Pre-recorded performances on green-screen sets and sound stages, piped-in crowd noises, and an outdoor makeshift show constituted the 2020 MTV Music Video Awards. After a very sporting Keke Palmer opened the evening with jokes, paid her homages to essential workers everywhere, and proclaimed her solidarity on the Black Lives Matter movement, the following events unfolded.
After Hours with The Weeknd
In a disorienting perspective, The Weeknd cold-opened the VMAs from a cantilevered balcony of a high-rise in Hudson Yards. The artist began singing Blinding Lights while making his way through a room with multi-colored blinding lights in a haphazard manner brilliantly created by director Anton Tammi’s camerawork. From a 360-degree aerial view with a helicopter making rounds around the performer, the entire New York City can be seen dotted beneath. Fireworks going off on the water in the background brought the performance to an end.
Lady Gaga’s nine-minute medley segment from her last album Chromatica was a tasteful mixed reality experience. The opening scene was shot in a makeshift crib that showed an old-school TV playing a clip of the VMAs from the ’90s. The camera pans across the room where Lady Gaga uncovers her get-up and slides down a pole onto the stage beneath— all the while wearing a mask— to perform Enigma, Chromatica II, the robotic-pop track of 911, followed by Ariana Grande joining her for Rain On Me. The segment was brought to an end by Gaga and her dancers with Stupid Love.
Doja Cat’s debut performance followed a similar trajectory, except it took place on an imaginary planet “H.E.R”, as announced by a host in the opening shot. On what seemed to be a magenta-pink planet with reflective extra-terrestrial beings, the singer shows up in a bedazzled and glowing pink suit amidst her dancers wearing holographic dresses and opens with Say So followed by Like That.
Branded Drive-in Concert
Drive-in concerts and movies have made a comeback since the Coronavirus pandemic hit the masses but it wasn’t until the VMAs that they got sponsored. For Columbian singer Maluma and Latin boy band CNCO, Toyota automobiles dotted the performance sets. Throughout their performances, aerial shots of the makeshift drive-in concert recorded audience members in a sea of cars, behind steering wheels, with acknowledgment of the “new normal”.
Wrecking (Disco) Ball made a comeback
Miley Cyrus took a trip down memory lane wearing an ‘80s mullet wig, a shimmery black slit dress, and a Madonna-style oversized cross necklace. The opening shot showed Cyrus’s silhouette with a microphone stand performing Midnight Sky as the colors change to red and then blue, continuing to show the singer just in shades of black. As she ascends the stairs, towards a giant disco ball, the lighting shows her in her full color. Cyrus continues singing from atop the ball, a clear ode to her infamous Wrecking Ball music video from 2013.
Korean-Pop Straight out of Seoul
For their debut VMAs performance, the K-pop group BTS performed their first all-English single Dynamite. The upbeat neo-disco track was accompanied by the smooth and precise dance choreography drawing evident references from the original music video. The performance was pre-recorded in Seoul in a soundstage and cast on a green-screen backdrop of the Brooklyn Bridge and Times Square with no pretenses of them actually performing on the streets of New York City.
Lady Gaga Showed Up
While other artists “Zoomed” in to accept their Video Music Awards, Lady Gaga executed a “go big or go home” by physically showing up for four different accolades, each time with a different costume change, accompanied by matching couture masks. While she was not in the same physical location as the Palmer, Gaga went on stage, looked at no physically present audience, and delivered her sincere acceptance speeches.
Black Lives Continued to Matter
Palmer’s opening speech about “fight against systemic racism” was followed through with H.E.R. winning the Video For Good award for I Can’t Breathe, the protest song written in reference to George Floyd’s last words. DaBaby’s performance segment saw him dancing atop a police-car, performing a medley of PEEPHOLE, Blind, and Rockstar while the city in the background went up in flames.
In honor of the death of Chadwick Boseman, Black Eyed Peas concluded their segment with the words “Wakanda forever — Black Lives Matter”.
Finally, for both his acceptance speeches, The Weeknd sent a message saying, “It’s really hard for me to celebrate right now and enjoy this moment, so I’m just going to say, justice for Jacob Blake, and justice for Breonna Taylor.”
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