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MTV awards’ viral moments: From Taylor Swift and ‘NSYNC to a set collapse, here are the takeaways

By Emily St. Martin, Los Angeles Times
Published: September 15, 2023, 6:47am
2 Photos
Joey Fatone, from center, Lance Bass, and Justin Timberlake of NSYNC present the award for best pop video to Taylor Swift, far left, for "Anti-Hero" during the MTV Video Music Awards on Tuesday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Joey Fatone, from center, Lance Bass, and Justin Timberlake of NSYNC present the award for best pop video to Taylor Swift, far left, for "Anti-Hero" during the MTV Video Music Awards on Tuesday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. (Photos by Charles Sykes/Invision) Photo Gallery

A Colombian video vanguard, a paper boy turned global icon and America’s favorite antihero walked into a New Jersey arena on Tuesday night. An epic MTV Video Music Awards ensued.

The 2023 MTV Video Music Awards went off mostly without a hitch Tuesday night — well, except for Olivia Rodrigo’s set collapsing during her performance and a rambunctious meeting backstage between Justin Timberlake and Megan Thee Stallion. Shakira gave a stellar performance that she said aimed to synthesize her career in 10 minutes and graciously accepted the Video Vanguard award.

Bebe Rexha made an appearance despite hinting that she might skip the event, and stormed the stage in a black gown with cutouts showing her backside. Diddy made his Global Icon honor and performance into a family affair, and the 50th anniversary of hip-hop was celebrated with a mashup performance by Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Doug E. Fresh, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, LL Cool J, Lil Wayne and VMA host Nicki Minaj.

The annual ceremony returned to New Jersey for the second year in a row for a night of stunning performances, moving acceptance speeches and viral moments. Here are the takeaways.

• Olivia Rodrigo’s set collapsed during her performance, much to SelGo’s horror

Was that deja vu or have Olivia Rodrigo fans watched a stage collapse around her before? The 20-year-old singer took the stage early in the show, and audience members were visibly concerned when the “Vampire” singer’s set sparked, a stage light fell over, a curtain fell from above and a prop tree was knocked over next to Rodrigo’s band. The audience cam showed a shaken Selena Gomez just as a stage manager rushed Rodrigo from the stage.

But die-hard Rodrigo fans probably noticed the ordeal was a recreation of her music video for “ Vampire,” in which the set collapses around her during a talent show performance. Luckily, Rodrigo wasn’t dripping blood by the end of her VMAs performance, like she was in the music video. She quickly broke out from behind a blue curtain to perform “Get Him Back!” the second song in the mashup performance, which she belted surrounded by a dozen Rodrigo lookalikes in pink pleated skirts.

• NSYNC reunited and gave Taylor Swift a moon person and friendship bracelets

NSYNC took the stage together again, but this time to kick off the awards ceremony by honoring Taylor Swift with the award for pop video, her first win of the night. Joey Fatone, Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez, Lance Bass and Chris Kirkpatrick appeared on the VMA stage 10 years after their last performance together, and the audience cam caught the “unstoppable” Taylor Swift jumping to her feet, cheering and gasping — before she’d even won the award.

“Hello VMAs. Over 20 years ago, we were just kids when we won best pop video for ‘Bye Bye Bye,’” Chasez began as the crowd went wild. “It was our first VMA and it meant the world to us.”

“That award validated our hard work,” added Kirkpatrick.

“A lot has changed in the last two decades, but one thing remains a constant,” continued Bass. “A creative, boundary-pushing video leaves a lasting mark for decades.”

Bass slipped the “Lover” singer some beaded friendship bracelets, a nod to her Eras tour tradition, when passing Swift her silver moon person for “Anti-Hero.” Swift sang NSYNC’s praises in her acceptance speech.

“I’m not doing well pivoting from this,” she said pointing to the NSYNC members, then looking down at her trophy, “to this.”

“I had your dolls,” she continued, before excitedly asking the former boy band if they had something planned together in the near future. “You are pop personified, so to receive this from your golden pop hands is really, it’s too much.”

• That backstage exchange between Megan Thee Stallion and Justin Timberlake

A backstage cam caught an exchange between Megan Thee Stallion and Justin Timberlake, and the internet assumed it was a heated one. Either just before or after Megan’s “Bongos” performance with Cardi B, the “Savage” hit-maker was seen getting her hair styled by her glam team when the former members of NYSNC passed her. Timberlake leaned over and said something to Megan and she seemingly quipped something back, gesticulating with her hand in his direction, then Fatone chimed in and Megan looked away seemingly upset. But there was no audio on the video!

Fans on X speculated that maybe it had something to do with a certain Super Bowl performance, posting, “Oh yeah. The finger pointing made it clear. That was about Janet. Miss Jackson if your nasty.”

But according to Variety, a source told the outlet there was “zero fight.”

“He said, ‘It’s so nice to meet you,’ and she said ‘No, no this don’t count, this don’t count. We gotta meet proper.’”

“It was very cute,” the source told the outlet.

• Afrobeats finally got its own category at the MTV VMAs

Actor and comedian Tiffany Haddish introduced the Afrobeats category, new to the VMAs this year, by explaining its origins.

“It started off in West Africa. That’s where it popped off first, the west side of Africa,” she said. “That irresistible beat and that soulful vibe took over the whole dang world. Over the years this genre has been blowing up and we’ve seen some major star power collaborations with artists like Beyoncé, Drake and Snoop Dogg.”

Rema and Selena Gomez took home the trophy for their collaboration “Calm Down.” Rema praised Gomez and the originators of Afrobeats, including Shala, in his speech.

“This means so much seeing Afrobeats grow this big and being here on this stage representing Afrobeats tonight,” he said before passing the mic to Gomez.

“Thank you so much very much, Rema, for believing in me. And thank you for choosing me to be a part of such an incredible song that’s been able to break records,” she said. “Thank you to all of you for listening, for streaming, I could not be more honored. And I want to send all my love to Nigeria.”

• Diddy accepted the Global Icon Award

“This man has always been icon,” queen of hip-hop/soul Mary J. Blige said while introducing Diddy as the winner of the Global Icon Award, “and has done so many things.

“And if we’re being honest, there’s not one Puff who should be called an icon, but many,” she continued, listing his accomplishments as a music mogul, businessman, father and artist, who has “had 11 number one songs, three Grammys, two VMAs, and helped shape the career of Notorious B.I.G., Lil’ Kim, Faith Evans and so many others. Some of the most memorable songs of the past 30 years have been because of this man right here … Bad Boy Records has sold more than 500 million albums worldwide.”

Diddy was handed the award by his eldest daughter, Chance, 17. His 16-year-old twins, D’Lila Star and Jessie James, and his son Christian “King” Combs, 25, who all also performed with him, stood behind him while he gave his acceptance speech.

“Love wins, y’all, love wins,” he began his speech. “Man, this is so surreal. I appreciate y’all coming and giving me my flowers and celebrating me.

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“This is a dream come true for me. I grew up watching MTV,” he continued. “I started out as a paper boy. I didn’t know I was gonna be here. … Then I was gonna be an NFL football player for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t know this, and my leg got broke and I got depressed and I would be in clubs dancing in New York doing my Diddy bop. And then people would see me and they would cast me for videos. And that’s how I fell in love with the music industry. I saw the executives and I wanted to chase that dream. So I want to thank every executive, every producer, every songwriter. Gotta thank the Bad Boy family because without them I would not be up here.

“Man, you just got to keep dreaming. I pray to God y’all get to do something that you love for 30 years consistently. This is truly a gift from God.”