On a night when women ruled, Britney Spears made a triumphant return to the VMA stage and Rihanna performed four times to mark her lifetime achievement award.
Beyonce brought the house down at New York’s Madison Square Garden, stringing together five of her “Lemonade” album tracks about betrayal, revenge and female empowerment in a song and dance routine that brought a long-standing ovation.
VMA organisers had announced only three hours before Sunday’s show began that Beyonce would perform. The singer arrived on the red carpet accompanied by the mothers of three African-American men who have died at the hands of US police in the past two years.
Her politically-charged “Formation” beat Adele’s 2015 comeback single “Hello,” Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” and Kanye West’s sleeping nude celebrity look-alikes in “Famous” for video of the year.
She also won best female video and prizes for choreography, editing, and long-form video in the awards that are voted on by fans.
Where Beyonce was angry and bold, Spears, 34, dressed in a sparkly gold leotard and matching over the knee boots was slinky retro pop. It was the “Toxic” singer’s first time on the VMA stage since her humiliating 2007 performance when her personal and professional life was falling apart and follows the release of a new album last week.
Fifth Harmony, the five-girl group that won TV talent show “The X Factor,” took home 2 “Moonman” awards.
Kanye West, who has often hijacked the live VMA show, presented a new video for his single “Fade.” West preceded the video with a rambling, improvised speech that touched on poverty, his wife Kim Kardashian, his long-running feud with Taylor Swift, and violence in black neighbourhoods.
“We are undeniably the influencers, the thought leaders,” he said, before screening what he called a “piece of my art.”
Many of pop music’s biggest names, including Justin Bieber, Britain’s Adele and Taylor Swift were absent on Sunday.