By MARIA SHERMAN (AP Music Writer)
Taylor Swift took home the top prize at the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards for her “Anti-Hero” music video on a night full of surprises.
“This is unbelievable. The fact that this is a fan-voted award means so much to me,” Swift said in her acceptance speech. “I can’t believe it was a year ago that I announced the ‘Midnights’ album.”
The show, held at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, was Swift’s from nearly the beginning. The night’s first presenters were none other than NSYNC, who reunited to hand the best pop video award to Swift.
In coordinating suits, Justin Timberlake, Joey Fatone, Lance Bass, Chris Kirkpatrick and JC Chasez shared the stage with Swift. Bass handed her a friendship bracelet, just as fans do at the superstar’s shows. “You’re pop personified,” she told the group.
The night’s top nominee later returned to the stage to pick up the song of the year trophy for “Anti-Hero” and also the best direction award.
Her “Karma (Remix)” collaborator, Ice Spice, won best new artist. “Oh my God, this is so cool,” she said. “I just want to thank my munchkins.”
New music was abundant throughout the show. Host Nicki Minaj performed her latest single, the dreamy “Last Time I Saw You” before jumping into a brand-new tease of a fiery new trap cut from her highly-anticipated “Pink Friday 2” album.
“I ain’t nothing like you,” she raps, “I’m on a whole other level.”
As much as Swift dominated, the VMAs centered on music’s global power. K-pop boy band Tomorrow X Together and Brazilian superstar Anitta premiered their new collaboration, the glossy retro-pop of “Back for More.”
Another K-pop group, Stray Kids, brought “S-Class” to the stage, regional Mexicana star Peso Pluma performed “Lady Gaga” and reggaetonera Karol G delivered “Oki Doki” and “Tá OK (remix),”
Comedian Tiffany Haddish presented the award for “Best Afrobeats” in the category’s inaugural year, given to Rema and Selena Gomez for their massive hit “Calm Down.”
“Africa in the house!” Rema started his acceptance speech. “Shout out to Fela (Kuti) who started Afrobeats in the first place…and I want to give a big shout out to the next generation of Afrobeats.”
Gomez stood a few feet from the microphone but jumped in when Rema asked her to, telling the crowd: “I want to send all of my love to Nigeria, thank you.”
Colombian icon Shakira received the Video Vanguard Award and performed an incredible bilingual medley of her decades of hits — “She Wolf,” her collaboration with Rauw Alejandro “Te Felicito,” the viral, record-breaking “Shakira: Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol. 53” with Bizarrap among them — in a set introduced by her “Hips Don’t Lie” collaborator Wyclef Jean.
“MTV, thank you for being such a big part of my career since I was only 18 years old,” Shakira said, also thanking her parents and her children, who she brought to the show.
“This is for you my people, my Latin American people, inside and outside this country,” she said, switching to Spanish. “Thank you for inspiring me and for injecting me with so much strength and so much desire to move forward, I love you so much.”
She also took home the award for best collaboration for “TQG,” her song with Karol G. The duo gave their acceptance speech entirely in Spanish. “If collaborating with the legendary Shakira had been impressive, having an award with her is something from another planet,” Karol G exclaimed.
Diddy received the Global Icon Award from Mary J. Blige and his daughter Chance Combs. He is third recipient of the award, following the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2022 and the Foo Fighters in 2021.
The legendary rapper also performed at the VMAs for the first time since 2005. It was an incredible collection of some of his biggest hits like “Bad Boy for Life” and “Mo Money Mo Problems,” joined by some of his greatest collaborators: Yung Miami, Keyshia Cole, and sweetest of all, his son, King Combs.
“Love wins, y’all, love wins,” he started his speech. “I started out as a paper boy, I didn’t know I was going to be here.” He then led the audience with a chant of “bad boy.”
“This is for 30 years,” he continued. “I pray to God that you get to do what you love for 30 years.”
Lil Wayne opened the show with a performance of his new single “Kat Food.” Immediately afterward, Olivia Rodrigo brought her “Vampire” music video set to the stage, before launching into her cheeky pop-punk single “Get Him Back!”
Between the two tracks, snippets of her sold singles played aloud – at the same moment, she was rushed from the staged in a pre-planned “malfunction,” further mirroring the “Vampire” video and symbolizing a move from her first record to her second.
The live sets were many: Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion brought “Bongos” to life with big choreography; Demi Lovato played a rock ‘n’ roll medley of her biggest hits: “Heart Attack,” into “Sorry Not Sorry,” “Cool for the Summer” before the best K-pop award was given to Stray Kids.
Later, Anitta would win the “best Latin” award for the second year in a row, delivering one of the more endearing acceptance speeches of the night — “I wanna thank myself,” she laughed. “Because I work so hard!”
French Montana used his position as best R&B presenter alongside Ashanti to draw attention to Morocco earthquake relief, spotlighting a relief fund that he said he would personally donate to. Montana grew up in Morocco before moving to the United States.
Near the end of the show, the MTV Video Music Awards celebrated 50 years of hip-hop with a star-studded finale performance. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five started with “The Message,” which led to Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s “The Show.” Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, LL Cool J and DMC of Run-DMC closed it out — an energetic celebration of a multigenerational culture.