Nicki Minaj presides over night of newbies and nostalgia at MTV VMAs

The VMAs, where Minaj hosted and performed, were blessed by familiar faces as well as new talent, having millennials flipping over some blasts from the past. 

The 2023 MTV VMAs promised to deliver big moments and even bigger performances, and the annual awards show did just that. Emceed by Nicki Minaj, who also took the stage as a performer, the Video Music Awards ceremony was attended by some familiar faces, as well as new talent, and had millennials freaking out over a few blasts from the past. 

Superstar rapper Lil Wayne opened it up, marking the first time he hit the VMA stage in more than 10 years. The Houston icon served up two of his latest singles, “Kat Food” and “Uproar,” to an excited crowd that included Tiffany Haddish and Fat Joe, but the show changed tempo quickly when he was immediately followed by Olivia Rodrigo’s latest ballad, “Vampire.” 

2023 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
Show host Nicki Minaj performs onstage during the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards show, held Tuesday at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for MTV)

When Minaj strolled out in what looked like a pink lingerie-inspired wedding gown and veil, she looked like she was limping before revealing one of her shoes wasn’t buckled. She praised Lil Wayne, her former mentor and constant collaborator, as the “incredible, genius, greatest rapper of all time” before introducing ’N Sync — who shocked the crowd when they showed up to present the night’s first award and fueled rumors that they’re staging a comeback. 

Next up, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion turned up the heat with the first-ever live performance of “Bongos,” flanked by a ton of dancers and shirtless bongo players. 

Mary J. Blige was in the building to present her friend Diddy with the Global Icon Award. It was a family affair for the mogul, who walked the red carpet with his mother on his arm and was joined onstage by his daughter, Chance; twins Jessie and D’Lila; and son, Christian. The man of the hour delivered a medley of his hits, including “Last Night’ featuring Keyshia Cole and “I Need a Girl (Pt. 2)” with a cameo from Yung Miami, before giving a heartfelt speech and explanation on how he landed on the path to making music history.

“This is a dream come true for me. I grew up watching MTV like, ‘Man, I wish one day I could be up there,'” Diddy shared. “I started out as a paper boy, y’all. I didn’t know I was going to be here. Started out as a paper boy at 12. And then I was going to be an NFL football player for the Pittsburgh Steelers.”

Keyshia Cole (left) and Diddy (right) perform onstage Tuesday during the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards at Prudential Center Tuesday in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for MTV)

 “The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t notice, but I planned on being a football player, and my leg got broke the last year,” he continued. “Then I got depressed, and I would be in the clubs dancing in New York, doing my Diddy bop, and then people would see me, and they would cast me for videos. And that’s how I fell in love with the music industry.”

Diddy also took the opportunity to announce that his fans have something to celebrate: A brand new LP from him, titled “The Love Album: Off the Grid,” due out this Friday. 

In one of the most nostalgic moments of the night, artists including Minaj, Lil Wayne, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Doug E. Fresh, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and LL Cool J came together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop with a show-stopping medley of some of rap’s best songs, old and new. The set kicked off with “The Message” and included Minaj’s singles “Itty Bitty Piggy” and “Red Ruby Da Sleeze.” Lil Wayne had the whole place going with “A Milli,” and LL Cool J rounded things out with “Mama Said Knock You Out.”

The night’s wins weren’t as exciting as the performances, with only a handful of our faves actually taking home trophies. Minaj took home the best hip-hop video moon man trophy for “Super Freaky Girl,” and SZA’s “Shirt” nabbed the award for best R&B video. Doja Cat’s “Attention” won for best art direction, and Ice Spice won for best new artist.

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