The 2023 VMAs Didn’t Even Suck This Year. What Happened?

For a moment, it was a reminder that MTV and music can sometimes make a beautiful couple

Welcome to the MTV Video Music Awards. Music’s biggest night! Well, not quite. How about: the night MTV shows how much it cares about music by deciding, “Way too many people are noticing the VMAs. We better move it to a Tuesday night in September.” But fortunately, the stars came out. The 2023 VMAs show was full of surprises — this was one of those random years when the Video Music Awards bizarrely failed to suck. The reason? It delivered a constant barrage of pop stars doing one or more of the two things they’re good at: (1) the hits and/or (2) making glitter-cringe spectacles out of themselves on live TV.

The biggest surprise of the night came when NSync reunited for the first time in ten years. All five of the “Dirty Pop” boys: Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, Lance Bass, and Chris Kirkpatrick, with no strings attached. “We just wanted to say thank you to MTV, and especially all of you guys,” Joey said. “Thank you so much, each and every one of you, for always supporting your favorite music artists!”

The last time the boys stood onstage was at the 2013 VMAs, doing a painfully brief cameo when Justin Timberlake won the Video Vanguard award. Also, they grinned together when they got their 2018 star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and 4/5s of them joined Ariana Grande at Coachella. They’re busy men —Joey and Chris were a riot this year at the 90s Con fanfest.

But tonight raised hopes that they’re planning some new (but still dirty) pop.

NSync didn’t sing, sadly, but they presented an award to Taylor Swift. It was a great moment to see Lance Bass hand Taylor a friendship bracelet, especially since she’s a big fan. “I had your dolls!” Taylor told them. “You’re pop personified! So to receive this from your golden pop hands is really too much!” She wanted to sing with them, but I guess we will have to wait for “God Must Have Spent a Little More Time On You (Taylor’s Version).”

Taylor, man — nobody knows how to have fun at an awards show like our girl. She rocked hard all night, even by her lofty standards. Fans noted that Taylor seemed to be sipping on some kind of beverage at one point (a lot of points, actually), so tonight was a feeding frenzy for all the Drunklors out there. (Put the blame on her roommate’s cheap-ass screw-top rosé!) But let’s face it, every award show is infinitely more fun when Tay is feeling rowdy, and here’s guessing she did NOT cry like a baby in the back of the car home. She won a slew of awards for “Anti-Hero”: Video of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Video, and Best Director. But Taylor seemed even more psyched when her karmate Ice Spice won Best New Artist.

Editor’s picks

Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion had the live performance of the night, turning “Bongos” into a lavishly sexed-up and ass-intensive extravaganza, complete with Cardi riding in on a mirror-ball. As always, they proved they’re the most reliably ferocious duo in the biz.

Rema and Selena Gomez made a cool duo when they won the Best Afro-Beats prize for “Calm Down.” Selena also won the Bad Liar Award for “most awesome facial reaction at any mention of Chris Brown.” No poker player, Selena.

Olivia Rodrigo delivered a brilliant performance of two of the best bangers on her new instant-classic album, Guts. She went Goth-Livia for “Vampire,” working her cheerleader-from-hell costume, and Punk-Livia with “Get Him Back!”

Sean “Diddy” Combs won the Global Icon Award, a sentimental moment since he’s got so much history with this award show. He did “I’ll Be Missing You,” evoking the classic moment when he and Sting opened the 1997 VMAs with “Every Break You Take.” Mary J. Blige gave him a really touching introduction, calling him “a brother and a friend.” He dueted with Keisha Cole, Yung Mami, and even his kids. And his patented dance moves haven’t lost a step since his Unisphere days, as he proved in “It’s All About The Benjamins” and “Mo Money Mo Problems.”


Shakira won a fully deserved Video Vanguard award and gave a performance to match. As she showed at the Super Bowl, she’s in a league of her own as a live spectacle-maker, shaking her extremely non-lying hips in “She Wolf,” pausing mid-set to grab a guitar and rock some guitar-hero moves.

It’s safe to say Tomorrow X Together made a ton of new fans tonight. The K-pop stars stole the show on the red carpet, fashion-wise, before they even sang a note, and had fantastic chemistry with Anitta, whose rock-star boots added some glam content to “Back For More.” Stray Kids also ruled in style with “S-Class,” which won Best K-pop Video.

Anitta raised hell with “Funk Rave” and “Used To Be.” She also gave the coolest speech of the night when she won Best Latin Video for “Funk Rave,” saying, “I want to thank myself because I work so hard.” 

Nicki Minaj, the show’s official host, debuted a couple of choice new songs from her upcoming Pink Friday 2. She also won Best Hip-Hop Video for “Super Freaky Girl.” Karol G made her kick-ass VMAs debut with “Oki Doki” and “Tá OK (Remix).” So did Kelsea Ballerini, who sang a gorgeous “Penthouse.” Future and Metro Boomin made an action movie out of “Superhero.” Doja Cat worked a librarian cosplay fit that evoked one of those classic MTV video topes, the “buttoned-up bespectacled professional who loses her clothes father than you can say ‘Hot for Teacher.’”

As for the token rock band slot, this time it went to Maneskin, Italy’s finest, who made a glorious racket with their “Honey.” Fall Out Boy also appeared, but not doing any of their songs, just their god-awful cover of “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” It totally misses the beat of the original, but worse, misses the point by forgetting to put the headlines in chronological order. Too bad Taylor didn’t strut up there to bail them out with “Electric Touch,” their excellent surprise duet on Speak Now (Taylor’s Version).

Peso Pluma did “Lady Gaga.” Sadly, Gaga herself did not appear to do an impromptu Tony Bennett tribute. The show dragged on too late — but for once, it didn’t outstay its welcome, especially considering how it was cutting into our nation’s valuable Catfish and Ridiculousness time.


The show ended with a great celebration for the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, which you may have heard about. (Arguably the best-planned and best-executed anniversary in pop culture history?) Lil Wayne  Doug E. Fresh, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, LL Cool J, Darryl McDaniels from Run-DMC, and Minaj.

For a moment — for a whole night— it was a reminder that MTV and music can sometimes make a beautiful couple.

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