Though the awards will be at Radio City Music Hall (check out the nominees here), PEOPLE hit all the hot pre-VMA events – which are sometimes as memorable as the show itself:
During the day on Tuesday at Marquee, celebs swarmed the Polaroid Lounge, cruising for the perfect freebee: Vanessa Minnillo sipped champagne while booking through the suite in a mere 15 minutes. Why? She was late for work. Still, she collected gear including a camera and a Sidekick, which may come in handy for keeping in touch with Nick Lachey when he's on the road.
Later, at the new nightclub Tenjune, celebrities partied the night – er, morning – away, with most stars arriving after midnight: Lance Bass and boyfriend Reichen Lehmkuhl showed up with Laguna Beach's Lauren "L.C." Conrad and Heidi Montag. The foursome hit the dance floor when Biz Markie's "Just a Friend" blared – but the song that got Bass and Lehmkuhl swaying and singing along was Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline."
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Later, Simpson met up with her Dukes of Hazzard costar Johnny Knoxville and his Jackass pals, including Bam Margera.
Meanwhile, Bungalow 8 was jumping: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen huddled with friends, sipping Red Bull and water. They were characteristically decked out: Ashley in a tight plaid shirt and skinny jeans, Mary-Kate in an empire-waist black dress. They hit the dance floor and whooped it to Journey's "Don't Stop Believing."
On Wednesday, several hundred fans packed in to a Best Buy to preview Justin Timberlake's album FutureSex/LoveSounds, due Sept. 12. Timberlake, sporting a brown polo, jeans and a brown cap, played songs from the album and chatted with fans, two of whom were even invited to join him onstage. As a parting gift, he gave away two cell phones and $100 bills from his own wallet to each winner.
Reporting by SARYN CHORNEY, LAURA HAHN, HOPE HAMASHIGE, HITHA PRABHAKAR and JEFFREY SLONIM
Next up: the big show – and the after-parties. Keep checking PEOPLE.com for complete VMAs coverage.