Nicki Minaj helped open the MTV Video Music Awards with a "Bang" as she brought her "Anaconda" video to life with a rump-shaking performance and had a wardrobe malfunction when she performed with Ariana Grande and Jessie J.
Minaj first wore a green top and shorts, rapping, dancing and exciting the crowd — except Rita Ora, who stared blankly when the camera panned by. But when Minaj performed "Bang Bang," the rapper was far more subdued as she held the front of her outfit together after a long split appeared.
Snakes, though, were not part of the Sunday night's performance. Days before the VMAs, a 6-foot-long boa constrictor bit a background dancer during a rehearsal for Minaj's performance, MTV News reported.
Grande kicked off the show with a performance of her EDM hit, "Break Free" in a Beyonce-inspired leotard.
Katy Perry won the first award, best female video for the hit "Dark Horse."
"We are gonna party tonight," she said.
The 2014 VMAs will also include performances by Beyonce, Iggy Azalea and Taylor Swift. The night will feature mix a serious social message in along with the anticipated performances.
MTV President Stephen Friedman said in a statement Sunday just hours before the show that the network would air a 15-second spot focusing on race in hopes of spurring a discussion about the events surrounding the Aug. 9 police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed when he was killed.
He became an instant symbol of racial injustice as protesters flooded into the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, and the federal government has launched an investigation.
"It's a call to action to our audience that we have to confront our own bias head-on before we can truly create change," Friedman said.
The announcement only added to the buildup to what is annually one of music's most dramatic and unpredictable awards show. Already there have been snake bites and stage slips.
Days before the big show, Azalea slipped offstage while performing "Fancy" at a MTV benefit concert, later posting the video on Instagram and making fun of herself. At a rehearsal, a show worker fell from one of the winding, sloping platforms on the stage at the Forum in Inglewood, California, which reopened in January after a $100 million makeover. And rap mogul Suge Knight was injured in a shooting early Sunday at a West Hollywood nightclub for an unofficial pre-VMA party hosted by Chris Brown.
The back-to-back drama made the popular awards trend on social media even before an award was handed out, though trophies often take a back seat at the VMAs, which are all about the moments. And the show will likely provide even more memorable moments, much like last year's VMAs, which we will call the Video Miley Awards.
Miley Cyrus returned Sunday, wearing leather, this time as a nominee for video of the year with "Wrecking Ball." She isn't set to perform, but the outrageous singer, who has kept quiet recently, could surprise with another moment that could own the night and steal the spotlight from the slew of A-list pop divas.
Beyonce, who will receive the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award, is the leading nominee, competing for eight awards, including video of the year for "Drunk In Love."
Azalea, like Eminem, has seven nominations. The Australian rapper is nominated twice for both best female and pop video thanks to the success of "Problem" and "Fancy." The latter will compete for video of the year.
Charli XCX, who co-stars on "Fancy," said she first met Azalea on the set of the "Clueless"-inspired music video after they recorded the No. 1 hit separately. The 22-year-old English singer, who was also featured on last year's summer smash "I Love It" with Icona Pop, is nominated for the artist to watch award for her breakthrough solo hit, "Boom Clap."
"I mean it's cool, that's for sure," said Charli XCX, who said she's got four outfits lined up for Sunday. "I'm excited to be there because I haven't done an awards show like on my own, if you know what I mean."
She'll battle girl group Fifth Harmony and rising acts who have topped the charts this year, including boy band 5 Seconds of Summer, rapper Schoolboy Q and pop singer Sam Smith, who will also perform Sunday night.
"My dreams are coming true this weekend. I'm performing at the VMAs," Smith said at the MTV benefit concert also featuring Azalea.
Smith's "Stay With Me" is also up for best male video, pitting him against Eminem, John Legend, Ed Sheeran and Pharrell, whose "Happy" is also nominated for video of the year.
Sia's "Chandelier," which has helped the singer-songwriter achieve a musical breakthrough this year, will battle Pharrell, Azalea, Beyonce and Cyrus for the night's top trophy.
AP entertainment writers Sandy Cohen and Nicole Evatt in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Follow Mesfin Fekadu at twitter.com/MusicMesfin