The mask was the sartorial statement of the night as Lady Gaga cleaned house at Sunday's 2020 MTV Video Music Awards, while The Weeknd took home the top prize — and both pop stars sent important messages to viewers about the current state of the world. Between curbing caronavirus and reminding that Black Lives Matter, the semi-virtual MTV Video Music Awards broadcast was a glammy, sometimes awkward but celebratory event that at times evoked its glory years.
Hosted by Keke Palmer, who dedicated the show to the memory of "Black Panther" actor and rising film superstar Chadwick Boseman who died unexpectedly August 29 after fighting a private four-year battle with colon cancer, the VMAs were a production dream but suffered a bit of dissonance between being performed with limited audiences between outdoor stages throughout New York and some segments obviously recorded in studios with ample help from green screens, prerecorded audience noise aside. But given the circumstances, it was forgivable.
Originally scheduled to take place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, months of planning went out the window when caronavirus swept through New York City. Producers did an admirable job of improvising to ensure the event took place at all, let alone with levels of spectacle and bombast expected of a VMA production. Perhaps, given that it's a an awards show ostensibly for music video, it was fitting.
It certainly started out with bang, with Palmer giving a rousing monologue imploring the audience to "let me hear ya make some noise!" and her remarks regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, the moment of hope for young people, and the state of the world. "When something goes wrong, I just say, '2020'," a sentiment we can all certainly relate to.
Da Baby kicked things off with a literally incendiary performance of a medley of hits: "PEEPHOLE," "Blind," and "Rockstar," done largely in CGI with dance crew Jabbawockeez and focused on the performer escaping handcuffs from the back of a police car to dance on top of it in front of a backdrop of urban skyscrapers exploding in fire.
The Weeknd paid tribute to Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor — two Black people shot by police officers — after winning video of the year and best R&B for "Blinding Lights."
Gaga won five honors, most of them for her No. 1 hit with Ariana Grande, "Rain on Me," which the pop stars performed live for the first time.
"Wear a mask. It's a sign of respect," Gaga said during one of her several appearances onstage as she accepted awards like artist of the year, song of the year and the MTV Tricon award.
With an electronic mask, Gaga performed a medley of her songs, including "Stupid Love," "Chromatica II" and "911." She and Grande were joined by a number of background dancers all wearing masks.
"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," he said.
The VMAs kicked off with another touching moment, as host Keke Palmer told viewers the show was dedicated to Chadwick Boseman, who died Friday at age 43 after privately battling colon cancer for four years.
"We dedicate tonight's show to a man whose spirit touched so many. He's a true hero, not just on-screen," Palmer said. "His impact lives forever."
The show also took moments to honor Juice WRLD and Pop Smoke, rappers who died in recent months though their current albums continue to dominate the pop charts and streaming services.
The Black Eyed Peas, who closed the two-hour-plus show with Nicky Jam and Tyga, ended their set by saying, "Black Lives Matter." And R&B star H.E.R. won the video for good award for her protest anthem about police brutality and systemic racism, "I Can't Breathe."
"I'm super proud of everybody speaking out on social injustice," H.E.R. said.
But most of the show was dedicated to fun performances — some pre-taped, some filmed in various locations in New York City, though the performance locations weren't always clear. The VMAs were originally supposed to be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but plans changed because of the pandemic.
Colombian singer and best Latin winner Maluma sang from Brooklyn, while The Weeknd performed from Manhattan. Pop all-stars BTS, who won four awards including best pop and best group, performed from South Korea. They were top-notch during the pre-taped performance, which featured their signature, skilled choreography. The seven band members danced and sang in sharp suits, at some points with the backdrop of Times Square behind them.
Doja Cat, who was named Push best new artist, gave a futuristic performance of her hits "Say So" and "Like That."
Other performers included Latin boy band CNCO and Miley Cyrus, who ended her performance of "Midnight Sky" by sitting on top of a large disco ball, replicating her viral "Wrecking Ball" clip from 2013.
As for top honors, Grande tied BTS with four wins. Her No. 1 duet with Justin Bieber, "Stuck with U," won best music video from home — one of two new awards MTV established as artists have made shifts because of the pandemic. CNCO won best quarantine performance for "MTV Unplugged at Home."
Megan Thee Stallion won best hip-hop for "Savage" and Taylor Swift won best direction for "The Man."
"This is the very first video that I've ever directed on my own. And I just I'm so grateful for this," Swift said. "I wanted to take an opportunity to say thank to the team who believed in me as a first-time director and made this video with me."
Full list of VMA award winners:
Video of the year: The Weeknd, “Blinding Lights" Artist of the year: Lady Gaga Song of the year: Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, “Rain on Me” Push best new artist: Doja Cat Best collaboration: Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, “Rain on Me" Best group: BTS Best quarantine performance: CNCO, “MTV Unplugged at Home" Best music video from home: Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber, “Stuck with U" Best pop: BTS, “On" Best hip-hop: Megan Thee Stallion, “Savage" Best R&B: The Weeknd, “Blinding Lights" Best Latin: Maluma featuring J Balvin, “Qué Pena” Best rock: Coldplay, “Orphans" Best alternative: Machine Gun Kelly, “Bloody Valentine" Best K-pop: BTS, “On" Song of summer: BLACKPINK, “How You Like That" Video for good: H.E.R., “I Can't Breathe" Best direction: Taylor Swift, “The Man" Best editing: Miley Cyrus, “Mother's Daughter" Best choreography: BTS, “On" Best cinematography: Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, “Rain on Me" Best visual effects: Dua Lipa, “Physical" Best art direction: Miley Cyrus, “Mother’s Daughter” MTV Tricon award: Lady Gaga