VMAs: 10 Memorable Moments From the MTV Awards Show

8:53 PM 8/26/2019

by Alexandra Del Rosario, Katherine Schaffstall, and Allison Crist

Taylor Swift's political speech, Missy Elliott's tribute and surprise appearances by Alyson Stoner and Queen Latifah are just some of the night's highlights.

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift
Noam Galai/Getty Images

At the 36th annual MTV Video Music Awards, held Monday at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, Missy Elliot received the Video Vanguard Award, Taylor Swift got political and a number of artists made their VMA performance debut.  

Swift won big, taking home the statuettes for video of the year and video for good. What followed was an impassioned speech where she showed her support for the Equality Act. 

Lizzo promoted self-confidence in her VMA debut performance, and Lil Nas X channeled a robotic future during his performance of "Panini."

Earlier performers included Swift, Lil Nas X, Jonas Brothers, Camila Cabello, Shawn Mendes, Bad Bunny, J Balvin, Rosalía, Big Sean featuring A$AP Ferg, H.E.R., Normani and Ozuna.

The 2019 VMAs were hosted by comedian Sebastian Maniscalco. The ceremony aired live on MTV. 

From big wins to bright performances, here's a roundup of the show's 10 most memorable moments. 

  • Taylor Swift's Highlights Equality Act During "You Need to Calm Down" Performance

    Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

    Swift opened the show with a lively performance of "You Need to Calm Down." Accompanied by the music video's stars Todrick Hall and Dexter Mayfield, Swift sang the opening lines to the song as the three sat on lounge chairs. The aesthetic of the performance was very similar to the song's video, which included a number of LGBTQ stars in a colorful trailer park.

    The number concluded with the words "Equality Act" written largely behind the performers onstage. Swift has advocated for the Equality Act and urged her social media followers to sign a petition in its favor. The House passed legislation in May that protects those living in states where it's legal to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity when it comes to housing, employment and other services.

    Swift then slowed down the performance to sing "Lover," the latest single and title track off of her seventh studio album. The dancers exited the stage and left Swift alone with her guitar as she sang the love song. 

    The performance marked Swift's first televised performance following the release of Lover, which dropped Friday. She and Ariana Grande were tied as the most nominated performers on the night with 10 each.

    Read more about her performance here.

  • Lil Nas X Performs 'Panini'

    Kevin Mazur/WireImage

    Lil Nas X opted out of "Old Town Road" for a futuristic performance of "Panini" at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards.  

    Complete with a white robot-like unitard, neon lasers and a fake newscast, the musician brought the Prudential Center audience to the year 2079. 

    Billy Ray Cyrus introduced the performance by saying that Lil Nas X has changed the way the music industry categorizes music. 

    Read the full recap here.

  • Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello's Steamy 'Seniorita' Performance

    Kevin Mazur/WireImage

    Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes, one of music's most talked-about duos, performed their latest collaboration "Señorita" for the first time ever at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards on Monday.

    Surrounded by candles, the two had multiple will-they/won't they moments as their faces got close throughout the performance. While the two didn't kiss, Mendes did abandon his guitar so he and Cabello could re-enact the choreography from the song's music video.

    Read more about the duet here.

  • Taylor Swift Calls Out White House While Accepting Video of the Year

    Dimitrios Kambouris/VMN19/Getty Images

    Upon receiving their silver astronaut for video of the year, Swift called out the White House for not addressing the Equality Act legislation.

    While accepting the award alongside the music video's cast, the singer-songwriter noted that the video ends by encouraging viewers to sign the Equality Act petition. "Which basically just says we all deserve equal rights under the law," Swift said of the legislation as she continued to encourage viewers to sign the petition.

    "I want to thank everyone that signed that petition because it now has half a million signatures, which is five times the amount that it would need to warrant a response from the White House," she continued. The singer-songwriter then looked at an imaginary watch on her wrist as she implied that the Trump administration should address the petition.

    Swift then praised the cast of the video, which was comprised of mainly LGBTQ community members. "My cast live their lives so authentically. Thank you for being the example that you are. I love you guys so much," she concluded. "Thank you MTV for lifting up this point in this video. We love you."

    The video also won the video for good award earlier in the night.

    The anti-hate anthem's music video features a star-studded cast including Ellen DeGeneres, Adam Lambert, Ryan Reynolds, Laverne Cox, RuPaul, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, the Queer Eye cast, Billy Porter, Ciara, Adam Rippon, Hayley Kiyoko and Katy Perry. The song targets Swift's haters and calls out those that attack the LGBTQ community, which is represented in the video.

    Read more here.

  • Lizzo Champions Self-Confidence During "Truth Hurts," "Good As Hell" Medley

    Kevin Mazur/WireImage

    The singer made her MTV Video Music Awards performance debut with a butt-filled medley of her hits "Truth Hurts" and "Good as Hell."

    Lizzo and her dancers, who donned leggings with rear-end cut-outs, swayed and moved in front of a giant inflatable butt to "Truth Hurts."

    The singer, shedding her trench coat and swapping it for a yellow leotard, then transitioned to "Good as Hell," one of her earlier hits. 

    Lizzo took a break from the singing and dancing to share a message about self-confidence to her audience: "I'm tired of the bullshit," she said of her haters. "We deserve to feel good as hell."

    Read the full recap here

  • Honoree Missy Elliott Brings Out Original "Work It" Dancer Alyson Stoner for Performance of Hits

    Kevin Mazur/WireImage

    Elliott hit the VMAs stage to perform a medley of her biggest hits and took everyone by surprise when she brought out Alyson Stoner, the child dancer made famous in Elliott's 2002 music video for "Work It."

    Now 26 years old, Stoner received a special spotlight during Elliott's medley, dancing in an all-yellow jumpsuit.

    In addition to "Work It," Elliott performed the songs "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)," "Get Ur Freak On" and "Lose Control."

    Read more about the performance here.

  • Missy Elliott Delivers Emotional Vanguard Award Speech

    Elliott became the first female rapper to receive the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, and she used her acceptance speech to thank everyone who has helped or inspired her.

    Cardi B presented the honor, praising Elliott's decades-spanning career as a singer, songwriter and producer and noting "classic" lyrics such as "Holla, ain't no stoppin' me / Copywritten, so don't copy me."

    "I promised I wouldn't cry because I cry at every awards [show], but this Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award means so much to me," Elliott said upon accepting the prize. "I have worked diligently for over two decades. And I never thought that I would be standing up here receiving this award, so it means so much to me. I promise it don't go unnoticed, the support and love that you have all shown me over the years."

    She continued, "Lastly, I want to dedicate this award to the dance community all around the world. Because when y'all get on the stage with these artists, y'all are not just props. Y'all are the icing on the cake — y'all are the beat to the heart."

    Read more about Elliott winning this year's Vanguard Award here.

  • Jonas Brothers Perform "Sucker" and "Only Human" on the Beach

    Kevin Mazur/WireImage

    Jonas Brothers' special remote performance began at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The band of siblings sang their hit "Sucker" onstage at the historic music club known for hosting such musicians as Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi.

    They later moved the performance outside to a stage on the beach. Kevin, Joe and Nick Jonas walked through a crowd of fans to get to the second location for the performance.

    Following "Sucker," the brothers sang the third single off of their Happiness Begins album "Only Human." The upbeat performance concluded with fireworks being set off on the beach.

    Read about the full performance here.

  • 'The Sopranos' Stars Reunite to Present Best Pop Award

    The Sopranos stars Drea De Matteo, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Vincent Pastore reunited during the awards show to present the best pop award to Jonas Brothers.

    "It's great to be here celebrating 20 years of The Sopranos at the first-ever VMAs in Jersey," opened Sigler. 

    "I got a problem. I don't recall anyone asking me if they can do an awards show here, you know," said Pastore. "MTV, what do you think you're doing? Handing out awards without my permission — how 'bout I win something, too?"

    De Matteo then told her former co-star that he was "making Jersey feel like, you know, Jersey." 

    "I'm just saying this is a nice little show they got here, but it would be a shame if the power went out," responded Pastore. 

    Sigler told Pastore to "take it easy," while De Matteo offered to steal Pastore an award. "I'll shove it in my panties," she told him.

    Read the full story here.

  • New Jersey Natives Close Out the Show

    Noam Galai/Getty Images

    Queen Latifah, Naughty by Nature, Redman, Fetty Wap and Wyclef Jean each paid tribute to their home state of New Jersey to close out the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards on Monday.

    Ice-T, who was born in Newark, introduced the ensemble.

    "Hip-hop may have been born in the Bronx, but it was raised across the river, right here in New Jersey," he said, adding that the artists onstage "helped create hip-hop culture and changed the game — not just in Jersey, but all over the world."

    From Naughty by Nature's "Hip Hop Hooray" to Wyclef Jean's "Gone till November" and "No Woman, No Cry," the classic songs brought down the house. Latifah opted for a grand entrance, riding into the venue on a red motorcycle before performing her Grammy Award-winning track "U.N.I.T.Y."

    The finale topped off the first-ever VMAs show to be held in the Garden State. 

    Read more about the performance here.