NEW YORK (AP) — With most of music industry's top acts absent, the two-hour MTV Video Music Awards lacked star power and felt flat — and it was up to a pop veteran to bring the house down.
Jennifer Lopez, who earned the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award for lifetime achievement, provided the night's most energetic performance as she gave a lengthy performance of her hit songs.
She started off slow — Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott's unamused faces perfectly captured the vibe — but she hit a strong stride when she sang old smashes like "Jenny from the Block," ''I'm Real" — where Ja Rule joined her onstage — and "All I Have," which showed the skilled dancer's vocal range.
But Lopez's speech was more stirring than her powerful performance: She was emotional as she thanked her children and beau Alex Rodriguez onstage at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
She was teary-eyed and looked at her "two little angels," as she called them, and said, "I stand here stronger and better than ever ... so thank you Max and Emme." She called Rodriguez, who filmed her performance with his phone, "my twin soul."
"My life is sweeter and better with you in it," she said.
While Lopez's speech went for the heart, Cardi B aimed for jokes. The rapper, in her well-known silly demeanor, "opened" the show — not with a performance, but with cute jokes. The new mom was onstage pretending to hold a baby, but she then revealed to the audience that it was actually a Moonman, which she won earlier in the night for song of the summer for her No. 1 hit, "I Like It," with Bad Bunny and J Balvin.
Cardi B was the top contender of the night with 10 nominations. She gave birth to Kulture Kiari Cephus last month and was up for video of the year with "Finesse," her collaboration with Bruno Mars. The song's video, inspired by the 1990s sketch comedy series "In Living Color," is also nominated for four other honors.
For the top prize, Cardi B and Mars were competing with Childish Gambino's "This Is America," Drake's "God's Plan," Beyonce and Jay-Z's "Apes--t," Camila Cabello's "Havana" and Ariana Grande's "No Tears Left to Cry." But only Cardi B and Grande were on hand for the evening's festivities.
Nicki Minaj won the first televised award — best hip hop — and checked comedian Tiffany Haddish for dissing girl group Fifth Harmony, now on hiatus.
After congratulating ex-Fifth Harmony member Cabello on her five nominations, presenter Haddish said sarcastically, "Hi Fifth Harmony." When Minaj accepted an award moments later, she looked to Haddish and said, "Don't be coming for Fifth Harmony because Normani is that (chick)." Normani currently has her first hit apart from the group with the Khalid-assisted "Love Lies."
Minaj, who has been a trending topic this week after she madly tweeted about why her new album debuted at No. 2 behind Travis Scott, also provided the first bleeped moment of the night when she told the audience to listen to her Apple Music radio show this week to hear "who the (expletive) of the day award is going to."
There was a political moment when Logic was joined onstage by young immigrants wearing T-shirts that read, "We are all human beings," to protest the Trump administration's separation of migrant children from their parents after they illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. The rapper, best known for the suicide prevention anthem "1-800-273-8255," wore a T-shirt that read, "(Expletive) the wall."
Grande won best pop video and thanked her fiance Pete Davidson "for existing."
As for the top nominees, Beyonce and Jay-Z were behind Cardi B with eight bids for "Apesh--t," filmed at the Louvre museum in Paris. Gambino's "This Is America," which tackles racism and gun violence, earned him seven nominations, while Drake, who gave away $1 million to Miami residents in his "God's Plan" clip, scored seven nods.