It wasn’t the way it used to be. Then again, nothing is in 2020.
After the 2020 MTV VMAs were moved from Barclays Center to various outdoor locations in the city — as well as remotely from Los Angeles and, for K-pop sensation BTS, South Korea — it was clear that this wasn’t going to look or feel like any other VMAs.
And it didn’t. As the first major live awards show in the COVID era, it didn’t have the same energy that we’re used to from one of the biggest nights in show biz.
But still, the show — hosted by “Hustlers” actress-singer Keke Palmer — had to go on. And thanks mostly to The Weeknd, who won video of the year for “Blinding Lights,” and Lady Gaga, who picked up the most Moon Persons with four awards, it had its moments. But in the end, like much of 2020, this will go down as a VMAs to forget.
Best: The Weeknd’s speech
The Weeknd didn’t need to do anything else after his show-opening performance that set the bar ridiculously higher — literally, more than 1,000 feet in the air — than few performers not named Gaga could match. But when he won for best R&B video for “Blinding Lights,” the humble star shined a light on the social issues going on that are far bigger than the VMAs. “It’s really hard for me to celebrate right now and enjoy this moment,” he said. “So I’m just gonna say ‘Justice for Jacob Blake’ and ‘Justice for Breonna Taylor.’ ” No doubt, it was a moment that was beyond the music — and important enough to say it a second time when he won for video of the year.
Best: Chadwick Boseman dedication
Such has been the twisted year that is 2020 that it started off with the Grammys having to go on the night after Kobe Bryant died — in the very same location of his Los Angeles Lakers home. In another cruel twist, the VMAs had to go on less than two days after the world found out about the shocking death of Chadwick Boseman, who won for best performance in a movie and best hero at the MTV Movie & TV Awards in 2018 for his role as Black Panther. Fittingly, host Keke Palmer started the night by dedicating the show to Boseman, who died at just 43 from colon cancer. “We dedicate tonight’s show to a man whose spirit touched so many,” she said. “He was a true hero, not just onscreen but in everything he did.” Amen.
Worst: DaBaby’s performance
After his powerful, if controversial, reenactment of George Floyd’s murder at the BET Awards, this performance by the “Rockstar” was a letdown. First of all, it had the misfortune of following The Weeknd’s breathtaking performance up in the skies. By contrast, DaBaby’s medley, performed from Los Angeles, felt like a video that perhaps set the tone for the rest of the night. Maybe the remote location had something to do with how flat it felt. It’s not that it was bad, it just completely lacked the energy that is hard to muster without performing in front of a real live audience.
Best and Worst: Miley Cyrus’ flashback
Last year, Miley Cyrus performed an emotional version of “Slide Away” in the wake of her split from ex-husband Liam Hemsworth. This year, she was aiming to return to the Miley who twerked it up with Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams while performing “Blurred Lines” in 2013. But in performing her new single “Midnight Sky,” in what was essentially a music video, Cyrus wasn’t able to recapture that magic that went down in the past at Barclays Center. That is, until she reached back into her bag of star-power tricks to re-create her “Wrecking Ball” video and reminded everyone of the pop powerhouse she once was. That was the kind of buzzy moment that was very much needed at this year’s VMAs.
Worst: BTS’ debut
With all the hype surrounding them, it’s a shame that the K-pop sensations were denied their moment to make their VMAs debut performance in proper fashion — with tons of squealing fans on the US stage. Instead, the boy band had to perform their new single, “Dynamite,” all the way from South Korea, and it amounted to a music video that wasn’t as good as the one that has broken YouTube records. They deserve a do-over when COVID is over.
Best: Lady Gaga’s performance
You just knew Lady Gaga was going to bring it as much as possible under the circumstances, and she sure did, rocking a mask the whole time while performing “911,” “Stupid Love” and “Rain on Me,” her No. 1 duet with Ariana Grande. And while 2020 has definitely been a year of firsts, she managed to turn her crazy assortment of face-coverings into one of her signature fashion statements. Although it was hard to tell if Gaga — and Grande — were really singing under those masks, nobody cared because it was just the kind of big pop production that we’ve been missing in the COVID era.
Worst: Doja Cat
With a big stage to show the world exactly who she is as an artist, Doja Cat failed to announce herself as a major new diva. Her performance of her No. 1 hit “Say So” was decent enough, but it failed to reveal anything about her personality, and as a singer, rapper and dancer she was just, well, mediocre. You can just imagine how much a pregnant Nicki Minaj, who appears on the “Say So” remix with Doja Cat, would have taken this performance to another level. But perhaps she would have exposed Doja’s shortcomings even more. And if the VMAs were looking to anoint a new queen on the scene, where the hell was Megan Thee Stallion? The “WAP” rapper should have been offered the world to show up.
Worst: The Black Eyed Peas
Really? Without a Fergie reunion? If there was anything that raised the questionable relevance of the VMAs in 2020, it was how in the world the Black Eyed Peas — who haven’t been the same since that performance as one of the worst Super Bowl halftime headliners of all time in 2011 — ever got booked. They brought a has-been feeling to the night when somehow they closed the show.