Usually the biggest spectacle of awards season, MTV’s annual Video Music Awards offers an unfiltered glimpse into the lives and wild getups of music’s wildest personalities. This year, Katy Perry is taking the wheel as the evening’s host, while crowd favorites like Lorde, Kendrick Lamar and Fifth Harmony will take the stage to perform.
MTV has also decided to shake things up by abolishing gender-specific categories. Regardless of gender, the nominees are going head to head for Artist of the Year. And they added a new award: “Best Fight Against the System.” But without past years’ superstars (Drake, Beyoncé) to stir things up, it could be a tamer broadcast than usual. Unless Taylor Swift decides to drop by, of course. Here’s everything you need to know.
How can I watch the show?
For those with cable, MTV will begin broadcasting at 6:15 p.m. EST, starting with red carpet arrivals and a live pre-show hosted by rapper Lil Yachty and MTV’s Charlamagne Tha God, Terrence J and Gaby Wilson, with performances from Bleachers, Khalid and Cardi B straight from the red carpet. Cord-cutters can access a livestream on their site starting at 7 p.m. The event properly kicks off at 8 p.m. from the Forum in Ingleside, Calif.
Get ready to see how Katy Perry takes to an emcee role. Last year’s show was hosted — to general confusion — by comedians Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele and “social media.” (2015 brought us Miley Cyrus, at the height of her provocateur style.) Fresh off the lackluster release of album Witness, Perry will be taking on the tricky role this time. TIME’s own TV critic Daniel D’Addario writes, “The VMAs present Perry the opportunity to try to resolve these two selves — the woke, purposeful-pop chanteuse who campaigned for Hillary Clinton and now spends her days pondering her impact on others on the one hand, and the attention-loving pop star who performed “I Kissed a Girl” at the Super Bowl on the other.”
Over the years, Perry has always brought her own bold aesthetic to the red carpet and to her on-air performances, so it’s safe to say she won’t be toning things down. Intriguingly, she recently called awards shows “fake.” Fake or not, she’s the master of ceremonies on deck.
More importantly, who’s performing?
Perry, who’s been marketing herself as the show’s “moonwoman,” will be pulling out all the stops for a space-themed performance of one of her new songs (she’s been training in zero gravity and eating astronaut ice cream, apparently). Pink, who is taking home the Video Vanguard Award, will also put on a show. The new, softer Miley Cyrus is on deck, as is the sharp rap of Kendrick Lamar.
Then there’s Lorde bringing the Melodrama, Ed Sheeran bringing the looping guitar, and The Weeknd, Shawn Mendes and the ladies of Fifth Harmony (with featured rapper Gucci Mane) to round out the heavy hitters. Demi Lovato, Logic, Khalid, Thirty Seconds to Mars and Julia Michaels (of breakout “Issues” fame) will also take the stage. Plus DNCE, Rod Stewart, Post Malone and Cardi B of “Bodak Yellow.”
What videos do I need to watch or songs do I need to hear to get up to speed?
Kendrick’s “HUMBLE.” is up for a whopping eight awards; he’s the name to beat, and his video packs the most punch of the bunch. Up next is Bruno Mars with four nominations; check out “24K Magic” for a dose of his signature style. Then watch Rihanna in top form in the nominated “Wild Thoughts” video. Finally, prepare for an emotional ride through Alessia Cara’s “Scars to Your Beautiful.” If you’ve managed to escape Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” this year then that’s worth a listen, too.
Who will win?
The odds are in Lamar’s favor for Video of the Year, given its strength as an artistic statement; the closest competitor might be DJ Khaled’s steamy “Wild Thoughts,” thanks to the Rihanna feature. Song of the summer should go, rightfully, to the juggernaut that is “Despacito (Remix).” Artist of the Year is a tougher category to crack, with Ariana Grande, Bruno Mars, Lorde, Ed Sheeran and The Weeknd all in the mix — and all both critical darlings and crowd favorites.
Who of the new artists should I know — and who’s likely to stick around?
Best New Artist nominees include standout singer-songwriter Julia Michaels (her solo debut was “Issues,” but she’s also helped write for the likes of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez), next-gen R&B crooner Khalid, cult favorite SZA, Miley’s sister Noah Cyrus, and rappers Kodack Black and Young M.A. Khalid, SZA and Julia Michaels in particular are names to know, with growing fandoms, top-notch collaborations and serious songwriting credits already.
What about Taylor Swift?
With a new song out Thursday night, a new album announced for release in November and a whole new era of Swiftdom to promote, chances are high Swift might make her return to the spotlight at the event. It’s sure to stir up some drama — she has yet to publicly respond to Katy Perry about their old feud — but her plans remain murky.
As for her feud that started at the VMA’s, Kanye has been silent for a whole year now. (The music video for “Fade” came out during the VMAs last year; it’s nominated for choreography at this year’s show.) We’ll find out Sunday if he and Kim Kardashian choose to show up — or opt to sit this one out.
What’s this new category?
The new “Best Fight Against the System” category aims to honor music that’s shaking things up, even if it wouldn’t get recognized in the mainstream awards lanes. Think: a tune from the Hamilton mixtape, and a protest anthem featuring Shailene Woodley. It’s certainly the most overtly political part of the evening, and if the results are televised, the ensuing acceptance speech could be the VMAs boldest statement.
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