Anything can happen—and has happened—at the VMAs, and Olivia Rodrigo’s performance of “Vampire” and “Get Him Back” is no different. But what looked like a stage malfunction mid-performance was very much intentional, something that people watching in the audience and at home didn’t pick up on.
Rodrigo kicked things off with “Vampire,” her first single from her latest album, Guts. Wearing a red bra and skirt, she performs the song normally while sitting on a grassy setpiece on the stage. But as the bridge hits, it looks like the stage is beginning to fall apart.
A series of fireworks and sparklers go off, seemingly startling Rodrigo as she continues performing the song. The fake trees adorning the stage fall down. And then a red curtain falls from the ceiling. Before anything else can come down or go wrong, a stagehand directs a confused Rodrigo.
In the live broadcast, you can hear Rodrigo’s song “Good 4 U” play before her next performance of “Get Him Back!” begins. This time, Rodrigo is joined by a group of women wearing similar outfits to Rodrigo’s, except they’re in pink. MTV’s uploaded version of the performance cuts out the interlude, although reaction shots of celebrities like Selena Gomez are kept in.
To someone unfamiliar with Rodrigo’s work, the stage malfunction felt real, and for an artist, rather unfortunate thing to happen during such a high-profile performance.
But for those familiar with Rodrigo’s work, it’s a direct recreation of the “Vampire” music video. The video, which came out two months ago, features a scene of Rodrigo performing at a generic awards show and the stage falling apart, only for a stagehand (and several other people) to attempt ushering her off-stage.
In this case, the shuffling was much smoother, but fans recognized enough to get the gist—and poked fun at those who weren’t in the know.
A lot was made of Gomez’s reaction to the stunt, which she didn’t appear to know was planned.
Gomez later commented that she “heard a loud noise and it scared me.” In an Instagram Story posted Wednesday, she indirectly referenced shots of her going around reacting to Rodrigo’s performance and her reaction to Chris Brown’s nomination during the show.
“I will never be a meme again,” she said. “I’d rather sit still than be dragged for being myself. Much love.”
Rodrigo’s music video for “Vampire” was nominated for six VMAs, ultimately winning one for best editing. Taylor Swift won nine awards, the most of the night.