Brutally honest reviews of every VMAs 2021 performance, including Justin Bieber and Olivia Rodrigo

by 24USATVSept. 13, 2021, 1 a.m. 21
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With a performance lineup including Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber, Foo Fighters, Alicia Keys, Olivia Rodrigo and Lil Nas X, the 2021 MTV VMAs sought to blend veterans with new kids.

After last year's COVID-forced jumble of outside live shots and pre-taped productions, the annual music awards show took a crack at award-show normalcy by returning to a traditional setting at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

And it paid off. Pyrotechnics, arena-sized sets and a live audience (wearing face masks) combined for the most exciting awards show in recent memory.

Here's a look at the performances as they unfolded:

The Kid Laroi, who looked ready to pilot a flight in dark aviator glasses, offered a caffeinated opening with Bieber – making his first appearance in six years – as they bopped around the stage in unison in front of fake mountains. But following their warm embrace, Bieber, in overalls and a hoodie, pondered the meaning of the lasers surrounding him for his new single, “Ghost.”

Surrounded by mask-clad dancers, one of the darlings of this year’s VMAs followed the rollicking snare drum of her female drummer as she cooed and raged through her No. 1 hit. Balloons, confetti and pyro backed her performance as she snarled the song’s hook, “Maybe I’m too emotional,” with the kind of middle-finger attitude that told viewers, no, she’s just fine, thanks.

For her debut VMA performance, the country chanteuse took the classy route. Surrounded by candles and a lone guitarist, her warm voice delved into the achingly personal song heartbreak ballad. As a heart statue behind her blazed and the rest of her band leaned in, Musgraves was still the undeniable focal point of a brief, but poignant performance.

Starting with a stripped vibe highlighted by singer Tyler Joseph playing the ukulele, the ditty that already marked a 180 from the band’s usual fare sounded airy and, well, forgettable. As crashing (video) waves surrounded the stage, Joseph dabbled in some footwork with the duo’s backup singers as live horns added some depth and Josh Dun attacked his drum kit. The blond frontman also used his stage time to mention that his wife is pregnant, a weirdly appropriate announcement given the levity of the song.

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