By Jill Serjeant
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The divas of pop and R&B look set to steal the show at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) on Sunday, where Beyonce will perform live on stage and excitement built over performances by Rihanna and Britney Spears.
But don't count out Kanye West, the rapper with a talent for the unpredictable, who is a contender for the coveted video of the year award and who will be seated in the front row just a short leap from the VMA stage.
VMA organizers announced just three hours before Sunday's live show kicked off that Beyonce, who has a career-best 11 nominations, will take the stage at New York's Madison Square Garden.
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But in the spirit of surprises and controversy that marks the annual VMAs, they have not said whether West, or sultry eight-time nominated British singer Adele will sing.
"The culture around the show is that every artist has the latitude to express themselves in whichever way they want to, and we sort of light that candle and hold on for dear life," said VMA executive producer Garrett English ahead of the show.
"There is a volatility to it, a massive creative expectation and a lot of one-upmanship that happens, and from that a lot of spontaneity happens and we are good with that," he added.
Beyonce is expected to perform songs from her visual album "Lemonade" and its bold themes of betrayal, revenge and race that are seen as an ode to female empowerment.
The R&B singer's politically-charged "Formation" will compete for the video of the year prize with Adele's 2015 comeback single "Hello," Canadian rapper Drake's "Hotline Bling," Justin Bieber's "Sorry" and West's sleeping nude celebrity look-alikes in "Famous."
The winners are voted on by fans.
Other confirmed performers include Nicki Minaj, who will join Ariana Grande for Grande's new song, "Side to Side," and Nick Jonas who will sing "Bacon" with Ty Dolla $ign.
Spears, 34, will return to the VMA stage for the first time since her humiliating 2007 showing with "Gimme More" when her personal and professional life was falling apart. Spears released a new album on Friday, which is already a hit.
Rihanna will open the show and is expected to perform a career retrospective marking her lifetime achievement award in the form of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard prize.
One of pop music's biggest names isn't expected to attend. Taylor Swift, who has dominated music award shows for the past decade, didn't get a single VMA nomination this time.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Andrew Bolton and Alan Crosby)