UPDATED: An MTV rep confirmed to Variety last month that the network was working with city officials to hold the VMAs at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on August 30, and said further details would be forthcoming. On Monday morning, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that the show will take place with “limited or no audience.” Just a few hours later, the network made the announcement official:
“This year’s screen breaking spectacle will bring together music fans worldwide and pay homage to the strength, spirit and incredible resilience of NYC and its beloved residents,” it reads. “Spanning all five boroughs — Brooklyn, The Bronx, Staten Island, Queens and Manhattan — music’s biggest night will feature epic performances from various iconic locations.”
Holding any sort of mass public gathering is problematic as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the country, as evidenced by the outraged reaction to a pair of country concerts over the weekend that drew between 1,000 and 2,000 fans who flagrantly disregarded social-distancing norms.
Adding to the controversy, in the weeks since the VMA news originally broke, Barclays Center, which is located in a densely populated part of New York City’s most populous borough, has become a gathering point for Black Lives Matter protests. This adds another layer of both complication and relevance to holding an awards show at the venue.
The announcement addresses those concerns. “The health and safety of artists, fans, industry, staff, and partners is of the utmost importance,” it reads. “Show producers alongside Barclays Center management have been working closely with state and local officials to implement best practices for everyone involved. Among the measures all parties involved have aligned to include extensive social distancing procedures, meaningful capacity limitations, the virtualization of components where possible, and limited capacity or no audience. Details and potential options to come at a later date based on the science and data in New York. Barclays Center and ViacomCBS are unequivocally committed to ensuring that the show does not compromise the health and safety of anyone involved in the event.”
Those priorities were emphasized in a statement from Oliver Weisberg, CEO of Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets. “The 2020 MTV VMAs will be the first Barclays Center event since the COVID-19 pandemic reached New York,” he said. “We’re very excited to once again host this legendary night of music, and are especially proud of the impact it will have on our Brooklyn community through the creation of local jobs. We deeply appreciate the support and advice of state and local government officials, as well as our internal management and team of medical experts, all of whom have been working hard to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved, and we will continue to closely follow their guidance throughout every step of the planning process with our partners at ViacomCBS.”
BET, which is also owned by MTV parent company ViacomCBS, staged its own remarkably well-produced awards show last night; although there was no live audience and the segments were all pre-taped, it showed a flow and an innovation in working within the parameters of social distancing that had not been seen in an event of that scale since the pandemic began.
It would mark a return to the Barclays Center for the VMAs, which were held at the venue in 2013 shortly after its opening. Notable winners from 2019 included video of the year for Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” and artist of the year to Ariana Grande.
MTV sent out save the date notices to top agents and talent reps late in May, indicating the program would move forward in its traditional format. As the industry waits and watches for decisions from top awards franchises like the Academy Awards and the Emmys, MTV owner Viacom has been tinkering with its branded live events.