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At MTV Video Music Awards, expect surprises

This combo made from file photos shows, from

This combo made from file photos shows, from left, Ariana Grande, Jessie J, and Nicki Minaj. The trio will kick off Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards with their new song "Bang Bang." Credit: AP / Omar Vega, Evan Agostini, John Shearer

With a legacy that includes Madonna tongue-kissing Britney Spears, Beyoncé announcing her pregnancy and Howard Stern's bare behind, the MTV Video Music Awards has never had trouble generating buzz.

But this year's ceremony has a special challenge: How do you compete with Miley Cyrus' twerking with Robin Thicke, a surprise that led newscasts around the world and became one of the most Tweeted-about events of all time?

Well, you don't really try to, says MTV executive vice president Dave Sirulnick, the show's executive producer.

"It's not like we sit around and say, 'How do we top '13?' or 'How do we top 2010?' or any other year," Sirulnick says. "We focus on now. How do we make sure that the 2014 VMAs can be all they can be -- the right mix of people onstage, of presenters, of everybody in the room. It allows some of those really, really, really wonderful moments to occur."

A 'wonderful' moment

There are certainly plenty of possibilities for a "wonderful moment" at this year's ceremony, which takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, California. A leading candidate is Nicki Minaj, who promises to pull out all the stops when she performs "Anaconda," her bootylicious reworking of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back."

"The VMAs is a pretty big deal, so people go all out for it," Minaj said in a statement. "I am very, very excited and looking forward to the performance."

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Also set to perform are the summer's breakout stars Iggy Azalea and Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, who will debut her new single, chart-topping Aussie boy band 5 Seconds of Summer, veterans Usher and Maroon 5.

All about Bey

And, of course, there's Beyoncé. Queen Bey will receive the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award for her career achievements and could create more during the show since she leads the night with eight nominations, including video of the year for "Pretty Hurts."

When she was on the VMAs in 2011, Beyoncé made the surprising announcement that she was pregnant with Blue Ivy.

Who knows what she will do with the platform this time? Will she use the stage to address the unsubstantiated, but omnipresent rumors about the state of her marriage to Jay Z -- the way Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley did at the 1994 VMAs? Will she reunite Destiny's Child -- the way Justin Timberlake brought back 'N Sync last year?

Sirulnick isn't saying, though he does play up the perform-ance. "You're going to want to tune in and see what she brings," he says. "You don't want to miss what Beyoncé is going to do.

"She is one of the great artists of our time," he continues. "She probably, as well as anybody, may know what the opportunity of the VMA stage can do. I know she is going to show everybody what she can do, as she has for years."

Beyoncé knows, as do the other artists on the bill, that the VMAs are a much bigger deal post-Miley. Last year's show at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn landed the biggest cable ratings of the year up to that point, drawing 10.1 million viewers and doubling the ratings in the sought-after 12-to-34-year-old demo.

That kind of power, especially in the ever-fragmenting TV market, does not go unnoticed. It's no accident that Grande will release her new album, "My Everything" (Republic), the day after her VMA performance. It's also no coincidence that Swift is launching her new album campaign with the awards show.

And that raises the stakes even higher. There is a spirit of competition -- friendly and not-so-much -- between artists to "win the VMAs." Last year, after Cyrus nabbed all the attention from Lady Gaga, belief in Gaga's "Artpop" album started to erode quickly.

"It's the combination of having the right talent onstage and them also knowing that there's other super talent onstage," Sirulnick says. "They want to shine. They want to shine in front of peers and in front of the whole world."

After all, VMA night has become one of the few nights of the year when music fans gather together to watch something at the same time.

"You have to watch it live," Sirulnick says. "You know stuff is going to happen that you're not going to want to miss."

Sirulnick points to Beyoncé's announcement of her pregnancy as an example of what the show can uniquely bring, since it not only showed her announcement, but the immediate reaction of her husband, Jay Z, and their friend Kanye West.

"They allowed all of us to be a part of that moment," Sirulnick says. "It's not so much a fear of missing out. It's the joy of being included."

WHAT MTV Video Music Awards

WHEN | WHERE 9 p.m. Sunday, MTV




MTV Video Music Awards: Our critic's picks

The MTV Video Music Awards have always been less about the awards and more about the performances. (What got more attention last year? Justin Timberlake's "Mirrors" winning video of the year or Miley Cyrus' twerking? Case closed.) However, this year's nominations do try to make the fan-voted categories more of a fair fight, while the professional categories try to shine a light on some underappreciated work like Gesaffelstein's dark "Hate or Glory" video and Arcade Fire's bold "Afterlife" clip. Here's a look at how the top categories break down:

Video of the Year

-- Beyoncé featuring Jay Z, "Drunk In Love"

-- Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX, "Fancy"

-- Miley Cyrus, "Wrecking Ball"

-- Pharrell Williams, "Happy"

-- Sia, "Chandelier"

SHOULD WIN "Happy." Pharrell's song didn't get any traction for months. Then the video arrived, with its initial plan to run for 24 hours showing people around the world dancing to the song, and suddenly it became a smash. And rightly so.

WILL WIN "Wrecking Ball." Though it's been out nearly a year -- an eternity in tween voters' minds -- it does hold the record for most-watched video in a day and is set to cross the 700 million view mark soon. Cyrus' fans will likely band together to get her the award that eluded her last year.


Artist to Watch

-- 5 Seconds of Summer, "She Looks So Perfect"

-- Charli XCX, "Boom Clap"

-- Fifth Harmony, "Miss Movin' On"

-- Sam Smith, "Stay With Me"

-- Schoolboy Q, "Man of the Year"

SHOULD WIN Sam Smith. His gorgeous, inventive vocals offer one surprise after another.

WILL WIN 5 Seconds of Summer. The 5SOS boys already have reached No. 1 on the album chart and have charmed loads of One Direction fans from their recent role as tour openers. If there's one category to bet the farm on, this is it.


Best Hip-Hop Video

-- Childish Gambino, "3005"

-- Drake ft. Majid Jordan, "Hold On, We're Going Home"

-- Eminem, "Berzerk"

-- Kanye West, "Black Skinhead"

-- Wiz Khalifa, "We Dem Boyz"

SHOULD WIN "Black Skinhead." Yes, Kanye West is full of himself, but great artistic videos like this suggest he may be right in his self-assessment.

WILL WIN "Hold On, We're Going Home." Drake's epic heist video doesn't really match the sweet love song, but it sure does make for entertaining viewing.


Best Male Video

-- Ed Sheeran ft. Pharrell Williams, "Sing"

-- Eminem ft. Rihanna, "The Monster"

-- John Legend, "All of Me"

-- Pharrell Williams, "Happy"

-- Sam Smith, "Stay With Me"

SHOULD WIN "Sing." Ed Sheeran matched his move to smooth, Justin Timberlake-ish R&B with an adorable video filled with puppets. Who doesn't love an Ed Sheeran puppet show?

WILL WIN "The Monster." Between Rihanna's navy and Eminem's huge fan base, the song stands a good chance of landing the award that eluded "Love the Way You Lie."


Best Female Video

-- Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea, "Problem"

-- Beyoncé, "Partition"

-- Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX, "Fancy"

-- Katy Perry ft. Juicy J, "Dark Horse"

-- Lorde, "Royals"

SHOULD WIN "Royals." Lorde's breakthrough hit made it clear young fans are willing to support more serious songs. The video, which features slices of suburban life, shows that clips can be compelling without all the usual excesses shown.

WILL WIN "Fancy." Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX already have won the Song of the Summer sweepstakes, hanging onto the No. 1 spot for seven weeks in June and July. Expect them to continue the streak with a win here.


Best Pop Video

-- Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea, "Problem"

-- Avicii ft. Aloe Blacc, "Wake Me Up"

-- Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX, "Fancy"

-- Jason Derulo ft. 2 Chainz, "Talk Dirty"

-- Pharrell Williams, "Happy"

SHOULD WIN "Happy." Pharrell's video pretty much captures the joy that usually comes with hearing a perfect pop song.

WILL WIN "Fancy." In the second battle of Iggy vs. Iggy, the song where she gets top billing will likely come out on top.


Best Rock Video

-- Arctic Monkeys, "Do I Wanna Know?"

-- Black Keys, "Fever"

-- Imagine Dragons, "Demons"

-- Linkin Park, "Until It's Gone"

-- Lorde, "Royals"

SHOULD WIN "Fever." The Black Keys' sweaty video, with Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney appearing as preachers, plays up the darker side of the bouncy song.

WILL WIN "Royals." Not exactly sure how rock "Royals" is, but it is a category where Lorde's fans voting fervor should carry her past her competition.


Best Video With a Social Message

-- Angel Haze ft. Sia, "Battle Cry"

-- Avicii ft. Dan Tyminski, "Hey Brother"

-- Beyoncé, "Pretty Hurts"

-- David Guetta, "One Voice"

-- J. Cole, "Crooked Smile"

-- Kelly Rowland, "Dirty Laundry"

SHOULD WIN "Pretty Hurts." Beyoncé's epic, 7-minute meditation on the struggles associated with maintaining the public perception of beauty, as she declares, "Perfection is a disease of a nation," before concluding that the more important question is "Are you happy with yourself?"

WILL WIN "Pretty Hurts"


Best Cinematography

-- 30 Seconds to Mars, "City of Angels"

-- Arcade Fire, "Afterlife"

-- Beyoncé, "Pretty Hurts"

-- Gesaffelstein, "Hate or Glory"

-- Lana Del Rey, "West Coast"

SHOULD WIN "Afterlife." Arcade Fire's video is more ambitious and its imagery more memorable than the other strong contenders in the category.

WILL WIN "Pretty Hurts." As the top nominee of the night, Beyoncé will likely rack up her wins among the music industry professionals, who vote on this award, rather than in categories where fans vote.


Best Direction

-- Beyoncé, "Pretty Hurts"

-- DJ Snake & Lil Jon, "Turn Down for What"

-- Eminem ft. Rihanna, "The Monster"

-- Miley Cyrus, "Wrecking Ball"

-- OK Go, "The Writing's on the Wall"

SHOULD WIN "Pretty Hurts." Director Melina Matsoukas strung together the various strands of Beyoncé's vision masterfully, creating a gripping clip.

WILL WIN "Pretty Hurts"


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