If you were hoping for a truly nutso MTV VMAs last night, you might be disappointed. The awards show touched down in New Jersey—at Newark's Prudential Center—for the first time, and it went off, mostly, without a hitch. Or a lot of drama. Host Sebastian Maniscalco was… fine. The awards went where many of the forecasters thought they would (Ariana Grande got Artist of the Year, Lil Nas X got Song of the Year, and Billie Eilish got Best New Artist). Of course, that doesn't mean nothing weird happened. We just… miss the meat dresses and the "Miley, what's good?"s. Read on for the most memorable moments from the 2019 VMAs:
If you're sitting there thinking, A thing I absolutely LOVE to do is walk into the MTV VMAs wearing a real-live snake as a shawl, let me tell you: Be glad you didn't attend this year. Not one, but two people had the same idea. See: YouTuber Tana Mongeau and singer-songwriter H.E.R., who both channeled 2001 VMAs Britney Spears with their looks. (Mongeau's slithery date, Lucy, also may or may not have been a dig at her questionable husband Jake Paul; and H.E.R.'s friend, Big Mama, scared at least one reporter into PR.)
T-Swift had a big night. She opened the VMAs with strong performances of "Lover" and "You Need to Calm Down"—the latter of which called attention to the Equality Act in shiny, bold letters. She'd get to discuss the bill in detail later in the show, when her pro-LGBTQ song won the fan-voted award for Video of the Year. "You voting for this video means you want a world where we're all treated equally under the law, regardless of who we love, regardless of how we identify," the singer said, referring to a petition she created to accompany the vid and support the bill. "At the end of [the 'You Need to Calm Down'] video, there was a petition—and there still is a petition—for the Equality Act, which basically just says we all deserve equal rights under the law. I want to thank everyone who signed that petition because it now has half a million signatures, which is five times the amount that it would need to warrant a response from the White House," she added, before checking her watch. As if to say, "What's the hold up?"
After an iconic-in-its-own-right introduction from Megan Thee Stallion, Lizzo treated fans to a rousing performance of "Truth Hurts" and "Good As Hell." Sure, it was sad not to see Sasha Flute, but there were plenty of other highlights: Lizzo dancing in front of a Godzilla-size inflata-booty, taking a pull from a bedazzled bottle of tequila, and serving pep-talk goodness. "I'm tired of the bullshit, and I don't have to know your story to know that you're tired of the bullshit, too. It's so hard trying to love yourself in a world that doesn't love you back, am I right?" she said to peals of cheers. "So I want to take this opportunity right now to just feel good as hell. Because you deserve to feel good as hell!"
The Jonas Brothers went back to their Garden State roots, beaming in a mini-set from Asbury Park's Stone Pony—the same venue that launched fellow Jersey legend Bruce Springsteen. Toyota sponsored the remote gig, so when the Wyckoff natives hit the boardwalk to perform "Only Human," they were met by a mob of adoring fans and… sedans? Yeah, seeing cars front-row at a concert was a little odd, but it was also the most unintentionally perfect tribute to a Jersey king who... really loves cars. Like, really.
Lil Nas X couldn't help but poke a little fun at himself. With his slot, the self-aware rapper transported the audience to 2079, a year in which he predicts he'll be sitting in the White House and releasing "Old Town Road (Remix #3162)," featuring Yung Sandwich, Ghost of Benjamin Franklin, Megan Thee Stallion's Twerk Wind, My Mother, and Old Thug. Then, as if to say, I've got other songs, guys!, he opted for a futuristic "Panini" dance party. The song selection might have been unexpected, but the TRON-inspired costumes, backdrops, and choreography dazzled fans.
As the New Jersey Star-Ledger reported, a phalanx of mounted police monitored roughly 200 protesters who had gathered outside Newark's Prudential Center to raise awareness about the city's years-long lead-contamination crisis. "We don't need no MTV, we want our water free!" chanted the demonstrators, many of whom held signs reading "Not Another Flint" and "Fix Newark Now." At least five were arrested for trying to enter secured areas of the VMAs, according to the local paper, but they were dealt with "swiftly and without incident."
Act-wise, nobody had Missy beat. The living legend was on hand to receive a long-overdue Video Vanguard Award, MTV's lifetime achievement honor. When she took the stage, she unleashed a show-stopping medley of "The Rain," "Hot Boyz," "Get Ur Freak On," "Work It," "Pass That Dutch," and "Lose Control" that spanned more than two decades of hits. Highlights included pretty much all of it, as the rapper recreated a handful of her now-trademark looks and sets. But it was especially fun to see her reunion with Alyson Stoner, the child dancer from the original "Work It" video.
If there was one thing John Travolta knew going into tonight's award show, it was that he was not going to pull another "Adele Dazeem." "No way," Travolta said, when he woke up in the morning. "Nuh uh," he said, when he walked into the Prudential Center. And, you know what? Actually, "I shouldn't do this—because I'll just mispronounce shit and fuck it up," the actor said, before insisting Queen Latifah reveal the winner for Video of the Year. What Travolta didn't know was that moments later he was going to mistake a flawless drag queen (RuPaul's Drag Race star Jade Jolie) for Taylor Swift. Third award show's a charm, John.
John Travolta mistaking Jade Jolie for Taylor Swift. 👏DRAG 👏RACE 👏EXCELLENCE pic.twitter.com/zVLgsbHhD7— Joey Nolfi (@joeynolfi) August 27, 2019
Sadly, no basketball trick. But she didn't need it. Simply put, the former Fifth Harmony member killed it.
For the final act, Newark-born rapper Ice-T set the stage for an All-Star team of local hitmakers: Queen Latifah, Redman, Fetty Wap, Naughty By Nature, and Wyclef Jean. An odd assortment of talent? Yes, definitely. The best combination? I don't know. But it was hard not to relish some of the classics — including "O.P.P.," "Da Rockwilder," "Trap Queen," "Gone Till November," and "Hip Hop Hooray" — as a fitting cap to the awards show's first year in Jersey.
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Sean Fitz-Gerald is a writer based in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in Thrillist, Vulture, Los Angeles Magazine, The Denver Post, and Variety. Follow him @srkfitzgerald.