No one expected this year’s MTV VMAs to be typical. The event, which usually takes place at an arena like New York’s Barclays Center, was forced to go virtual for its 2020 edition due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but that didn’t stop the network from trying its best to keep the spirit of a live show, well, alive.
With the challenges of mandated quarantine and social distancing guidelines affecting cities coast-to-coast, all of this year’s performers, including Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, The Weeknd and Miley Cyrus, pre-recorded their performances. And while not all were taped in New York, most made a nod to the city that birthed the once-influential all-music channel back in August 1981. It was a valiant effort, with some artists pulling out all the production stops, and others falling flat.
Read on for the five best and three worst moments of the 2020 MTV VMAs.
The Glory of Gaga
Lady Gaga took home a whopping five awards at this year’s VMAs, including the first ever Tricon award, which honors stars who are true triple-threats. But the glitter of her moon-person trophies paled in comparison to the dazzle of her many outfits and jaw-dropping masks. The imagery of an icon came together for an exhilarating medley performance of “Enigma,” “Chromatica II,” “911,” “Rain on Me” and “Stupid Love.” Bonus: more couture for each of her acceptance speeches! In a night that was heavy on the Gaga worship, we didn’t mind it one bit.
The Weeknd’s Words
The Weeknd opened this year’s awards with the dramatic flair we’ve come to expect from the visually forward singer. Taking on the bloodied character his hit song “Blinding Lights,” he shined with a shiner from atop the Edge at Hudson Yards — the highest observation deck in New York City. As a helicopter circled 1,100-feet above ground, The Weeknd capped off the performance with a with digital fireworks display over the Hudson River. During the show, The Weeknd turned his two acceptance speeches — for video of the year and best R&B — into a statement for the times. “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,” the Canadian artist said solemnly.
DaBaby’s Powerful Message
Rapper DaBaby summed up all the year 2020 in four minutes with his medley of “Peephole,” “Blind” and “Rockstar.” Accompanied by dance troupe Jabbawockeez, DaBaby referenced the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement in his performance, using both masks and a police car as props. But the most powerful part was when the artist stood on top of a cop car while a member of the Jabbawockeez held up a sign that said, “Stop killing us,” in reference to nationwide protests sparked by police brutality. (Worth noting: the lyric in “Rockstar” alluding to the rapper having a Glock gun was edited out.) The car — and the green screened city behind him — were both set on fire at the end.
Miley Cyrus Brings ‘Wrecking Ball’ Full Circle
Miley Cyrus made her annual pilgrimage to the VMAs stage to perform her new single, “Midnight Sky,” and also brought a bit of nostalgia. Singing and slinking against bold-colored backgrounds, her performance fades to white and brings into view a disco ball. A nod to her 2013 music video for “Wrecking Ball,” the prop served as a perennial reminder that while Cyrus continues to evolve, she doesn’t skirt her past.
Maluma and CNCO Deliver at the Drive-In
The best stage of the night was the drive-in which included a real-life stage and actual people in the audience. And although their performances were pre-recorded, Latin artists Maluma and CNCO — who performed “Hawai” and “Beso,” respectively — brought much-needed energy to the crowd of socially-distanced cars (from a thematically on-point sponsor, Toyota).
Black Eyed Peas’ Glowing Members
File under: was that really necessary? The use of glowing body parts on the crotches of not one, but two acts, was among the moments when one just had to wince. First seen on Doja Cat, who sang “Say So” and “Like That” while dressed in a mermaid-esque bodysuit with illuminated body parts, the Black Eyed Peas picked up the glow-in-the-dark mantle with their members. Always one to embrace a hovering space ship, BEP’s will.i.am once again proved himself the frontman with the plan, as out-there as it might be.
Feeling For Fergie
The Black Eyed Peas have long been known to collaborate with all manner of artists, and the VMAs allowed them an opportunity to bring out Nicky Jam and Tyga for their latest single “Vida Loca.” But when the guys segued to their 2009 hit “I Gotta Feeling,” Fergie’s absence was felt. She may left the group in 2017, but Fergie was soon trending on Twitter.
The Absence of Ariana
Though she took home a multitude of awards for her collaboration with Lady Gaga on “Rain on Me” and won best collaboration with Justin Bieber for “Stuck With U,” Ariana Grande only appeared on stage to perform once (with Gaga) and did not make any acceptance speeches. Instead, fans had to make do with a tweet.