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MTV Video Music Awards performances: Justin Bieber scales mountain before Olivia Rodrigo rocks out

The 2021 MTV Video Music Awards tried to kick off the pandemic-era ratings slump with fiery performances from pop icon Justin Bieber and rising sensation Olivia Rodrigo.

But before the performances got underway, Madonna made an appearance referencing the start of her legendary career and her move to New York City while removing a trench coat to reveal an edgy black leather outfit.

The annual event was held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, marking the first time in eight years that the venue has hosted the show. 

Strong start: Justin Bieber and the Kid Laroi kicked off the 2021 MTV VMAs with Stay and Ghost, before Olivia Rodrigo gave a rough and raw performance of Good 4 U

Justin was a fitting star to open the show, as he leads the list of nominees with seven nominations, including top honor video of the year and best direction for POPSTAR, artist of the year, best cinematography for Holy and best pop song, best editing and best collaboration for Peaches.

During his high-energy opening, Justin and the Kid Laroi climbed a large mountain set erected on the stage to give the song an extra epic feel. 

But Justin turned the energy down a notch when he segued into his months-old song Ghost, which injected a healthy dose of emotions into the proceedings.

He looked ultra casual in a set of dark overalls over a black hoodie. 

Special guest: But before the performances got underway, Madonna made an appearance referencing the start of her legendary career and her move to New York City

Special guest: But before the performances got underway, Madonna made an appearance referencing the start of her legendary career and her move to New York City

Leather fan: She removed a trench coat to reveal an edgy black leather outfit

Leather fan: She removed a trench coat to reveal an edgy black leather outfit

Altitude: The Kid Laroi began singing Stay atop a large mountain set erected on the stage

Altitude: The Kid Laroi began singing Stay atop a large mountain set erected on the stage

Low key: But Justin turned the energy down a notch when he segued into his months-old song Ghost, which injected a healthy dose of emotions into the proceedings

Low key: But Justin turned the energy down a notch when he segued into his months-old song Ghost, which injected a healthy dose of emotions into the proceedings

No fuss: He looked ultra casual in a set of dark overalls over a black hoodie

 No fuss: He looked ultra casual in a set of dark overalls over a black hoodie

Olivia Rodrigo completely changed the mood of the show when she took the stage just as Bieber departed for a rocking version of her angry breakup song Good 4 U.

The track, which was a tribute to ’90s grunge music, featured her in a mini dress with a voluminous skirt and gloves laced up to her elbows.

The actress and singer was joined by an army of backup dancers who were masked to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

New mood: Olivia Rodrigo completely changed the mood of the show when she took the stage just as Bieber departed for a rocking version of her angry breakup song Good 4 U

New mood: Olivia Rodrigo completely changed the mood of the show when she took the stage just as Bieber departed for a rocking version of her angry breakup song Good 4 U

Edgy: The track, which was a tribute to '90s grunge music, featured her in a mini dress with a voluminous skirt and gloves laced up to her elbows

Edgy: The track, which was a tribute to ’90s grunge music, featured her in a mini dress with a voluminous skirt and gloves laced up to her elbows

The crowd: The actress and singer was joined by an army of backup dancers who were masked to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus

The crowd: The actress and singer was joined by an army of backup dancers who were masked to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus

Doja Cat made her first appearance after the opening songs, marking her first time hosting the VMAs.

She pointed out that MTV was celebrating 40 years on the air.

After Bieber had departed, his wife Hailey Bieber appeared in a stunning sheer white bodycon dress to announce a performance from country-crossover Kacey Musgraves.

She noted that it was Kacey’s ‘first-ever VMA performance’ and described her ‘friend’ as ‘vulnerable, honest and brave.’

Woman in white: After Bieber had departed, his wife Hailey Bieber appeared in a stunning sheer white bodycon dress to announce a performance from country-crossover Kacey Musgraves

Woman in white: After Bieber had departed, his wife Hailey Bieber appeared in a stunning sheer white bodycon dress to announce a performance from country-crossover Kacey Musgraves

She was singing the title track on her critically acclaimed new album Star-Crossed, which delves into her tumultuous marriage and divorce from singer–songwriter Ruston Kelly.

The stage design matched the intimate, somber nature of the song with several minimalist candle holders that bathed the dark set in amber light.  

Kacey wore her long raven locks, which were wet, down her front.

She eschewed her standard ’60s-inspired style in favor of a seemingly drenched white dress that hugged her hourglass figure and featured a high slit to showcase her legs.

As she reached the song’s chorus, a burning heart was projected behind her.

Emotional: Kacey was singing the title track on her critically acclaimed new album Star-Crossed, which delves into her tumultuous marriage and divorce from singer–songwriter Ruston Kelly

Emotional: Kacey was singing the title track on her critically acclaimed new album Star-Crossed, which delves into her tumultuous marriage and divorce from singer–songwriter Ruston Kelly

On fire: The stage design matched the intimate, somber nature of the song with several minimalist candle holders that bathed the dark set in amber light. Kacey wore her long raven locks, which were wet, down her front

On fire: The stage design matched the intimate, somber nature of the song with several minimalist candle holders that bathed the dark set in amber light. Kacey wore her long raven locks, which were wet, down her front

Her song transitioned in Twenty One Pilots’ performance of Saturday, with lead singer initially seated while playing a ukulele.

He interrupted the song to announced that his wife Jenna Black was pregnant with their second child.

‘I didn’t want to text everybody, so I thought I’d let you know right now,’ he joked, before launching back into the lyrics. 

Madison Beer took to the stage next to announce a brief performance from the Guyanese–American rapper Saint Jhn, who is nominated for three VMAs.

After the break, Rita Ora put on a busty display in a flowing black dress that was opened to show off a high-waisted set of shorts underneath.

She serenaded her pal Ed Sheeran, who sang his song Shivers. 

He kept his rooftop performance simple with an acoustic guitar for himself. 

Big news! Her song transitioned in Twenty One Pilots' performance of Saturday, with lead singer initially seated while playing a ukulele. He interrupted the song to announced that his wife Jenna Black was pregnant with their second child

Big news! Her song transitioned in Twenty One Pilots’ performance of Saturday, with lead singer initially seated while playing a ukulele. He interrupted the song to announced that his wife Jenna Black was pregnant with their second child

Back in black: After the break, Rita Ora put on a busty display in a flowing black dress that was opened to show off a high-waisted set of shorts underneath

Back in black: After the break, Rita Ora put on a busty display in a flowing black dress that was opened to show off a high-waisted set of shorts underneath

Minimalist: She serenaded her pal Ed Sheeran, who sang his song Shivers. He kept his rooftop performance simple with an acoustic guitar for himself

Minimalist: She serenaded her pal Ed Sheeran, who sang his song Shivers. He kept his rooftop performance simple with an acoustic guitar for himself

Pose star Billy Porter was the next presenter, and he glowed in a metallic double-breasted suit.

He gushed about ‘all this Black boy joy’ that people weren’t ready for when he first started in the entertainment industry, which Lil Nas X personified.

The rapper appeared on stage in a hot pink drum major uniform while flanked by a marching band.

He stripped down to reveal his muscular chest while spitting bars from his prison-themed single Industry Baby, with a supporting verse from Jack Harlow.

Lil Nas X then segued into a brief teaser of his single Montero (Call Me By Your Name).

Shining: Pose star Billy Porter was the next presenter, and he glowed in a metallic double-breasted suit. He gushed about 'all this Black boy joy' that people weren't ready for when he first started in the entertainment industry, which Lil Nas X personifie

Shining: Pose star Billy Porter was the next presenter, and he glowed in a metallic double-breasted suit. He gushed about ‘all this Black boy joy’ that people weren’t ready for when he first started in the entertainment industry, which Lil Nas X personifie

Strike up the band: The rapper was dressed as a drum major in a hot pink uniform flanked by a marching band

Strike up the band: The rapper was dressed as a drum major in a hot pink uniform flanked by a marching band

Stripping: He stripped down to show of his muscular chest

Stripping: He stripped down to show of his muscular chest

Behind bars: He rapped his single Industry Baby, which featured a video set in prison

Surprise! Lil Nas X then segued into a brief teaser of his single Montero (Call Me By Your Name)

Behind bars: He rapped his single Industry Baby, which featured a video set in prison. Lil Nas X then segued into a brief teaser of his single Montero (Call Me By Your Name)

Charli XCX looked phenomenal in a skimpy red dress as she introduced her friend Camila Cabello.

Camilla wore a black sequined dress that exposed one shoulder and had a fluffy pink trim.

She wore fishnet stockings with the steamy ensemble, plus elbow-length black gloves.

The Cuban-born songstress wore her dark tresses in a long braided ponytail extension.

She was accompanied by salsa dancers for a performance of her single Don’t Go Yet, which had pink-bathed balconies behind her decked out with dancers.

Camila was the perfect lead in to her boyfriend Shawn Mendes, who sang his jubilant tune Summer Of Love. 

He wore a cropped pink-and-white sweater that showed off his abs, along with white pants. 

Fiery: Charli XCX looked phenomenal in a skimpy red dress as she introduced her friend Camila Cabello. Camilla wore a black sequined dress that exposed one shoulder and had a fluffy pink trim

Fiery: Charli XCX looked phenomenal in a skimpy red dress as she introduced her friend Camila Cabello. Camilla wore a black sequined dress that exposed one shoulder and had a fluffy pink trim

Stunning: She wore fishnet stockings with the steamy ensemble, plus elbow-length black gloves. The Cuban-born songstress wore her dark tresses in a long braided ponytail extension

Stunning: She wore fishnet stockings with the steamy ensemble, plus elbow-length black gloves. The Cuban-born songstress wore her dark tresses in a long braided ponytail extension

Letting loose: She was accompanied by salsa dancers for a performance of her single Don't Go Yet, which had pink-bathed balconies behind her decked out with dancers

Letting loose: She was accompanied by salsa dancers for a performance of her single Don’t Go Yet, which had pink-bathed balconies behind her decked out with dancers

Perfect transition: Camila was the perfect lead in to her boyfriend Shawn Mendes, who sang his jubilant tune Summer Of Love. He wore a cropped pink-and-white sweater that showed off his abs, along with white pants

Perfect transition: Camila was the perfect lead in to her boyfriend Shawn Mendes, who sang his jubilant tune Summer Of Love. He wore a cropped pink-and-white sweater that showed off his abs, along with white pants

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