MTV’s annual Video Music Awards have always been the rebel kid sibling of the awards show circuit. While the Oscars, Tonys, Grammys and Emmys are all pomp and professional glory, the VMAs revel in stirring things up. From provocative fashion to seminal performances (and plenty of iconic moments in between), the mix of music’s biggest names and a broadcast platform for their unscripted antics is a solid recipe for an entertaining evening. This year, the VMAs will air live from New York’s Madison Square Garden at 9 p. m. ET/PT on Sunday, Aug. 28. (The pre-show, hosted by DJ Khaled, starts at 8 p.m.; red carpet arrivals begin at 6:15 p.m.)
How can I watch the show?
For those with cable, MTV will begin broadcasting at 6:15 p.m., starting with red carpet arrivals. Cord-cutters can access a livestream on their site starting at 7 p.m.
Great question. MTV has not announced an official host for the ceremony. Last year’s show was helmed by a provocative (and divisive) Miley Cyrus, but this year MTV is leaving us in the dark. However, a host-less year isn’t without precedent: the 2013, 2014, 2011, 2007 and 2004 ceremonies all happened without an emcee.
More importantly, who’s performing?
This is the moment for the Britney Spears comeback. Her new album, Glory, is out Friday and she’ll perform her lead single, “Make Me,” on Sunday night. Brit has a fraught history with the VMAs. MTV helped launch her to superstardom in the late 1990s, and gave her a stage on which to strut with a snake draped over her shoulders in 2001. Then there was the infamous Madonna makeout in 2003 and a lackluster performance in 2007. It’s now been ten years since she’s graced this stage with a song. With a few seasons of Vegas shows under her belt, however, Britney just might be back.
We’ll also get treated to a special Rihanna performance. The superstar has won Video of the Year twice before, and has three noms again this year. Plus, she’s being honored with the Video Vanguard Award, which is basically the MTV version of a lifetime achievement award (Recent recipients include Kanye West and Beyoncé).
Other acts to keep an eye on: Ariana Grande is slated to perform with Nicki Minaj; Nick Jonas, who felt snubbed when he didn’t get any nomination love, will sing “Bacon” with Ty Dolla $ign; Drake pal Future will rap; and current chart-toppers The Chainsmokers will grace the stage with ingenue Halsey.
On, and there are rumors that Beyoncé might make a surprise performance. Let us hope.
What videos do I need to watch to get up to speed?
Unlike the Oscars, the VMAs are easy to prepare for, as videos are only a few minutes long. But if you’re short on time, there are a couple to prioritize. Nominations for Video of the Year went to pop’s usual suspects: Beyoncé for “Formation,” Adele for “Hello,” Drake for “Hotline Bling,” Justin Bieber for “Sorry,” and Kanye West for “Famous.” They range in style from emotional and monochrome (Adele) to GIF-worthy and viral (Drake) to controversial and NSFW (Kanye). Interestingly, Bieber’s “Sorry” video doesn’t even feature the pop juggernaut. Instead, it’s a dance video from a super-hip New Zealand dance crew. Originally commissioned as the “lyrics video,” director Parris Goebel choreographed and produced the piece within 48 hours. Bieber’s team decided it was too good to just be the “lyrics” video, though, and their gamble paid off.
For the rest of the videos, take a look at the full list of nominees here.
Who should I keep an eye on in the audience? Any drama to watch out for?
It’s been a big year for celebrity feuds — you remember the Kanye-Kim-Taylor drama triangle, right? — but those personalities won’t be in close contact this time around. (Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus likely won’t be there.) Instead, look out for pop music royalty (Beyoncé and Jay Z, Kanye West, Rihanna, Drake, Nicki Minaj) as well as up-and-comers like Alessia Cara, Zara Larsson and West’s protégé, Desiigner. Make sure to keep an eye out for some cute celeb-to-celeb bonding.
Who will win?
Thanks to her powerful Lemonade album, Queen Bey is nominated for 11 awards across four different songs. She’s all but guaranteed to take home the prize for the VMAs newest category, “Breakthrough Long Form Video.” (Frankly, we don’t know what a “breakthrough” is if it’s not Lemonade, with its rich cultural, artistic and historical references, and commentary on current issues like gender and race equality.)
That said, the Video Music Awards don’t always reward based on innovation or originality. So chart-topping hits from Bieber, Adele, and Drake are all still very much in the mix.
Adele follows Beyoncé in nomination count, with eight nods. Between the soulful strains of the ubiquitous “Hello” and “Send My Love (To Your New Lover),” it’s likely the well-loved British songstress will pick up a Moonman or two. But most everything else is anyone’s guess.
Who of the new artists should I know — and who’s likely to stick around?
Fresh acts include R&B crooner Bryson Tiller, Swedish sensation Zara Larsson and Danish group Lukas Graham. As for the ultimate category winner, “Panda”‘s Desiigner and Joe Jonas’s band DNCE are responsible for some of the year’s most inescapable earworms.
What other videos should I watch, now that I’m mostly caught up?
The Beyoncé oeuvre is worth going through (“Hold Up,” “Sorry,” and “Freedom” are all up for awards). For top-notch dancing, seek out Sia’s “Cheap Thrills,” FKA twigs’s “M3LL155X” or Missy Elliott’s “WTF (Where They From).” And don’t sleep on Fergie’s super-fun “M.I.L.F. $,” if only for the numerous celebrity cameos in a technicolor fantasyland.
Anything else to know?
It’s been a painful year for the music world, losing visionaries David Bowie and Prince in a short span of time. Although nothing’s been announced, it’s possible there will be emotional tributes to both icons. Bowie’s last album, the well-received “Blackstar,” was also posthumously nominated for four awards.
Wait, the most important thing — will MTV finally tell me what the Song of the Summer is? Summer’s almost over, and I need to know!
It’s not the final word… but yes. Up until the night of the show, public voting will remain open — although you’ll have to vote through the app Musical.ly. So will it be Sia’s “Cheap Thrills?” Justin Bieber and Major Lazer’s “Cold Water?” Drake’s ubiquitous “One Dance?” Tune in on Sunday to find out once and for all.