In-person VMAS review

Written by on September 23, 2023

By Tyler Restucci

I never realized how many everyday people it takes to create a live show like the VMAS. Whenever I watched them on TV, I assumed the people in the pit or the pre-recorded videos were special somehow. Nevertheless, one night, my friend Joely asked me if I wanted to see a performance from the VMA extended play stage. When I said yes, I could never have guessed the most unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience I was about to have.

With our tickets, we were going to see Kaliii, Renee Rapp, and The Warning, all of whom I was not a fan of beforehand, though Joely was a fan of Renee. Regardless, there is no way that I would have ever turned down this offer. The VMAS and the extended play stage were being held at the Prudential Center in Newark, and we ticket holders were directed to gather in one of the parking lots next to the building where a large tent and chairs and barricades were set up. People were slowly trickling in, so there was no line going through security.

We were required to put our phones into Yonder bags since the performances would be premiered at the VMAS, and they did not want anyone leaking footage. After securing our phones, we were given wristbands and directed to sit and wait. We waited for about 2 hours total. First, while everyone was checking in in the tent, crew members led us, row by row, to a smaller tent next to the Prudential Center, where the extended play stages were. We waited for longer outside of that tent, and then, once again, we were led line by line into the tent.

The stage was circular, with rings of lights surrounding and suspended above it. Each artist performed two versions of two songs, a 45-second and full version. Kaliii went first, singing “Area Codes” and “KToven,” though we were close to the back then, so I could barely see anything. I was in a similar situation when Renee Rapp went on and sang “Pretty Girls” and “Too Well.” By the time The Warning went on, I had managed to make my way just behind the ring of lights, so I had a good view of them performing “More” and “Evolve.” Their music was right up my alley, and The Warning was my favorite performance that night. And I looked into their other songs afterward.

I was pleasantly surprised by all the camaraderie on that first day. Sure, we were tired and sweaty, and our feet hurt, but we all knew we were a part of something special and easily trumped any discomfort from the long wait or being in such a small space. Being shoved so close to each other, it was impossible not to talk to someone new. A person near us had been following The Warning since their inception, and he was giving Joely and me the entire rundown of their career, and Joely would tell anyone who would listen about Renee Rapp. There was a group of girls next to us that, when one of them started complaining that their glasses were getting foggy, Joely gave a glasses wipe; they ended up recognizing us when we passed by them on the day of the awards.

It was impossible to function on the morning of the VMAS. Just thinking about going to the show made me so excited that I did not want to do anything except sit in my room and wait until it was time to go. That afternoon, we were back in the same parking lot we had sat in just a few days before. The general line wrapped around the block, but we were separated as we got to the front, seated fans one way, pit fans the other. Then, it was only a few more minutes of waiting before we were through security and on our way into the building.

The thought that I was going to see Olivia Rodrigo live was the thing that excited me the most going into the show. I had only been a fan of hers for a few months, missing out on the Sour tour and unsure if I would ever get a chance to attend one of her concerts. While Lil Wayne performed barely in my eyeline, I had a perfect view of Olivia getting into position on the stage directly across from where I sat. The opening notes of “Vampire” played, and my excitement doubled, as I had been screaming the song every time I got into my car for the better part of a month. However, as we all saw, in person or at home, the song only went on for about a minute before things started going wrong. Fireworks started going off randomly, the lights above started to tilt, and even some things lit fire. The crowd stopped cheering as we watched a crew member run on stage and guide Olivia off stage just as a curtain fell from the ceiling.

After a few seconds of transition music, dancers flooded the stage, and Olivia came out from behind the curtain as if nothing had happened. After the show, news outlets reported that the malfunctions were all planned. I don’t want to say that this took away from the performance because, even when I thought it was real, I thought she made a fantastic recovery by coming back out and singing “Get Him Back.” Nevertheless, there was a solid moment of real worry when I thought she was in danger, which most of the audience shared. I later discovered that her being escorted off stage was a callback to the “Vampire” music video, which I did not notice since I had not seen.

Shakira received the Video Vanguard Award, also known as the Lifetime Achievement Award, which honors the contributions to the music industry and the impact on popular culture that the recipient has had. Shakira’s performance was spectacular, spanning all three stages and crowd surfing to a rising platform in the middle of the pit. She sang and danced through her greatest hits, including “Hips Don’t Lie” and “Whenever, Wherever.” And I, like most of the crowd, sang and screamed along with her.

I would be remiss if I did not mention anything about the 50 years of hip-hop performance. My dad had put songs by Run DMC on my first iPod in middle school. While I have the utmost respect for everyone else who participated in that performance, seeing DMC live was fulfilling a childhood dream I never knew I had. The 50 Years of Hip Hop performance was my favorite of the night.

There were plenty of performances from artists that I either wasn’t a previous fan of or had no idea who they were beforehand. And yet, there was not a single performance that I didn’t enjoy. Even for the performances on the stage that I could not see, I got a unique glimpse backstage at them before and after their performances. It was even fun to watch the crew members move all the set pieces around and to see how a production like that was filmed. Sure, there were some awards I think went to the wrong person and performances that I wish I could have seen, but being disappointed about not having a clear view of Måneskin paled in comparison to the feelings of awe and gratitude that I was able to attend.

Image from Wikipedia