Nicki Minaj opened the show with a commanding, pyrotechnic-accompanied run through “Good Form” before British pop group Little Mix joined her onstage to perform the band’s new single “Woman Like Me,” which features a guest spot from the rapper.
Minaj also took home awards for best hip-hop and best look at the 25th MTV EMAs, which were held at Bilbao Exhibition Centre in Spain. “I want to thank all my fans around the world,” said the rapper upon receiving the best hip-hop title.
Camila Cabello, who did not perform at the awards show but was present in Bilbao, won four awards, including best artist, best song and best video for “Havana” ft. Young Thug.
“I know what it's like to be a fan," she said after receiving her first honor of the night. "I remember when I was 14-years-old watching these shows, waiting for my favorite artists to come on. I know how special that bond is between a fan and their favorite artist and I know special the bond I have with is with my fans."
Other big winners included Dua Lipa, who was named best pop act, and Cardi B, crowned best new artist. Shawn Mendes, who dominated last year’s EMAs in London, won best live act, while 5 Seconds of Summer took the title for best rock.
Ariana Grande the second, most nominated artist going into the night, behind Cabello didn't take home a win in any of her five categories.
Hosting the event was Oscar-nominated actress and singer Hailee Steinfeld, whose charisma and stage presence made her one of the more accomplished presenters in recent EMA history, helped by a noticeable decrease in the type of lame skits that are normally a standard feature of EMA shows.
One sketch that did hit the mark was an opening art heist sketch that saw Steinfeld raid an art gallery (clearly inspired by Bilbao’s world famous Guggenheim Museum) and culminated in Panic! At The Disco’s Brendon Urie climbing down the venue walls and emerging through the ceiling to perform “High Hopes” alongside his band mates, which he also performed at the 2018 MTV VMAs back in August.
Later in the show, Steinfeld gave a strong plug for her upcoming role in Transformers spinoff Bumblebee by singing her new track “Back To Life” from inside a giant human "vehicle" created by more than 20 dancers.
Other standout performances included Spanish modern Flamenco star Rosalía, last year’s host Bebe Rexha singing “I’m a Mess” joined by 100 dancers wearing hospital gowns, and global icon honoree Janet Jackson delivering a knock-out three song medley of “Made For Now,” “All for You” and “Rhythm Nation” atop an elevated stage accompanied by drummers, torch carriers, pyrotechnic explosions and dozens of dancers.
“I feel moved to speak for women’s voices who have been stifled,” said Jackson in a powerful heartfelt acceptance speech. “I am one of those women. Women who have been gagged, both literally and emotionally. Women who have been abused. Women who have been intimidated. Women who have lived in fear.
"I stand with you. You are my sisters,” she went on to say, calling for women to speak out for justice and the “spirit that crosses all borders, recognizes the dignity of all people and affirms the beauty of all faiths.”
“Speak out for acts of true charity, small and large," she continued. "Speak out for an all-embracing love because its love that will heal our wounds."
If Jackson’s performance represented fire, Halsey’s was all about water as the singer passionately belted out “Without Me” while chained to a stake in the ground as rainfall fell around her.
Also making their EMAs mainstage debut was US pop rap duo Jack & Jack, who soared high above the crowd on wires during “Rise” before crash-landing into a living room set where they were joined by dozens of dancers.
As the event drew to a close, Minaj returned to the stage to join Jason Derulo and David Guetta for an energetic run through their collaboration “Goodbye.”
The show ended with two songs by best electronic winner Marshmello, beginning with “FRIENDS” alongside Anne-Marie. Bastille then joined the DJ and Anne-Marie for the rousing “Happier,” and were accompanied by giant inflatable Marshmello heads and exploding confetti canons.