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