This year marked the 40th anniversary of MTV, so as the MTV Video Music Awards took place Sunday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, it was only fitting that the original MTV queen — the woman who opened the very first VMAs ceremony in 1984, with a “Like a Virgin” performance that still ranks as one of the most scandalous in the award show’s history — kick off the festivities.
Yes, the surprise mistress of ceremonies was none other than Madonna, who arrived in classic NYC style in a yellow cab as her voiceover whispered, "Around 40 years ago, I came to New York City with nothing but $35 and a pair of dance shoes. I told the taxi driver to take me to the center of it all. He dropped me off in Times Square. I was 19 and terrified, but it was just the first step. I knew that someday, with a lot of hard work, I'd be known not just in New York City, but all over the world. Forty years ago, another underdog arrived in New York City, hoping to create something revolutionary: an all-music channel premiered in the middle of the night and called itself MTV. We found each other and formed a bond that changed my life, changed music, and created a whole new art form. That's why there's only one place to be tonight."
Madonna proceeded to strut onstage to “Vogue” and unfasten her Night Porter-style trench coat to reveal a butt-baring, black leather dominatrix outfit that seemed pulled straight from her Erotica-era closet. The pop star — who has won 20 Moon Person trophies during her career (including the Video Vanguard Award in 1986), and whose iconic VMAs performances include not just the above-mentioned “Like a Virgin” but also 1990’s Marie Antoinette-style “Vogue,” 1998’s “Ray of Light” with Lenny Kravitz, and of course that 2003 makeout threesome with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera — then fixed her steely gaze on the Barclays crowd, and declared, “And they said we wouldn’t last. But we’re still here, motherf***ers!”
And with that, the 63-year-old MTV icon pivoted and sashayed away, giving the cheering audience a full view of her barely-PVC-sheathed, curvaceous derriere — and setting Twitter ablaze in the process. Later, she took to social media herself to post a series of sexy behind-the-scenes snaps, with the caption, "And they said I wouldn't last."
Madonna wasn’t the only early-MTV queen to make a surprise appearance at Sunday’s VMAs. Cyndi Lauper, who took home Best Female Video honors at the inaugural MTV Video Music Awards 37 years ago, showed up rocking a lavender lob and a very rock ‘n’ roll black leather-and-lace ensemble to present the Best Pop Award, and she used her return to MTV an opportunity to make a political statement.
“I won a Moon Person at the very first VMAs in 1984. Things are a little different now. Yeah, girls wanna have fun. But we also want to have funds. Equal pay! Control over our bodies! You know, fundamental rights!” Lauper shouted to thunderous applause.
— a1exzandra 💜 (@luna_symphony) September 13, 2021
Another MTV diva, Jennifer Lopez, also presented the first award of the evening, Song of the Year. “It feels so good to be here in my hometown for the VMAs. MTV has always been the place to deliver the music and videos that define our generation. We've sang together, danced together, and lived through moments that none of us will ever forget,” Lopez proclaimed, before giving the award to “Driver’s License” by Gen Z superstar Olivia Rodrigo.
— Jennifer Lopez Charts (@JLoCharts) September 13, 2021
The 2021 MTV Video Music Awards took place Sunday, Sept. 12 in Brooklyn. For a full list of winners, click here.
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