Taylor Swift once again dominated the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), winning for every televised category in which she was nominated, in a night that otherwise celebrated Latin music, including the pre-eminence of Shakira, as well as 50 years of hip-hop.
Swift, currently in the middle of the first billion-dollar stadium tour in history, took home the night’s top prize, video of the year, for her Midnights track Anti-Hero, as well as best direction, best pop video and song of the year.
The 33-year-old singer dedicated her wins to the art of songwriting as well as to presenters ‘NSync, who reunited for the first time in over a decade to give her one award, and her video editor Chancler Hanes and cinematographer Rina Yang, who spoke on Swift’s behalf for her video of the year win.
After splitting emcee duties with LL Cool J and Jack Harlow last year, Nicki Minaj took over as the sole host of the 40th annual VMAs at the Prudential Center in New Jersey, and won an award, best hip-hop, for her track Super Freaky Girl. “So often I joke around and play around and stuff, but tonight, I don’t know why, this morning I just woke up and I had this really strong sense of gratitude,” she said.
The performance-heavy, relatively chaos-free VMAs devoted a significant portion of its nearly four-hour ceremony to celebrating 50 years of hip-hop, from a night-opening performance by Lil Wayne to the VMA debut of Metro Boomin to a finale medley featuring Doug E Fresh, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, LL Cool J, Darryl McDaniels of Run DMC, Lil Wayne and Minaj herself.
Mary J Blige presented the global icon award to Diddy, AKA Puff Daddy and Love, whose real name is Sean Combs. “Nobody deserves to be called an icon more than this man,” Blige said of the rapper, producer, business mogul and record executive, who performed a sequence of hits from Mo Money Mo Problems to Last Night with Keyshia Cole along with his son King Combs.
“Love wins, y’all. Love wins,” Combs said in a speech that covered his origins as a paperboy before getting cast in music videos by dancing (“doing my Diddy jig”) in New York clubs. “I appreciate you all coming and just giving me my flowers and celebrating me … this is a dream come true for me.”
The VMAs also nodded to the global domination of Latin music from artists such as the Brazilian Anitta, who won best Latin for Funk Rave, Mexican breakout artist Peso Pluma, and Colombian singer Karol G, who became the first female artist to score a No 1 Spanish-language album with Mañana Será Bonito.
Karol G won for best collaboration with fellow Colombian Shakira, the night’s guest of honor, for their song TGQ. “She’s a legend. She represents our country and our Latina community,” said Karol G in Spanish.
Wyclef Jean presented Shakira with her video vanguard award for her contributions to global music. “Latin music would not be the global force that it is without Shakira,” he said of the 46-year-old Colombian singer, who performed a medley of hits that took her from contortions in a box (She Wolf) to center-stage dancing with knives (Whenever, Wherever) to crowdsurfing while singing BZRP Music Sessions, Vol 53. In a brisk acceptance speech, Shakira paid tribute to the “amazing women” who helped her push industry boundaries, her two sons, Milan and Sasha, and her fans “who always support me through thick and thin. Thank you so much for being my army and helping me fight all my battles.”
It was a triumphant night for female performers, who ruled most of the set list. Olivia Rodrigo kicked the night off with a sharp, pyrotechnic collage of tracks from her sophomore album Guts, and Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion performed a vigorous debut of their new single Bongos. Doja Cat stirred up the room for Attention, Paint the Town Red and Demons, flanked by an army of female dancers streaked in blood-coloured paint, and Anitta sang and twerked her way through Used To Be.
The award for best R&B went to singer SZA, who was not in attendance, while best new artist went to rapper Ice Spice (“shout out the Bronx!” she said). Best K-pop went to Stray Kids who, along with Tomorrow x Together, made their VMAs debut.
Tiffany Haddish presented the first-ever televised award for best Afrobeats to Rema and Selena Gomez for their song Calm Down. “Being here on this stage representing Afrobeats tonight, I’m so happy … We’re here to take it to the rest of the world,” the Nigerian singer and rapper said. Gomez said she “could not be more honoured” to be a part of the collaboration, the first African artist-led track to reach 1bn streams on Spotify, and sent “all my love to Nigeria”.
But the night belonged to Swift, who closed out the show with another video of the year award, a year after she announced her 10th studio album, Midnights, on stage. “The fact that this is a fan-voted award means so much to me,” she said of the night’s capstone award. “All I have to say tonight is thank you. I’m blown away.”