The 2023 MTV Video Music Awards took over the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on September 12, 2023.
The show – which will turn 40 next year – is reliably one of the biggest music events of the year, and the 2023 VMAs held their weight with regards to the MTV staple’s storied past.
First and foremost, iconic boy band *NSYNC — Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, Lance Bass and Chris Kirkpatrick — reunited on stage to present the VMA for best pop, which they handed off to Eras Tour juggernaut Taylor Swift. Swift seemed well chuffed to receive a Moon Person trophy from the pop royals (“to receive this from your golden pop hands is really too much” she noted). Later on, she ended up walking away with the night’s most prestigious award for video of the year, for her self-directed “Anti-Hero.”
But as it tends to go at awards shows these days, performances took the spotlight even more than awards and speeches. And this VMAs had a lot of live music. Two collaborations saw their live TV debut (one from Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, the other from TOMORROW X TOGETHER and Anitta), while #HipHop50 was feted once more this year with a legend-stuffed run-through of the genre’s past. Plus, Olivia Rodrigo had a fun fake-out moment; Shakira killed a career-spanning medley; Stray Kids flaunted choreography with laser precision; and Demi Lovato rocked the hell out.
It was a long night filled with a ton of performances – and when you have a nearly four-hour show with well over a dozen sets, some are going to stand out more than others.
Here are the best 2023 VMAs performances.
The Latin pop icon demonstrated three important things during her career-spanning medley at the VMAs: 1) From the unstoppable “Hips Don’t Lie” to the delicious “Objection (Tango)” to the ferocious “She Wolf,” Shakira’s catalog boasts some of the best pop songs of the last generation; 2) she dances (and looks) every bit as flawless as when she shimmied onto the global stage a generation ago; and 3) there’s a certain soccer star out there who made quite a mistake. After she ripped through the Bizarrap collab “Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol. 53” at the VMAs, it might be nice for a friend of his to check in on him.
When Demi Lovato announced she was unleashing an album of rock versions of previous pop material titled Revamped, there was no real doubt that she could nail it – she has the voice, the fire and the stage presence to rock the hell out. But sometimes a rock band just doesn’t translate to the VMAs stage, with some veterans struggling to stand out on the show. For Lovato, however, that was NOT AT ALL the case. The star and her crackling band ripped through “Heart Attack,” “Sorry Not Sorry” and “Cool for the Summer” and left it all hanging out.
Anitta gave her VMAs performance of “Used to Be” and “Funk Rave” the vibrant colors and swagger you’d expect for a showcase of Brazilian funk. With neon-drenched milk crates and block party vibes, it was a joyous, electric party you wanted to be a part of.
Doja Cat – whose “Paint the Town Red” currently rules the Hot 100 – brought school marm vibes to her VMAs performance, where she rapped her latest chart topper plus “Attention” and “Demons” surrounded by a troupe of devilish dancers who looked straight out of the Suspiria remake. As always, Doja brought inventive choreography and distinctive visuals to her VMAs set.
Karol G – rocking a pink fishnet leotard — and her dancers brought an irrepressible energy to the reggaeton pulse of her “Oki Doki” and her portion of the collab “Tá OK,” reminding fans why she’s become an unstoppable force in Latin music — and showing the uninitiated why she’s a talent to celebrate.
Seated in a misty forest, Olivia crooned the opening of her Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit “Vampire” before feigning a set disaster – she even got a stagehand to usher her offstage dramatically – that helped her segue into a spirited “Get Him Back!” with serious Bring It On vibes.
In addition to emceeing the 2023 VMAs, Minaj reminded VMA viewers she’s more than one of the greatest rappers of the 21st century – she’s a pretty damn great singer, too. The Alpha Barb sang “Last Time I Saw You” set against moody ‘80s lighting before unleashing her inner Roman to tease part of an unnamed track from the upcoming Pink Friday 2 album.
Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion
The “WAP” collaborators reunited to give Prudential Center the live debut of their latest track together, “Bongos.” The island-themed performance had – as you’d expect – bongos aplenty, and Megan once again demonstrated that few rappers can twerk as effortlessly as her.
Måneskin frontman Damiano David, shirtless and wearing a kilt, provided the Italian rockers with a novel way to kick off their toothy performance. At the start of the song, we got to watch a live feed from a hand-held camera he was toting as he prowled through the crowd. When he did hit the stage, he earned a blown kiss from Taylor Swift. Last year’s VMAs set from them was stronger, but they’re certainly one of the most entertaining rock acts touring these days.
Kelsea Ballerini – performing outside the Prudential Center – sounded great while singing “Penthouse,” and the way the crowd sang the words of the ballad back to her felt poignant. But this performance was a victim of the show’s runtime. Coming in at 11:25pm ET – almost a half hour after the show was supposed to have ended – a ballad just could not keep things from dragging.
During the VMAs preshow, Sabrina Carpenter performed her hits “Nonsense” and “Feather,” and even improv’d a VMAs-themed outro: “He said that it’s bigger than a Moonman / Guess that means I’m gripping it with two hands / VMAs, I love you / I’m a huge fan.”
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