How to eclipse Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke's grind and twerk fest?
That's perhaps the biggest question vexing performers ahead of the MTV Video Music Awards set for Sunday. Cyrus and Thicke's salacious on-stage antics during last year's ceremony stirred a social media storm of celebration and derision, and ultimately garnered the bulk of headlines.
Happily for the Parents Television Council, who this week called on MTV to ensure the ceremony does not contain the type of "explicit sexual content present in last year’s show," the performance roster holds no mention of Cyrus or Thicke, though Cyrus is a nominee.
Whether or not 2014's performers can once again create what the PTC deemed a "public relations kerfuffle" remains to be seen, with Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Usher, Rita Ora, Ariana Grande Iggy Azalea, 5 Seconds of Summer and Sam Smith all scheduled to perform when the 31st annual VMAs air live from The Forum in Inglewood, California.
While top VMA contenders Beyonce (eight nominations) and Azalea (seven) often display an ability to dazzle and tease on stage, neither has a reputation for cheap tricks.
The same goes for Swift, who announced a new direction for her music via livestream Monday. But a change from country to pop will hardly get tongues and Twitter accounts wagging when she performs her latest single "Shake It Off." The two-time Best Female Video VMA award winner certainly knows how to entertain, but shock is not her stock-in-trade.
If the video to Minaj's latest single "Anaconda," which debuted Wednesday, is any indication of what we can expect from her solo VMA performance, the PTC should consider themselves forewarned.
"The VMAs is a pretty big deal so people go all out for it," Minaj told E! News. "I am very, very excited and looking forward to the performance."
Minaj, Grande and Jessie J will kick off Sunday's show with their new song, "Bang Bang." It will be the first time the trio performs the Top 10 hit. Grande, like Minaj, will also perform separately.
The top award, Video of the Year, is a battle between Beyonce's "Drunk In Love," Azalea's "Fancy," Pharrell Williams' "Happy," Sia's "Chandelier" and Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball."
Beyonce is also up for Best Female Video for "Partition" and Best Collaboration for her work with husband Jay Z on "Drunk in Love," and will be honored with the Michael Jackson video vanguard award.
Rap veteran Eminem and newbie MC Azalea face off in the hip-hop categories with Eminem matching Azalea's seven nods for his Marshall Mathers LP 2 album.
British crooner Smith is nominated for Artist to Watch for "Stay With Me." His competition includes 5 Seconds of Summer ("She Looks So Perfect"), Charli XCX ("Boom Clap"), Schoolboy Q ("Man of the Year") and Fifth Harmony ("Miss Movin On").
The VMAs' presenters' list includes Taylor Schilling, Laverne Cox and Uzo Aduba from the cast of "Orange Is the New Black," Dylan O’Brien from the forthcoming "Maze Runner" movie and "Vampire Diaries'" star Nina Dobrev. Other presenters scheduled to appear include Lorde, Demi Lovato, Kim Kardashian, Jason Derulo and Trey Songz.
The 2014 MTV Video Music Awards air live on Sunday, August 24, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.