The 2021 MTV Video Music Awards took over the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on Sunday night (Sept. 12), and as usual, there was no shortage of memorable moments.
From surprise appearances and performance tributes to meme-worthy red carpet interactions, see below for the best moments from this year’s VMAs.
Madonna’s Surprise Appearance
No New York City awards show would be complete without iconic New Yorker/the Queen of Pop herself, Madonna.
In a pre-taped, chill-inducing cold open, Madonna paid homage to her history with MTV on the network’s 40th anniversary. “Around 40 years ago I came to New York City with nothing but $35 and a pair of dance shoes,” she said. “Forty years ago, another underdog arrived in New York City hoping to create something revolutionary. An all-music channel premiered in the middle of the night and called itself MTV. We found each other and formed a bond that changed my life, changed music and created a whole new art form. That’s why there’s only one place to be tonight.”
She then surprised the crowd by showing up to the Barclays Center in person. “They said we wouldn’t last, but we’re still here mother—kers,” she announced. “Happy 40th, MTV.”
Cyndi Lauper’s Call for Women’s Rights
Before handing out the best pop award to Justin Bieber, Daniel Caesar and Giveon for “Peaches,” Cyndi Lauper put a powerful twist on her 1983 hit, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
“Girls still want to have fun, but they also want funds, equal pay, control over our bodies. You know, fundamental rights,” Lauper told the crowd, who met her statement with venue-shaking cheers.
Billie Eilish’s “Your Power” Acceptance Speech
After her “Your Power” won the fan-voted video for good award, Billie Eilish used her speech to push an important message. “We need to protect our young women at all costs,” she shared. “For real. We also need to remember that we all have power and we have to remember to not abuse it.”
Billy Porter’s Outfit
He slayed in a silver suit and matching platforms… basically a real-life Moon Person. Enough said.
Lil Nas X’s Tribute to Those Living With HIV
Lil Nas X’s “Industry Baby” performance with Jack Harlow wasn’t just sizzling hot, it also had a special element of activism.
According to a tweet from GLAAD, Mardrequs Harris of the Southern AIDS Coalition sported a jacket onstage with the number 433,816 in red, which represents “the number of people living with HIV in the U.S. South.”
Nick Cannon Bowing Down to Ashanti
Nick Cannon has become a bit of a meme on the Internet lately due to having seven kids with four women. So when he bowed at Ashanti’s feet, kissing her hand on the red carpet, Twitter exploded with jokes.
However, we can’t blame him for his reaction to Ashanti, who stunned in a black strappy Michael Costello gown.
Normani’s Homage to Janet Jackson
While performing “Wild Side” at the 2021 VMAs, Normani paid tribute to pop icon Janet Jackson by giving a lap dance to Teyana Taylor, recreating the well-known lap dance Jackson would give fans while performing “Would You Mind” live.
This Selfie of Olivia Rodrigo and Lil Nas X
Best new artist winner and video of the year winner just casually posing for a photo together.