The VMAs were especially lackluster this year, but there were still some memorable moments. Here are the best performances of the night:
14. Juice WRLD, “Lucid Dreams”
This was kind of awful. Like, really awful. He sounded like drugged, angry toddler.
13. Bazzi, “Beautiful”
Bazzi, who performed his breakout single, “Mine,” at the red-carpet pre-show, delivered a short performance of “Beautiful.” The backing track was entirely too loud and this was a mixed opportunity to perform the song’s remix with fellow attendee and nominee, Camila Cabello. This was not good, at all.
12. Jessie Reyez, “Apple Juice”
Akin to Bazzi, Jessie Reyez also gave a short performance of her song “Apple Juice.” While Jessie puts all of her emotion and grit into her performance, she lacks control of her voice. She voice went flat at times and her runs weren’t completely controlled until the very end of the performance. Overall, it was still passable.
11. PRETTYMUCH, “Summer On You”
The best new boy band of the moment, PRETTYMUCH, performed a short bit of their summer jam “Summer On You.” While their vocals were flat for the majority of the performance, their collective charisma, energy, and fun choreography helped bring them to the finish line.
10. Panic! At the Disco, “High Hopes”
While the song is definitely killer, Brendon’s stage presence was simply too small for such a big stage; in fact, the stage felt oddly empty. Brendon Urie is probably the best mainstream male vocalist right now, but his voice sounded shotty and rougher than usual throughout the performance. I commend the interesting use of camera angles throughout the performance, but overall it was painfully boring. Check out my review of P!ATD’s most recent singles here.
9. Post Malone, 21 Savage, and Aerosmith, Medley
This wasn’t actually awful, I enjoyed the live reinterpretation of the song but 21 Savage sounded like a zombie and neither his or Post Malone’s voices are pleasing to the ear. Then, Steven Tyler completely butchered “Dream On…” But, Post Malone playing guitar for Aerosmith was pretty sick. Overall, the entire performance was a hot mess for the ages. One big, interesting, and entertaining mess.
8. Hayley Kiyoko, “Curious”
Best Push Artist winner, Hayley Kiyoko, delivered a highly choreographed performance of “Curious.” The performance very solid; high energy, great personality, and fine live vocals.
7. Shawn Mendes, “In My Blood”
Shawn Mendes kicked off the show with a rousing performance of his hit single, “In My Blood.” While the reigning prince of pop always delivers solid performances, they tend to be relatively identical. For this one, he added in some extra guitar-shredding and rain. If Shawn doesn’t switch up his stage show soon, he runs the risk of becoming a one-trick-pony performance-wise, when he is not one musically. You can find my review of “In My Blood” here.
6. Logic & Ryan Tedder, “One Day”
Logic and Ryan Tedder utilized the entirety of Radio City Music Hall for their performance of “One Day.” The performance was strikingly similar to his performance of “1-800-273-8255” last year, so this performance felt watered down at first. Nevertheless, both Ryan and Logic had great energy, and seeing children of immigrants reuniting with their parents was absolutely beautiful. Also, f#ck the wall.
5. Maluma, “Felices Los 4”
Maluma gave a delightful performance of his smash hit, “Felices Los 4.” Although his performance was entirely in Spanish, Maluma’s showmanship, energy, and charisma were definitely not lost in translation. It also helps that the song is incredibly infectious.
3. Travis Scott, ASTROWORLD Medley (TIE)
Travis Scott brought a full-on rave, a spaceship, and an angel in the form of James Blake during his ASTROWORLD medley. Travis’ inimitable energy and beautiful vision really shined in this performance. He truly brought his album to life and proved why it stayed at #1 and quickly became the best selling hip-hop album of the year. Travis’ inclusion of James Blake, perfectly bridged “STARGAZING” and “SICKO MODE.” It’s quite incredible how each song’s segment felt so distinct, yet the overall performance flowed perfectly. Excellent job, Travis. Read my review of ASTROWORLD here.
3. Nicki Minaj, Queen Medley (TIE)
Nicki Minaj set the standard with her impeccable performance. She delivered a well-put-together and pristine medley of “Majesty,” “Barbie Dreams,” “Ganja Burns,” and “FEFE.” The medley perfectly displayed Nicki’s strengths as a performer (breath control, high energy, small choreography moments) as well as her infectious personality. She performed at the One World Trade Center, an iconic N.Y.C. landmark. This was easily one of the best performances of the night and of Nicki’s career. Read my review of her Queen album here.
2. Jennifer Lopez, Vanguard Medley
This year’s recipient of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, J. Lo, destroyed the stage with a rousing medley of her greatest hits. She began with a shaky performance of “Waiting For Tonight,” but quickly recovered with incredible dance breaks and endless energy in “On The Floor” and “Dance Again.” She then segued into a miniature light show for “Ain’t You Mama” and “Booty.” Perhaps the best part of the medley was the “Love Don’t Cost A Thing” and “Get It Right” segments, she seemed so powerful and unstoppable; it was almost unearthly how incredible her stamina was during those parts. Unfortunately, what should have been an iconic moment was marred by the inclusion of the eternally insufferable DJ Khaled. Nevertheless, J. Lo recovered with nostalgic performances of “I’m Real” and “Jenny From The Block.” She should have performed more of her classics, “Dinero” isn’t the song that should have closed one of the most important performances of her career, it shouldn’t have even been included. Whenever she was dancing and simply entertaining, Jennifer Lopez was unstoppable- a true force of nature. Whenever she sang, the cracks started showing. Nonetheless, J. Lo definitely cemented her spot among the great Vanguard performances with this one. Whether or not she deserves the award is another story.
1. Ariana Grande, “God is a woman”
Ariana Grande delivered the best performance of her career with “God is a woman.” Grande recreated The Last Supper with Jesus as a black woman and the entire stage was converted into a holographic recreation of the music video. Watching Ariana evolve as an artist and a performer has been inexplicably rewarding. Her breath control, confidence, vocal control, and choreography were all on point. Bringing out her mother and grandmother to close out the performance of her women empowerment anthem was the icing on top. It’s going to be harder to truly shock people because we’ve seen it all, but this performance is exactly what the VMAs are made of. Unlike earlier in her career, Grande was not overwhelmed or drowned out by the elaborate stage design. Despite her petite frame, she towered above everything and everyone else onstage and delivered a tastefully seductive and politically poignant performance that will be remembered for years to come. Read my review of Sweetener here.