Despite the ongoing pandemic, MTV’s Video Music Awards aired Sunday night, with performances from some of the biggest names in music.
The night was hosted by actress, singer and talk show host, Keke Palmer, the first woman of color in history to host the show. The evening was scheduled to be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, but was shot from multiple locations, with some performances held outdoors or in isolated rooms; most awards were given out in a studio. Although the evening looked like it was set in New York, a majority of it was actually filmed in Los Angeles, according to the New York Times.
The show had a different atmosphere than usual, with socially distanced crowds and performances from artists in empty spaces. The main stage, shot in front of a green screen with an Empire State Building backdrop, featured CGI crowds standing on the balconies of buildings, audience members displayed on windows of buildings watching the show from home, and billboards that displayed winners of the night.
Another stage featured during the show was the Skyline Drive-in in New York City, sponsored by Toyota. Cars were socially distanced, with some audience members sitting on top of them, while wearing a mask, as the artists performed on a stage in the center. Artists who performed on this stage included Latino artists Maluma and CNCO, along with Palmer who performed her song, “Snack.”
However, the night had a mournful shadow because of recent events like police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, COVID-19 and the loss of Chadwick Boseman, a beloved actor who died two days earlier from a four-year battle with colon cancer.
“We dedicate tonight’s show to a man whose spirit touched so many,” Palmer said during the opening tribute to Boseman. “He is a true hero; not just on screen, but in everything he did. His impact lives forever.”
Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a. The Weeknd opened the show with a performance of his single, “Blinding Lights” from the Edge at Hudson Yards. The performance incorporated aspects of the music video directed by Anton Tammi, with the singer wearing his red jacket, bloodied and bruised face makeup and starting the performance walking to the roof of the building through a hallway of neon lights.
Fireworks were displayed toward the end of his performance and helicopter noises were heard in the background as a spotlight shone down on the artist, giving the illusion that a helicopter was flying above him to capture the performance.
The Weeknd took home some of the biggest awards of the night, including Video of the Year and Best R&B Video, but his speeches were short because of his feelings of ongoing events.
“It’s really hard for me to celebrate right now and enjoy this moment, so I’m just gonna say, justice for Jacob Blake and justice for Breonna Taylor,” Tesfaye said.
On Aug. 23 in Kenosha, Wis., a video taken by a bystander captured Blake being shot seven times in the back by a white police officer, according to reports from USA Today. The shots left Blake paralyzed after multiple surgeries and sent the city and the world into the streets to protest.
This isn’t the only instance of police brutality that has caused outrage; other victims include George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Palmer also made a mention to this in her opening speech saying, “enough is enough. What we just witnessed in Kenosha, Wisconsin, is yet another devastating reminder that we can’t stop; that we can never tolerate police brutality or any injustice.”
One thing the show lacked was its usual energy and interaction between artists and fans, but this was made up in creative performances by artists and skits put on by Palmer.
The night continued with performances from Da Baby, and also featured new artists making their VMAs debut such as K-Pop sensation, BTS, PUSH Best New Artist winner, Doja Cat.
Miley Cyrus returned to the VMA stage, with a performance of her single “Midnight Sky,” in an isolated room flooded with red light, which then turned to blue. Cyrus then walked up a staircase to a giant hanging disco ball, which she swung on, nodding to her “Wrecking Ball” video from 2013.
Lady Gaga stole the show with a medley from her new album, Chromatica, which included songs such as “Enigma,” “Chromatica II,” “Rain on Me” featuring Ariana Grande, and “Stupid Love”. The singers and their backup dancers gave an energetic performance, all while being masked up.
Gaga and Grande also took home some of the biggest awards of the night, with the duo’s song winning Song of the Year, Best Collaboration, and Best Cinematography. Gaga received two more awards, including Artist of the Year, and the first ever MTV Tricon Award, which was created this year to recognize artists who create in multiple performance platforms, such as music, acting and dancing.
Gaga received her awards while wearing a mask matching each of her outfits, thanking her “little monsters,” discussing the ongoing pandemic and urging viewers to wear a mask and stay safe. During her heartfelt speech for the MTV Tricon Award, she spoke to viewers watching from home, urging those with a dream not to give up.
“This has not been an easy year for a lot of people,” Gaga said as she held her Moon Person. “But what I see in the world is a massive triumph of courage.”
Gaga wanted everyone at home with dreams as big as hers to know that they could to be where she is one day.
The night ended with a performance from the Black Eyed Peas, performing “VIDA LOCA” and their 2009 classic, “I Gotta Feeling.”
What was a different award show compared to past years will be remembered, along with the rest of 2020, for the strangeness and its ability to make the best out of what was given.
For more information on winners, nominations and performances, visit the MTV VMAs official website.