggest honor. “First I wanna say thank you to the gay agenda,” Lil Nas X shouted while accepting his Moon Person for Video of the Year.  “Let’s go gay agenda!”


Alicia Keys paid tribute to the 9/11 tragedy against the Manhattan skyline

The R&B legend Alicia Keys was accompanied by the ‘Sunflower’ hitmaker Swae Lee to perform their recent collaboration ‘Lala’. Lee was the first to step out amidst the cobalt blue-clad dancers as the duo moved and grooved to the soulful track at New York’s Liberty State Park. Keys looked sickening as she followed Swae in a glistening, form-fitting sequin gown and then sashayed over to a chandelier-lit piano for the next number.

Alicia delivered a solo rendition of her 2009 hit Jay-Z collab ‘Empire State of Mind’ against the Manhattan skyline to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the devastating 9/11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center. Her passionate tribute was a wonderful sight to see.


Busta Rhymes Delivered Timeless Medley performance

The iconic rapper Busta Rhymes, a surprise performer at the VMAs this year, delivered an incredible performance of a medley of hits including ‘Scenario’, ‘Touch It’, and ‘Pass The Courvoisier’. Rhymes who had the audience jumping throughout the set was joined by his hype man – Spliff Star.

The two wore bright red and white outfits performing the jams like ‘Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See’ and ‘Look At Me Now’ that were amplified by their respective music videos to remember! He concluded the fast-rap that even the likes of the greatest rappers would envy by telling the audience, “Brooklyn, don’t ever forget that!”


Kacey Musgraves Lights Up the stage at her VMAs debut performance

Kacey Musgraves performed at the VMAs for the very first time singing the emotional title track of her new album – ‘Star-Crossed’.

The songstress wore a flowing white wet-styled dress during the visually popping set and towards the end of the number a silhouette of a heart behind her was set ablaze. This was an ode to the burned-out romance on her latest record and the performance started with her walking through rows of candles and neon lights that depicted red hearts stabbed with blue daggers.


Twenty One Pilots Announce Pregnancy News During ‘Saturday’ Performance

Lead singer Tyler Joseph of the group Twenty One Pilots opened the ‘Saturday’ performance with a stripped-down version of the song’s first verse. Although it didn’t take long for the song to be kicked into high gear the set began with him sitting down and strumming away on a ukulele.

The stage and the performance were filled with effects the duo recreated from their nautical music video and during the final chorus, Joseph dropped some huge personal news with fans and the audience. “My wife is pregnant with our second child!” he declared. “I didn’t wanna text everybody, so I thought I’d let you know right now,” Tyler said while standing with his backup singers who continued the song. “Now you know.”


Blue Ivy makes history once again!

Beyoncé’s ‘Brown Skin Girl’ music video won the Best Cinematography Award and the nine-year-old Blue Ivy made history after having lent her vocals to the track becoming the youngest VMA winner ever. She shares the award with her mother Beyoncé, Wizkid, and SAINt JHN and the Cinematographers for the video are Benoit Soler, Malik H. Sayeed, MOHAMMAED ATTA AHMED, Santiago Gonzalez, and Ryan Helfant.

Blue also won her first GRAMMY award earlier this year for the hit song making her the second-youngest artist to ever win a Grammy Award following Leah Peasall. In 2001, eight-year-old Peasall won for her work on the album of the year-winning soundtrack to ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’


Check out the complete list of winners below:



Cardi B: “WAP” [ft. Megan Thee Stallion]
DJ Khaled / Drake: “Popstar” (Starring Justin Bieber)
Doja Cat: “Kiss Me More” [ft. SZA]

Lil Nas X: “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)”
Ed Sheeran: “Bad Habits”
The Weeknd: “Save Your Tears”

WINNER: Lil Nas X: “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)”



HONOREE: Foo Fighters



24kGoldn: “Mood” [ft. Iann Dior]
BTS: “Dynamite”
Cardi B: “WAP” [ft. Megan Thee Stallion]
Dua Lipa: “Levitating”
Olivia Rodrigo: “Drivers License”
Bruno Mars / Anderson .Paak / Silk Sonic: “Leave the Door Open”

WINNER: Olivia Rodrigo: “Drivers License”


Artist of the Year

Ariana Grande
Doja Cat
Justin Bieber
Megan Thee Stallion
Olivia Rodrigo
Taylor Swift

WINNER: Justin Bieber



Foo Fighters
Jonas Brothers
Maroon 5
Bruno Mars / Anderson .Paak / Silk Sonic
Twenty One Pilots




September 2020: Wallows – “Are You Bored Yet?”
October 2020: Ashnikko – “Daisy”
November 2020: Saint Jhn – “Gorgeous”
December 2020: 24kGoldn – “Coco”
January 2021: JC Stewart – “Break My Heart”
February 2021: Latto – “Sex Lies”
March 2021: Madison Beer – “Selfish”
April 2021: The Kid Laroi – “Without You”
May 2021: Olivia Rodrigo – “Drivers License”
June 2021: Girl in Red – “Serotonin”
July 2021: Fousheé – “my slime”
August 2021: Jxdn – “Think About Me”

WINNER: May 2021: Olivia Rodrigo – “Drivers License”



The Kid Laroi
Olivia Rodrigo
Polo G

WINNER: Olivia Rodrigo



24kGoldn: “Mood” [ft. Iann dior]
Cardi B: “WAP” [ft. Megan Thee Stallion]
Doja Cat: “Kiss Me More” [ft. SZA]
Drake: “Laugh Now Cry Later” [ft. Lil Durk]
Justin Bieber: “Peaches” [ft. Daniel Caesar and Giveon]
Miley Cyrus: “Prisoner” [ft. Dua Lipa]

WINNER: Doja Cat: “Kiss Me More” [ft. SZA]



Ariana Grande: “Positions”
Billie Eilish: “Therefore I Am”
BTS: “Butter”
Harry Styles: “Treat People With Kindness”
Justin Bieber: “Peaches” [ft. Daniel Caesar and Giveon]
Olivia Rodrigo: “Good 4 U”
Shawn Mendes: “Wonder”
Taylor Swift: “Willow”

WINNER: Justin Bieber: “Peaches” [ft. Daniel Caesar and Giveon]



Travis Scott: “Franchise” [ft. Young Thug and M.I.A.]

Cardi B: “WAP” [ft. Megan Thee Stallion]
Drake: “Laugh Now Cry Later” [ft. Lil Durk]
Lil Baby: “On Me (Remix)” [ft. Megan Thee Stallion]
Moneybagg Yo: “Said Sum”
Polo G: “Rapstar”

WINNER: Travis Scott: “Franchise” [ft. Young Thug and M.I.A.]


Evanescence: “Use My Voice”
Foo Fighters: “Shame Shame”
John Mayer: “Last Train Home”
The Killers: “My Own Soul’s Warning”
Kings of Leon: “The Bandit”
Lenny Kravitz: “Raise Vibration”

WINNER: John Mayer: “Last Train Home”



Bleachers: “Stop Making This Hurt”
Glass Animals: “Heat Waves”
Imagine Dragons: “Follow You”
Machine Gun Kelly: “My Ex’s Best Friend” [ft. Blackbear]
Twenty One Pilots: “Shy Away”
Willow: “Transparent Soul” [ft. Travis Barker]

WINNER: Machine Gun Kelly: “My Ex’s Best Friend” [ft. Blackbear]



Bad Bunny / Jhay Cortez: “Dákiti”
Billie Eilish / Rosalía: “Lo Vas a Olvidar”
Black Eyed Peas / Shakira: “Girl Like Me”
J Balvin / Dua Lipa / Bad Bunny / Tainy: “Un Dia (One Day)”
Karol G: “Bichota”
Maluma: “Hawái”

WINNER: Billie Eilish / Rosalía: “Lo Vas a Olvidar”



Beyoncé / Blue Ivy / Saint Jhn / WizKid: “Brown Skin Girl”
Chris Brown / Young Thug: “Go Crazy”
Giveon: “Heartbreak Anniversary”
H.E.R.: “Come Through” [ft. Chris Brown]
Bruno Mars / Anderson .Paak / Silk Sonic: “Leave the Door Open”
SZA: “Good Days”

WINNER: Bruno Mars / Anderson .Paak / Silk Sonic: “Leave the Door Open”



(G)I-dle: “Dumdi Dumdi”
Blackpink / Selena Gomez: “Ice Cream”
BTS: “Butter”
Monsta X: “Gambler”
Seventeen: “Ready to Love”
Twice: “Alcohol-Free”

WINNER: BTS: “Butter”



Billie Eilish: “Happier Than Ever”
BTS: “Butter”
Camila Cabello: “Don’t Go Yet”
DJ Khaled: “Every Chance I Get” [ft. Lil Baby and Lil Durk]
Doja Cat: “Need to Know”
Dua Lipa: “Levitating”
Ed Sheeran: “Bad Habits”
Giveon: “Heartbreak Anniversary”
Justin Bieber: “Peaches” [ft. Daniel Caesar and Giveon]
The Kid Laroi / Justin Bieber: “Stay”
Lil Nas X / Jack Harlow: “Industry Baby”
Lizzo: “Rumors” [ft. Cardi B]
Megan Thee Stallion: “Thot Shit”
Normani: “Wild Side” [ft. Cardi B]
Olivia Rodrigo: “Good 4 U”
Shawn Mendes / Tainy: “Summer of Love”

WINNER: BTS: “Butter”



Billie Eilish: “Your Power”
Demi Lovato: “Dancing With the Devil”
H.E.R.: “Fight for You”
Kane Brown: “Worldwide Beautiful”
Lil Nas X: “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)”
Pharrell Williams: “Entrepreneur” [ft. Jay-Z]

WINNER: Billie Eilish: “Your Power”



Billie Eilish: “Your Power” (dir. Billie Eilish)
DJ Khaled ft. Drake: “Popstar” (dir. Director X)
Lil Nas X: “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” (dir. Lil Nas X and Tanu Muino)
Taylor Swift: “Willow” (dir. Taylor Swift)
Travis Scott ft. Young Thug & M.I.A: “Franchise” (dir. Travis Scott)
Tyler, the Creator: “Lumberjack” (dir. Wolf Haley)

WINNER: Lil Nas X: “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” (dir. Lil Nas X and Tanu Muino)



Beyoncé / Blue Ivy / Saint Jhn / WizKid: “Brown Skin Girl” (cinematography: Benoit Soler, Malik H. Sayeed, MOHAMMAED ATTA AHMED, Santiago Gonzalez, Ryan Helfant)
Billie Eilish: “Therefore I Am” (cinematography: Rob Witt)
Foo Fighters: “Shame Shame” (cinematography: Santiago Gonzalez)
Justin Bieber ft. Chance the Rapper: “Holy” (cinematography: Elias Talbot)
Lady Gaga: “911” (cinematography: Jeff Cronenweth)
Lorde: “Solar Power” (cinematography: Andrew Stroud)

WINNER: Beyoncé / Blue Ivy / Saint Jhn / WizKid: “Brown Skin Girl” (cinematography: Benoit Soler, Malik H. Sayeed, MOHAMMAED ATTA AHMED, Santiago Gonzalez, Ryan Helfant)



Beyoncé / Shatta Wale / Major Lazer: “Already” (art direction: Susan Linns, Gerard Santos)
Ed Sheeran: “Bad Habits” (art direction: Alison Dominitz)
Lady Gaga: “911” (art direction: Tom Foden, Peter Andrus)
Lil Nas X: “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” (art direction: John Richoux)
Saweetie ft. Doja Cat: “Best Friend” (art direction: Art Haynes)
Taylor Swift: “Willow” (art direction: Ethan Tobman, Regina Fernandez)

WINNER: Saweetie ft. Doja Cat: “Best Friend” (art direction: Art Haynes)



Bella Poarch: “Build a Bitch” (visual effects: Andrew Donoho, Denhov Visuals, Denis Strahhov, Rein Jakobson, Vahur Kuusk, Tatjana Pavlik, Yekaterina Vetrova)
Coldplay: “Higher Power” (visual effects: Mathematic)
Doja Cat / The Weeknd: “You Right” (visual effects: La Pac, Anthony Lestremau, Julien Missaire, Petr Shkolniy, Alexi Bailla, Micha Sher, Antoine Hache, Mikros MPC, Nicolas Huget, Guillaume Ho Tsong Fang, Benjamin Lenfant, Stephane Pivron, MPC Bangalore, Chanakya Chander, Raju Ganesh, David Rouxel)
Glass Animals: “Tangerine” (visual effects: Ronan Fourreau)
Lil Nas X: “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” (visual effects: Mathematic)
P!nk: “All I Know So Far” (visual effects: Dave Meyers, Freenjoy Inc)

WINNER: Lil Nas X: “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” (visual effects: Mathematic)



Ariana Grande: “34+35” (choreography: Brian Nicholson & Scott Nicholson)
Ed Sheeran: “Bad Habits” (choreography: Natricia Bernard)
Foo Fighters: “Shame Shame” (choreography: Nina McNeely)
Harry Styles: “Treat People With Kindness” (choreography: Paul Roberts)
Marshmello / Halsey: “Be Kind” (choreography: Dani Vitale)

WINNER: Harry Styles: “Treat People With Kindness” (choreography: Paul Roberts)



BTS: “Butter” (editing: Yong Seok Choi from Lumpens)
Drake: “What’s Next” (editing: Noah Kendal)

Bruno Mars / Anderson .Paak / Silk Sonic: “Leave the Door Open” (editing: Troy Charbonnet)
Harry Styles: “Treat People With Kindness” (editing: Claudia Wass)
Justin Bieber ft. Daniel Caesar, Giveon: “Peaches” (editing: Mark Mayr, Vinnie Hobbs)
Miley Cyrus ft. Dua Lipa: “Prisoner” (editing: William Town at Modern Post)

WINNER: Bruno Mars / Anderson .Paak / Silk Sonic: “Leave the Door Open” (editing: Troy Charbonnet)



Masked Wolf: “Astronaut in the Ocean”
Claire Rosinkranz: “Backyard Boy”
Bella Poarch: “Build a B*tch”
Yung Baby Tate: “I Am” [ft. Flo Milli]
Whoheem: “Let’s Link”

WINNER: Claire Rosinkranz: “Backyard Boy”


Aly & AJ: “Potential Breakup Song”
Destiny’s Child: “Bills, Bills, Bills”
Fleetwood Mac: “Dreams”
Simple Plan: “I’m Just a Kid”
Boney M.: “Rasputin”
Missy Elliott: “Work It”

WINNER: Aly & AJ: “Potential Breakup Song”



“Blackbird” Duet by @joejonas x @itsbenhorsburgh
Fan Duet by @charlieputh x @jvke
Soup Song by @johnmayer x @itsjamiebiotch
Mom It Was Never a Phase by @alltimelow x @yungricepatty

Mustard Watermelon by @Lizzo x @yayayayummy
“Unwritten” Dance by @natashabedingfield x @rony_boyy

WINNER: Mustard Watermelon by @Lizzo x @yayayayummy



“Baby One More Time x Levitating” by Britney Spears / Dua Lipa x @adamusic_

“Shaxicula” (“Toxic” x “Love Shack” x “Dragula”) by Britney Spears / The B-52’s / Rob Zombie x @djcummerbund
“Castaways x Dilemma” by The Backyardigans / Nelly ft. Kelly Rowland x @djbabyq
“Good 4 U x Misery Business” by Olivia Rodrigo / Paramore x @nikjaay
“Watermelon Sugar x Seaside” by Harry Styles / SEB x @SEBS_LOVESONGS

WINNER: “Shaxicula” (“Toxic” x “Love Shack” x “Dragula”) by Britney Spears / The B-52’s / Rob Zombie x @djcummerbund



“Twerkulator” by City Girls x @layzchipz
“Adderall (Corvette Corvette)” by Popp Hunna x @yvnggprince
“Gimme More” by Britney Spears x @jaedengomezz & @karaleighcannella
“Ooowwweee” by Peewee Longway & Money Man x
“Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion x @keke.janajah
“Up” by Cardi B x @theemyanicole and @cchrvs

WINNER: “Twerkulator” by City Girls x @layzchipz


Last year, we covered the MTV Video Music Awards 2020 – Highlights. check it out!
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