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2021 MTV VMAs: Lil Nas X takes home top prize and more highlights

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MTV Video Music Awards: Top winners and moments
2021 MTV Video Music Awards: Lil Nas X, Justin Bieber and Olivia Rodrigo win top honors 02:14

The MTV VMAs returned to Brooklyn with performances by some of the biggest stars both old and new, with Lil Nas X taking home the top prize of Video of the Year. Justin Bieber and Olivia Rodrigo were the other big winners of the night. 

"First I wanna say thank you to the gay agenda," Lil Nas X shouted during his acceptance speech. "Let's go gay agenda!"

Lil Nas X also had a standout performance, adopting a marching band motif for "Industry Baby" before segueing into "Montero: Call Me By Your Name."  

Doja Cat hosted and performed "Been Like This" and "You Right," flying around the stage held up by wires in an aerial act.

To celebrate MTV's 40th anniversary, there were callbacks to the early days, with the iconic "Video Killed the Radio Star" — the first music video MTV ever showed — playing over the closing credits. Madonna opened the show with a voiceover about her arrival in New York City and the beginning of MTV. "That's why there's only one place to be tonight," she said.

"And they say we wouldn't last, but we're still here motherf***ers," she said on stage. 

Justin Bieber and The Kid Laori took the stage to perform, followed by Rodrigo, who then won Best New Artist.

Cyndi Lauper, who reminded the crowd that she won a Moon Person at the very first VMAs, said "girls still want to have fun, but we also want to have funds, equal pay and control over our bodies — you know, fundamental rights." 

The Foo Fighters won the Global Icon Award, with Dave Grohl reminiscing on 26 years as a band. "Here's to another 26 years," Grohl said.

Alicia Keys performed "Lala" with Swae Lee, and then honored the location with a few bars of "Empire State of Mind." 

MTV is a division of ViacomCBS.

Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X accepts Best Direction for "Montero (Call Me by Your Name)" onstage during the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards at Barclays Center on September 12, 2021 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Lil Nas X wins Video of the Year for "Montero: Call Me By Your Name"

Rapper Lil Nas X and his jaw dropping video for "Montero: Call Me By Your Name" won the Moon Person for Video of the Year, the night's biggest honor. 

The "Montero" music video made headlines after its premiere for its depiction of Lil Nas X sliding on a stripper pole to hell, where he proceeds to give Satan a lap dance. The altered Nike Air Max 97 shoes accompanying the song's release were dubbed the Satan Shoes and caused Nike to file a lawsuit against the company that produced them. 

Lil Nas X faced extreme backlash after the release of "Montero," including from parental groups who called the track demonic. Nonetheless, the song debuted at No.1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. 

"First I wanna say thank you to the gay agenda," Lil Nas X shouted during his acceptance speech.  "Let's go gay agenda!"

Lil Nas X's debut album drops on September 17. 

By Zoe Christen Jones

Olivia Rodrigo takes home Best New Artist

"Driver's License" artist Olivia Rodrigo won the coveted Moon person award for Best New Artist. 

The 18-year-old accepted her second award of the night by thanking fans for loving her album. 

All 11 songs on "Sour," Rodrigo debut album, charted in the top 30 of Billboard's Hot 100 List, making Billboard history as the first female artist to do so.

"'I just feel so grateful that I get to make music and do stuff that I love and call it my job," she said in a quick acceptance speech. 

Olivia Rodrigo
Olivia Rodrigo accepts the VMA's Song Of The Year award on September 12, 2021. Michael Loccisano / Getty
By Zoe Christen Jones

Foo Fighters honored with Global Icon Award

Rock band Foo Fighters were honored with the Global Icon Award for their 27 years of hard work in the music industry. 

The band were introduced by singer Billie Eilish who thanked them for inspiring young singers and "carrying the torch of rock and roll."

"They are heroes, they are legends, and now, they are officially Global Icons," Eilish said. 

The Foo Fighters celebrate their win by taking to the stage and performing a medley of their biggest hits. Frontman Dave Grohl thanked both fans and music executives for their role in helping the band, which has been around for 26 years, fulfill their dreams. 

"We'll see you in 26 years," Grohl said.

By Zoe Christen Jones

Normani wows in VMA's performance

Pop singer Normani stunned the VMA audience with her first live performance of "Wild Side." The former Fifth Harmony singer and an army of chrome clad dancers came on stage after an introduction from pop sensation Ciara, paying tribute to multiple creative icons including the late Aaliyah. 

"Wild Side" debuted at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, in part to its popularity on TikTok.

The performance's biggest shock came towards the end, when Normani brought out singer Teyana Taylor to recreate a tribute to Janet Jackson, performing her famous "Would You Mind" lapdance.

Normani Performs "Wild Side" | 2021 VMAs | MTV by MTV on YouTube
By Zoe Christen Jones

Justin Bieber wins Artist of the Year

Pop star Justin Bieber took home the Moon Person for Artist of Year. The award is his second of the night, and celebrates his latest album "Justice" and his work during 2021. 

Bieber addressed the COVID-19 pandemic before thanking his fans for voting. 

"Music is such an amazing opportunity and an amazing outlet to reach people and to bring us all together," he said. "I look around here and I see so many beautiful faces and I really do believe the best is yet to come."

Justin Bieber
Justin Bieber accepts the VMA's Artist of the Year award on September 12, 2021. Bennett Raglin / Getty
By Zoe Christen Jones

Billie Eilish wins Moon Person for "Your Power"

Singer songwriter Billie Eilish won the Video For Good award for her single "Your Power."

The song addresses abuse, harm and sexual trauma in relationships. In the accompanying video, Eilish sings directly to the camera on a mountainside, before slowly being entangled by a boa constrictor. 

The 19-year-old addressed the crowd and thanked them for the fan voted award, before imploring them to consider its message. 

"If I was gonna say anything about this song, I feel like I was trying to write this song for a really long time and then I finally did," Eilish said. 

"We need to protect our young women at all cost, and we also all need to remember that we all have power and we have to remember to not abuse it," she said.

Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish accepts the VMA's Video For Good award on September 12, 2021. Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
By Zoe Christen Jones

Justin Bieber wins Best Pop Song for "Peaches" featuring Daniel Caesar, Giveon

Singer Justin Bieber took home the Moon Person for Best Pop Song for his track "Peaches." The song, which features Daniel Caesar and rapper Giveon, was Bieber's eighth number one hit on the Billboard Pop Airplay charts. 

Giveon told the audience that the song was conceptualized after a late-night FaceTime with Bieber and thanked the fans. 

Bieber quickly thanked his mother, father, siblings and wife, Hailey Bieber, who attended the show with him.

Justin Bieber - Peaches ft. Daniel Caesar, Giveon by JustinBieberVEVO on YouTube
By Zoe Christen Jones

Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber open 2021 VMA's with viral song "Stay" performance

Best New Artist nominee Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber opened the 2021 VMA's with a performance of their hit song "Stay." The song went viral on TikTok after its release and stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for five consecutive weeks.

Bieber's performance was his first time on the VMA stage since 2015, after which he took an extended break from music.

Justin Bieber ft. The Kid LAROI Perform "Stay" & "Ghost" | 2021 VMAs | MTV by MTV on YouTube
By Zoe Christen Jones

Olivia Rodrigo wins Song of the Year for "Drivers License"

Olivia Rodrigo took home the first Moon Person award of the evening, winning Song of the Year for "Drivers License." She won shortly after performing "Good 4 U." 

Rodrigo thanked the fans, calling it "so incredible."

"This has been the most magical year of my life," she said. 

Rodrigo is also nominated for Artist of the Year, Best New Artist, Push Performance of the Year and Best Pop Song.  

Olivia Rodrigo - drivers license (Official Video) by OliviaRodrigoVEVO on YouTube
By Caroline Linton

Madonna opens 2021 VMA's with surprise introduction

Superstar Madonna opened the 2021 VMA's with a surprise introduction, celebrating MTV's 40th anniversary with a tribute video to the channel's iconic performances.

The singer was the first artist in the award show's history to win 20 awards. 

By Zoe Christen Jones
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