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By JONATHAN LANDRUM Jr.
The MTV VMAs have embraced “Bieber fever.”
Justin Bieber won artist of the year and kicked off Sunday’s ceremony with an energetic performance that featured him rappelling from the ceiling of Barclays Center” and launching into “Stay” with Kid LAROI and his single “Ghost.”
The leading nominee heading into Sunday’s show, Bieber also took home the best pop song honor with Giveon for “Peaches.”
The VMAs celebrated MTV’s 40th anniversary, mixing moments between early network stars like Cyndia Lauper and show opener Madonna with high-octane performances by newer stars like Olivia Rodrigo, Camila Cabello and Chloe.
But much of the evening, so far, belonged to Bieber. Sunday was his first VMAs performance in six years, and he is also competing for other top honors like video of the year for “POPSTAR.”
Sporting baggy clothes and a hoodie, Bieber showed his appreciation for the awards being in-person and thanked his wife, Hailey, for supporting him.
“As we know, there’s so much going on in the world,” Bieber said during his acceptance speech after winning artist of the year. “We are in unprecedented times with COVID. Music is an amazing outlet to reach people together. We’re all here together.”
Opening the show, Madonna told the screaming crowd: “They said we wouldn’t last. But we’re still here.”
Moments after Olivia Rodrigo performed her hit “good 4 u,” she collected the night’s first award for her massive hit song “Drivers License.”
“This is the most magical year of my life,” said Rodrigo, a first-time nominee.
Jennifer Lopez, who three days earlier made her re-kindled romance with Ben Affleck official on the red carpet of his new film ““The Last Duel” at the Venice International Film Festival, presented Rodrigo her trophy.
Billie Elish won the fan-voted video for good for her song “Your Power.” In her acceptance speech, she said Alicia Keys kissed her on the cheek before she spoke about the satisfaction of writing the song and women empowerment.
“We need to protect our own women at all costs,” said Elish, while her brother-producer Finneas applauded his sister from his seat. “We need to remember that we all have power. We have to remember not to abuse it.”
Lauper, who presented Bieber with his first award, advocated for equal rights for women.
“Girls still want to have fun,” said Lauper, known for classic melody “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” “But we also want to have funds, equal pay, control over our bodies, you know, fundamental rights.”
Lil Nas X hit the stage with Jack Harlow, then he performed his controversial song “Montero (Call Me by Your Name).” Kacey Musgraves and Shawn Mendes also hit the stage.
Olympic gymnastic champion Simone Biles introduced Doja Cat — the show’s host — who went aerial during her performance. With wires holding her up, Doja Cat glided over the crowd and landed on stage as she performed “Been Like This” and “You Right.”
Megan Thee Stallion enters the show as the second-leading nominee with six nominations. BTS, Doja Cat, Drake, Giveon, Lil Nas X and Rodrigo each have five nods.
The Foo Fighters performed and then accepted the Global Icon Award, an honor handed out for the first time at the VMAs. The award recognizes an artist or band “whose unparalleled career and continued impact and influence has maintained a unique level of global success in music and beyond.”
The prestigious award was previously presented at the annual MTV Europe Music Awards. Past recipients include Queen, Eminem and Whitney Houston.
The rock band – comprised of Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett, Pat Smear and Rami Jaffee – performed several of their hits including “Learn to Fly” and “Shame Shame.” It was their first performance at the VMAs since 2007.
Eilish presented the Global Icon Award to the group, who thanked MTV veterans from Kurt Loder to Tabitha Soren.
“Thank you very much for this award,” Grohl said. “We’ll see you in another 26 years.”
The show is being simulcast across CMT, Comedy Central, Logo, MTV2, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network, Pop, TV Land, VH1 and The CW Network.