NEW YORK, N.Y. — The 2020 MTV Video Music Awards looked quite different than in years past as performers and hosts put on a socially-distant show in New York City amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The show was supposed to be at the Barclays Center but those plans were scrapped earlier this month because of the pandemic. Instead, several performances were pre-taped while others were broadcasted from outdoor locations across the five boroughs with limited or no audience in attendance.
The Weeknd kicked off the night with an awe-inspiring performance of his hit song “Blinding Lights” from 1,000 feet in the air at the Edge in Hudson Yards. Other performers included Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, Lewis Capaldi, Miley Cyrus and more.
Lady Gaga swept the night’s awards with five wins including artist of the year, son of the yearr, and the new MTV Tricon Award.
Taylor Swift made history when she became the first solo female artist to win best director for her music video “The Man,” which was also the first video she directed on her own.
KPop group BTS also scored big on Sunday night, winning several awards including best pop song for “On.” The group also made their VMA performance debut all the way from South Korea with a rendition of their song “Dynamite.”
Despite its focus on entertainment, the VMAs also touched on many hot-button topics affecting people across America. Performers spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement, the need to wear masks, and honored the stars who passed before their time.
Here are some of the top moments from the 2020 Video Music Awards.
Host Keke Palmer dedicated the show to Chadwick Boseman, who passed away on Friday after a years-long battle with colon cancer. Palmer called the “Black Panther” star “an actor whose talent and passion is a true inspiration to all the fans he touched, and everyone he encountered.”
“We dedicate tonight’s show to a man whose spirit touched so many,” she continued. “He’s a true hero, not just on screen, but everything he did. His impact lives forever.”
Later on Boseman was included during an in memoriam segment alongside other artists like Juice WRLD and Little Richard who died in the past year. And after Black Eyed Peas wrapped the show with their performance of “I Gotta Feeling,” singer Will.I.Am shouted out “Wakanda Forever,” a reference to the fictional kingdom the Black Panther rules in the film and comic series.
It was the second network to recognize the impact of the actor that night. ABC aired “Black Panther” commercial-free Sunday as a prime-time tribute to the actor, followed by an ABC News Special, “Chadwick Boseman: A Tribute for a King.”
Custom-made masks were a frequent staple of the night, and no one had more impressive face coverings than Lady Gaga. Gaga won five honors Sunday, most of them for her No. 1 hit with Ariana Grande, “Rain on Me,” which the pop stars performed live for the first time.
Gaga and Grande both donned masks during their live performance of the hit song, with Gaga making several costume changes to show off multiple outfits and matching masks.
“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.
The singer reiterated her message yet again while on stage accepting a different award.
"This has not been an easy year for a lot of people," Gaga said. "Stay safe, speak your minds, and I might sound like a broken record but wear a mask."
Many of the night’s winners and performers took the opportunity to voice their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, with several mentioning George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake by name.
Host Keke Palmer set the tone at the beginning by recognizing that strength comes amid struggle.
“With the Black Lives Matter movement, we’ve seen our generation step up, take to the streets and make sure our voices will be heard. Enough is enough,” said Palmer, before mentioning the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin that has spawned nightly protests. “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. We must continue the fight to end systematic racism.”
Palmer was hardly the only one who demanded justice for Black Americans who have been killed at the hands of police.
After his rousing performance, The Weekend accepted the award for video of the year for “Blinding Lights”—and used his speech as a powerful call to action.
“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.
H.E.R. won video for good for her song “I Can’t Breathe,” which used footage from demonstrations as well as listing the names and faces of those whose deaths sparked thousands to take action against systemic racism.
The Black Eyed Peas, who delivered the final performance of the night, concluded the show with a single message: Black lives matter.