As we continue our weeklong look back on the year in music — MTV kicked things off on Monday with a list of the Best EDM Artists of 2011 — it was hard not to notice that the biggest stars in pop, rock and hip-hop put on some of their most buzzed-about performances — right on our stages.
From Adele’s spine-tingling ballad at the VMAs to Two Door Cinema Club’s rendition of the rollicking “What You Know” at Webster Hall, we culled 16 of the best performances of the last 12 months and you, the fans, voted for your favorites. Here, we present the top 10!
10. Odd Future, “Sandwitches,” mtvU Woodie Awards
Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All Loiter Squad, or Odd Future, for short, were one of this year’s breakthrough acts. And when they hit the stage for this year’s mtvU Woodie Awards, it was clear why. The performance started out tame enough. Tyler, the Creator’s “Yonkers” kicked in and a little person impersonating Tyler approached the stage. The calm didn’t last long, though, as the real Wolf Haley emerged and confronted the pint-size imposter. From that moment on, the raw, rambunctious, rabid energy that got OF noticed took over as Tyler, Hodgy Beats and the rest of the group launched into an unforgettable performance of “Sandwitches.” — Steven Roberts
9. Adele, “Someone Like You,” VMAs
Some artists surround themselves with dozens of dancers, seizure-inducing banks of flashing lights and other tricks when they take the stage. But when it comes to Adele’s take on the heartbreaking second single from 21 at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, all it took was a grand piano, a single spotlight and some emotive hand gestures. Perfect. — Gil Kaufman
8. Jack’s Mannequin, “Release Me,” Buzzworthy Live
It doesn’t get much more epic than a stripped-down performance right above Times Square. Andrew McMahon of Jack’s Mannequin did exactly that with his ode to growing up and settling down, “Release Me,” for Buzzworthy’s special live series. It’s just McMahon, his shades and a piano, and we don’t need much else. — Kevin P. Sullivan
7. Chris Brown, “Yeah 3X/ Beautiful People,” VMAs
The white suit, the swagger, the strobing VMA stage and some gravity-defying aerial tricks are what defined Breezy’s jaw-dropping dance clinic at this year’s VMAs. His high-stepping kung fu waltz through Wu-Tang Clan, head-banging ode to Nirvana and mid-air flips again showed that Brown is at his best on an awards-show stage. — G.K.
6. Lil Wayne, “Nightmares of the Bottom,” MTV2 “Unplugged”
For his MTV2 “Unplugged” debut in June, Birdman Jr. took the stage wearing a black sweatshirt, black sunglasses and a red fitted baseball cap. Backed by a full band, Wayne launched into his catalog of hits, taking the crowd to musical heights. But one highlight in particular was the MC’s premiere of “Nightmares of the Bottom,” an instant smash-in-the-making that details Wayne’s rise to the top and unwillingness to fail. — Rob Markman
5. Two Door Cinema Club, “What You Know,” New York
To say it was a big year for Two Door Cinema Club, the indie-rock group out of Northern Ireland, would be an enormous understatement. The band toured the U.S. for the first time, opening for Tokyo Police Club, and debuted on the American alternative charts with “What You Know.” Two Door Cinema played the song at an MTV Hive-hosted performance at the Studio at Webster Hall. The screaming NYC fans seemed to approve. — K.S.
4. Beyoncé, VMAs
At this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, Beyoncé hit the stage in a sparkly tux and a glowing smile that never faded as — in typical Sasha Fierce fashion — she worked the crowd. From the effervescent single “Love on Top” (from her critically acclaimed 4) to her nod to the Motown era, the performance was ebullient. But it was the very last moment in her set that ensured it would go down in the VMA annals. Mrs. Carter, with a little hip-hop swagger, dropped the mic, opened her jacket and revealed an adorable baby bump. Leave it to the Queen B to rock the house, make headlines and set Twitter records all at once. — Andrea Duncan-Mao
3. Mac Miller, “Knock Knock,” Chicago
Mac Miller’s live performance of “Knock Knock” in Chicago is a pretty good peek at what you’re in for at one of his concerts: very little gravity, a lot of movement and fans who could easily understudy for the rapper because they know every word to every track. And it’s the Pittsburgh 19-year-old’s pumped-up, feel-good presence that helped him land on another coveted list this year: MTV News’ Hottest Breakthrough MC contest. — Rya Backer
2. Paramore, “Brick by Boring Brick,” “Fueled by Ramen 15”
Paramore are living proof that you can go home again and, in the process, rock so hard that fans will vote you to the #2 position on MTV’s list. Clearly psyched to be rocking the stage as headliners for FBR’s anniversary event in September, the band’s take on “Brick by Boring Brick” was typical high-energy Paramore goodness. Bassist Jeremy Davis and guitarist Taylor York spun and lunged around the stage as singer Hayley Williams looked shot out of a canon, bouncing and pumping her fists as she let the audience handle the first verse of the tune. Williams took over the vocals soon enough in her breathless best, leaving enough space for the sweaty, ardent fans to chime in at strategic points. — Gil Kaufman
1. 30Seconds to Mars, “Hurricane,” “Unplugged”
30 Seconds to Mars’ award for the Best Live MTV Performance of 2011 comes on the heels of a globe-spanning, record-setting tour . And Just as they did at the group’s closing show in New York, the Echelon demonstrated their devotion to the band … by voting in force. 30STM’s poll-winning “Unlugged” performance of “Hurricane” features acoustic guitars and Jared Leto’s sparse vocals, but it also comes backed by a stirring string ensemble. The mood inside the studio is undeniably somber but, like pretty much everything 30STM do, there’s a raging, revelatory undercurrent too. Their performance is very much a communal thing, one where a celebration never seems all that far off. — James Montgomery