These are the stages we’ll remember years down the line
Interest in the MTV VMAs might have dwindled in the past decade, but that doesn’t deny the fact that it’s a hotspot for career-defining performances. After all, this is the award show that brought us many iconic pop culture moments we celebrate decades later. The VMAs gave us Britney Spears’ iconic 2001 performance for I’m A Slave For U with a striking yellow python, Beyoncé’s significant pregnancy reveal in 2011 and Rihanna’s iconic 15-minute set in 2016. So if there’s one place to put up a stellar stage that’s worth remembering, why not do it here?
While I’m not too concerned about who should or should not be bringing home a Moonman trophy, the lineup of this year’s performers was nothing short of interesting. The Foo Fighters, Swedish House Mafia, Busta Rhymes and Ed Sheeran returned to the spotlight while newcomers like Olivia Rodrigo and The Kid LAROI made their debuts, too. My live performance-obsessed self finally found reasons for me to follow updates on Twitter, and now, I’m taking you along for the ride. Ahead, we compile the best stages of the 2021 MTV VMAs.
Industry Baby and Montero by Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow
Hip hop and rap trailblazer Lil Nas X wowed the audience with his performance of hits Industry Baby and Montero. He kicked it off with a synchronized drumline before it transitioned to a stage that’s dripping in hot pink everything. From the costumes to the sets, his short stint seemed more like a party than a stage for the VMAs. Lil Nas X didn’t disappoint and proved to be a performer worth looking forward to.
star-crossed by Kacey Musgraves
Kacey Musgraves and her clear voice singing star-crossed was a welcome break from the grand stages and explosive sets. All she had illuminating the scene were images of candles and neon lights, casting a warm glow all over the place until a heart went up in flames as she reached the song’s crescendo. Everything was hauntingly beautiful, which made it a dreamy palate cleanser to the hype-filled stages.
Wild Side by Normani
Normani put up one of the most stunning performances in the VMAs to date, even if she was a late addition to the lineup. Her futuristic silver outfit was a nod to TLC’s No Scrubs, and her moves drew influence from Aaliyah’s One In A Million. But the most stunning show of her wild side (pun intended) was the guest appearance by Teyana Taylor. Taking notes from Janet Jackson’s handbook for Would You Mind, Normani straddled the rapper for a sultry lap dance. Wild Side was a tribute to the women of R&B—it was like a crowning glory, an acknowledgment of a legacy she’s continuing.
Have Mercy by Chlöe Bailey
Another surprise that night was Chlöe, whose stage for Have Mercy stole the show. This was her first solo foray without her sister Halle, but the older Bailey sibling managed to show how much of a great performer she is, even on her own. No matter how complicated the steps were, Chlöe was never out of breath and delivered one hell of a show as she showed off her assets. Complete with a dance break that could only make her mentor Beyonce so, so proud, Have Mercy is at the top of our list, right next to Wild Side.
Stay and Ghost by The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber
The young genius behind one of TikTok’s favorite songs, Stay, rocked his first VMAs performance with Justin Bieber. They performed the smash-hit with a band-led instrumental, making it sonically better than its already addicting sound. If anything, they showed us that nothing could beat the soul of live performances. They might not be dancing and singing simultaneously, but The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber let the anguish translate into their voices and the songs that allowed us audiences to take it all in.
Been Like This and You Right by Doja Cat
On top of being this year’s host, Doja Cat managed to bring out another well-rounded performance for Been Like This and You Right. She took everyone by surprise as she entered the stage suspended in mid-air. Her pipes and bars were still clearly and effortlessly delivered. While her song choices were a little slower, Doja still put on an outstanding performance that had everyone watching glued to the screen.
good 4 u by Olivia Rodrigo
Olivia Rodrigo, the big winner of the night, brought the fun kitschiness of SOUR Prom to the 2021 MTV VMAs with good 4 u. Liv didn’t disappoint as one of the leaders of the Y2K renaissance and flagbearers of this generation’s teenage angst. She arrived in her corset prom dress paired with combat boots. It’s a fashion move that draws back to the Scene Kids of the 2000s, an experience completed by a pop-punk anthem. Then, she broke a camera for good measure to cap it off in true angsty teen spirit.
Great music is best performed live; that’s all I live for every music awards season. I can’t wait for the next round of show-stopping performances and career-defining moments onstage. Until then, we’ll be streaming our favorite songs and singles on loop.
Are there any iconic stages from the 2021 MTV VMAs that we missed? Go off in the comments below!
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver