Here's How MTV Picks Who Sits Where at the VMAs

Taylor Swift doesn't just sit with her squad by accident.

If you watch the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday night, you're likely watching for a few different reasons. Sure, you're in it for the Britney performance, and you might want to see Adele and Beyoncé totally clean up on the awards front. But what makes the VMAs so fun are those unscripted moments and reactions you can joke about while texting with your friends.

Those unpredictable moments often take place in the audience, where celebrities interact with one another, dance awkwardly to the music, and react to surprises just like you do at home. And those brilliant few seconds come as a result of months of work from MTV, which has an entire team dedicated to figuring out the seating chart. Put the right two people next to one another, and you have a defining moment everyone will tweet about.

Gina Esposito, vice president for MTV music and talent, tells the seating chart takes months to figure out, from the moment nominations are released until the moment the show starts, and things keep changing constantly. And just because your fave isn't sitting in the front row doesn't mean they're doomed to lose. Here's what you need to know about where celebs sit at the VMAs.

1. Celebs send their dream seat buddy lists with their RSVPs. Ever wonder why Katy Perry and Rihanna often sit together at awards shows? It's likely because they asked in advance. Esposito says celebs send along requests to sit near other artists, and MTV does its best to accommodate everyone. It pays off for the network, too, because if friends sit together, they're more likely to act casual and have fun—and create totally GIF-able moments in the process.

2. And everyone wants to sit with Taylor Swift. The T-Swift squad effect is real, and it plays out at the VMAs. "She has so many good friends, and it was hard to figure out the 'Taylor' of it all [in past years]," Esposito says, "because so many people were requesting to sit by her and sit with her. She's often really requested." Taylor is likely a great seat buddy, especially for these dance moves:

3. But, in the end, it's up to the TV crew. The VMA ticketing team works with the awards show directors to make sure the right people are in front of the right cameras at the right moments. "You're looking at it for camera angles and whose reactions we might capture throughout the night," she says. "And the logistics that go into that are so insane. You have to be thinking about how long it's going to take somebody, should they win, to get from the stage back to the dressing room if they're performing three acts from now."

4. Celebrities will sometimes disregard the rules and sit where they want on the night of the show. "You'll have artists who rearrange seats in real time so they sit together," Esposito says, which can cause logistical headaches. "As long as you've got eyes on that, to say, 'Selena Gomez moved so she's by Taylor, we're good,' then it's all right. If we don't seat them together, they find their way to each other anyway."

5. The goal is to create lots of "Kanye and Jay Z moments." At the 2011 VMAs, Beyoncé revealed she was pregnant after performing on stage. The camera immediately cut to the front row where Kanye West was congratulating Jay Z, and the moment seemed genuine and sweet. Meanwhile, next to them was Lady Gaga in her full Jo Calderone drag character, sitting next to Tony Bennett. Esposito says shots like that are the result of perfect seat planning. "It was such a bizarre amalgamation of people, but it was just so cool," she says. She added she didn't have inside intel beforehand about the pregnancy reveal, but it's clear directors knew they'd want to cut to Jay Z during a Beyoncé performance in the first place.

6. Just because an artist is seated on the aisle doesn't mean he or she will win. Logistics, not awards, put them in that spot. Besides, the VMAs usually construct the seating area so there's easy access to the stage for everyone, regardless of the seat.

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7. Artists get obsessive—and giddy—over who sits where. When artists come to rehearsal, they often see the seats plastered with photos of celebrities as MTV figures out the final seating chart. They'll rush to see where they're sitting and who they're sitting with, and then take lots of photos with celebs' posters. One time, Esposito recalls Sam Smith rehearsing and having a moment when he realized Beyoncé was going to be in his direct line of sight during his performance. "It just got really real for him in that moment," she says. "He was like, 'Oh, I'm not singing in this venue, I'm singing in front of these people I've loved for years.'"

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Megan Friedman
Megan Friedman

Megan Friedman is the former managing editor of the Newsroom at Hearst. She's worked at NBC and Time, and is a graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.