MTV VMAs: NSync present Taylor Swift top award, while French Montana appeals for Morocco

Shakira took home the Video Vanguard Award, while K-pop band Tomorrow X Together performed with Brazilian superstar Anitta

From right, Justin Timberlake, Lance Bass and Joey Fatone from NSync present the award for best pop to Taylor Swift for Anti-Hero. AP
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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 Centre in Newark, New Jersey, was Swift's from nearly the beginning. The night's first presenters were NSync, who reunited to hand the best pop video award to Swift.

In co-ordinating 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.

French Montana, meanwhile, 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.

"I want to send some light and love to Morocco. It's been a devastating earthquake that just hit over there, they're still digging people from the ground," he said.

As much as Swift dominated, the VMAs centred 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.

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 singer Shakira received the Video Vanguard Award and performed an incredible bilingual medley of her decades of hits – She Wolf and Te Felicito, her collaboration with Rauw Alejandro 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.

“Especially, I want to share this award with my fans who always, always support me through thick and thin. Thank you so much for being my army and help me fight all my battles," she said before switching to Spanish. "This is for you my people, my Latin American people, inside and outside this country. 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, with the duo giving 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," Karl 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 last year and the Foo Fighters in 2021.

The rapper also performed at the VMAs for the first time since 2005. It was an incredible collection of some of his biggest hits such as Bad Boy for Life and Mo Money Mo Problems, joined by some of his greatest collaborators – Yung Miami, Keyshia Cole and 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 for 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!.

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 won 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!”

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.

Updated: September 13, 2023, 8:09 AM