This year’s MTV Video Music Awards ceremony, one of the first major “live” (or, well, probably-not-actually-live) music awards shows to be staged during the COVID-19 age, was originally supposed to be held at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. But due to coronavirus concerns, it ended up taking place outdoors on Sunday, with performances at secret locations scattered across New York’s five boroughs. (BTS, the first K-pop act to ever perform on the VMAs, appeared remotely from South Korea, singing their first all-English language single, “Dynamite”; they later picked up four trophies, including Best Pop and Best Group.)
“We need to come together, and music has that power. Music can help us heal. It’s all love, and that’s what tonight is about. We are making the impossible possible, pushing the boundaries of music performances — because that’s what we do on the VMAs,” host Keke Palmer declared, right after the Weeknd opened the show by spectacularly singing “Blinding Lights” a thousand feet above Manhattan from the Edge observation deck at Hudson Yards. (Later, when that song won for Video of the Year and Best R&B Video, the Weeknd solemnly accepted by merely saying, “It’s 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. Thank you.” Both 2020-appropriate speeches, indeed.)
It was, obviously, a VMAs unlike any other. Lady Gaga appeared in a series of dystopian fashion face masks, for instance, while Moonperson trophies were even handed out for Best Video Shot at Home and Best Quarantine Performance. (Hopefully, those categories will be retired in time for the 2021 VMAs.) But Miley Cyrus, in the first televised performance of her new single “Midnight Sky,” did go a bit retro, referencing her most scandalous VMAs era from 2013. No, she didn’t rock a foam finger and twerk on Robin Thicke again, but she did come in like a disco ball, recreating her notorious “Wrecking Ball” music video as she straddled a giant chain-strung mirrorball, giving MTV viewers those Bangerz throwback vibes.
Cyrus released the fiery “Midnight Sky” on the same day she announced that she had split from her boyfriend of 10 months, Cody Simpson, and right around the time of the one-year anniversary of her separation from her husband, Liam Hemsworth. The single life clearly agrees with the pop diva, who delivered one of the standout performances of Sunday’s VMAs on a dramatically backlit, primary-colored soundstage. Reminiscent of Stevie Nicks’s “Edge of Seventeen” and other ‘80s rock icons like Joan Jett and Debbie Harry, the driving disco earworm signaled a triumphant return to uptempo party jams of her Bangerz era.
Other highlights of Sunday’s groundbreaking telecast included Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s apocalyptic “Rain on Me”; Maluma bringing Miami to Brooklyn with a colorful drive-in performance of “Hawái” beneath neon palm trees; DaBaby doing a politically charged medley of “Peephole”, “Blind,” and “Rockstar” with original America’s Best Dance Crew champs Jabbawockeez; and Taylor Swift remotely accepting the Best Direction award for her feminist video “The Man.” For a full list of 2020 VMAs winners, click here.