Beyonce commanded the stage with a 15-minute medley performance of her 'Lemonade' hits, while Kanye delivered an uninterrupted six-minute speech that touched on everything from gun violence to Taylor Swift.
In what looked like a SoulCycle class under black light, Ariana Grande took the stage at the VMAs to perform her latest single "Side to Side". The popstar then mounted a neon pink pommel horse adorned with her name while Nicki Minaj made her entrance alongside a bevy of hunky weightlifters to join Grande downstage.
Rihanna gave a high-energy performance to open the night, the first of four performances for the VMAs.
She kicked off the evening by singing a medley of some of her greatest hits including "Only Girl," "Don't Stop the Music," "Where Have You Been" and "We Found Love."
Later in the night, the singer returned to the stage to perform more singles, including "Work."
For her third performance, Rihanna sang "Needed Me," "Pour It Up" and "Bitch Better Have My Money."
A glamorous Rihanna stepped out to sing "Stay" and "Diamonds" under a chandelier for her fourth and final performance.
Future took the MTV Video Music Awards stage for the first time on Sunday night with a performance of his hit "F*ck Up Some Commas."
The rapper, who was introduced by Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, donned a bright red jacket and pants onstage as he paced the stage with a crew of back dancers.
Kanye West spoke for more than six minutes before introducing a new video at the 2016 VMAs.
During his somewhat rambling speech, he shouted out various members of the audience; defended his controversial song, insisting he "called" Taylor Swift before he released it; and talked about violence in Chicago.
On "Famous," West said, "For people to understand just how blessed we are. It was an expression of our now, our fame right now, us on the inside of the TV — the audacity to put Anna Wintour right next to Donald Trump. I mean, I put Ray J in there, bro. This is fame, bro … We came over in the same boat, now we're all in the same bed. Maybe different boats."
He then switched gears a bit, talking about violence, saying, "Last week, it was 22 people murdered in Chicago … I was speaking at the Art Institute last year and one kid came up to me, and he said, 'Three of my friends died and I don't know if I'll be the next.' You know like when you're a senior and it's the last month, and you just don't feel like doing any more work. If you feel like you're see people dying next to you, you might feel like, 'What's the point?' Life can start to feel worthless. I sit down and talk to older, rich people (aka 'white') and they tell me, 'Don't compare yourself to [Steve] Jobs; don't compare yourself [Walt] Disney.' ... My friend told me … There's three keys to keeping people impoverished. That's taking away their esteem, taking away their resources and taking away their role models. My role models are artists, merchants, there's less than 10 that I can name in history: [Harry] Truman, [Henry] Ford, [Howard] Hughes, Disney, Jobs, West. Tonight we're here to have fun ... We are undeniably the influence -- the thought leaders."
Nick Jonas rocked his way through a diner, pausing to share moments with social media star The Fat Jewish, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., and brother Joe Jonas as he performed his latest single, "Bacon". Rapper Ty Dolla $ign, who earned a best collaboration nomination for his work with Fifth Harmony on their hit "Work From Home", also joined in to spit some rhymes on the New York City streets outside Madison Square Garden, where Jonas ended his performance.
Michael Phelps introduced Future by sharing a special revelation about the recent Olympics in Rio.
The swimmer revealed that he had been listening to Future's "Stick Talk" when he made his angry Olympics game face that created a variety of memes.
"I was in the zone with Future's track, "Stick Talk", blaring in my headphones," explained Phelps. "I might have a lot of gold but this guy's got all the platinum."
Spears, dressed in a glittery yellow leotard, showed off her dance moves onstage as G-Eazy took the mic to join her on her latest single. Spears then returned the favor by singing Bebe Rexha's vocal parts on G-Eazy's hit "Me, Myself & I".
Beyonce brought her most powerful Lemonade hits to the stage, highlighting her visual album by mixing spoken word with songs like "Sorry" and "Pray You Catch Me."
She swung a bat and smashed a camera during "Hold Up," asked people to sing along with her to "Formation" and ended the night by making the female symbol with her backup dancers.
The Chainsmokers brought their summer jam "Closer" to the 2016 ceremony.
The DJ duo, joined by featuring artist Halsey, performed a mellow rendition of their hit, which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Member Alex Pall stood center stage behind a keyboard as Andrew Taggart, who lends his vocals to the track, paced the stage with mic in hand.
Halsey, wearing a sparkly silver ensemble, came out onstage mid-set and got close with Taggart as they harmonized their lines.
Presenting the night's biggest award, video of the year, Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon stormed the stage in full U.S. Olympic Team regalia. But it wasn't just his outfit that made Fallon stuck out. The brunette host sported a new do as he came to the mic: the same platinum locks that adorned swimmer Ryan Lochte's head this summer at the Rio Olympics.
Fallon had fun with the swimmer's habit for embellishment, telling the audience, "I'm the one who gave Adele the phone," referring to the British songwriter's hit "Hello" which was also nominated for video of the year, and mentioning that all the video of the year nominees were "so great, I couldn't choose if there was a gun to my head."
— Pret-a-Reporter (@pretareporter) August 29, 2016
Rihanna was honored with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award during Sunday night's MTV Video Music Awards. Frequent collaborator and rumored beau Drake stood at the podium to hand her the lifetime achievement Moonman, recalling the very first time he met her years ago.
"When it comes to performance, they swarm in masses to be in her presence — obviously," the rapper said, motioning towards Rihanna, who glowed in a silver floor-length ensemble.
"She's someone I've been in love with since I was 22 years old," Drake continued. "She's one of my best friends in the world. All my adult life, I've looked up to her, even though she's younger than me."
Beyonce took home eight awards, including video of the year, breaking Madonna's record for most wins ever. Beyonce went into Sunday night's awards show with 16 Moonmen and was nominated for 11 awards, a career best. She now has a total of 22 VMAs (Madonna has won 20). Watch her acceptance speech for video of the year below.