Kendrick Lamar and British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran won the top prizes at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) on Sunday, but an absent Taylor Swift and lifetime achievement honoree Pink dominated the show.
Lamar took the most prestigious award of Video of the Year for HUMBLE.: his ironic look at his growing fame in which he dresses up as everything from the pope to Jesus in The Last Supper.
The rapper opened the show in Los Angeles with a martial arts-themed performance of the song with ninja dancers, one of which eerily appeared to set himself ablaze. One of the most acclaimed rappers of recent times, Lamar took home six statuettes.
Ed Sheeran won Artist of the Year, a new prize after the separate male and female categories were merged, while rapper Khalid won for New Artist.
While Lamar’s latest album DAMN. toned down his earlier political stance, the globally televised awards event itself did anything but.
The mother of Heather Heyer – the 32-year-old anti-racism protester, killed when an avowed white supremacist drove into a crowd during the August 12 unrest in Virginia, took the stage to announce a foundation in honor of her daughter. She expressed that she wanted to “make Heather’s death count.” Susan Bro, controlling her emotions as the crowd applauded, said the foundation would offer scholarships to students who pursue social justice.
Bro presented “Best Fight Against the System,” a new award that recognises activism in a music video. In the spirit of equality, Bro said all six contenders would share the prize which included both John Legend and Alessia Cara.
MTV invited a number of transgender US service-people to attend the show, two days after Trump ordered a ban on new transgender recruits in the military.
Fellow pop A-lister Taylor Swift used the awards to unveil the video for her latest song, Look What You Made Me Do, in which she showed a new dark, bad-girl image. The camera opens with imagery of a cemetery and a grave that says “Here Lies Taylor Swift’s Reputation,” a theme that will apparently weigh heavily on Swift’s newly announced album, which is titled Reputation and comes out on November, 10.
The video proceeds to show Swift in Halloween-like makeup and then crashing a car, with paparazzi quickly appearing to show her mishap to the world. The 27-year-old singer, usually known for her squeaky-clean image, appears in the video smashing up a store with a baseball bat and riding on top of a motorcycle in a spiked leather jacket.
Despite days of fevered speculation, Swift herself was a no-show, though she won the only category in which she had been nominated – best collaboration for I Don’t Wanna Live Forever with Zayn Malik.
Hosting the VMA show was Swift’s long-time rival, Katy Perry, who made her entrance from the ceiling wearing a space suit and ended the three-hour event with a performance of single Swish Swish with Nicki Minaj.
Perry took aim at President Donald Trump as she urged fans to choose a winner in a category that remained open to online voting. “This is one election where the popular vote actually matters,” quipped Perry, one of the most vocal celebrity campaigners for defeated candidate Hillary Clinton. “But hurry up before some random Russian pop star wins.”
Jared Leto of Thirty Seconds to Mars offered a tribute to two rock singers who committed suicide this year: Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, before putting on a trippy performance with thermal cameras.
Pink, the winner of the 2017 Vanguard Award, gave a speech about beauty and acceptance directed to her six year-old daughter Willow, who was in the audience that moved many to tears. “Baby girl, we don’t change,” the singer said. “We take the gravel and the shell and we make a pearl, and we help other people to change so they can see other kinds of beauty.”
The rapper Logic and Cara reinforced the anti-suicide message. Six transgender military service men and woman walked the VMA red carpet, and a group of suicide survivors stood silently on stage during a performance of the song 1-800 273-8255, the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
On a lighter theme, pop great Rod Stewart sang a new take on his 1978 hit Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? this time with the much younger dance group DNCE.
Here’s the Winners’ List for the night:
Best Collaboration Video: Zayn & Taylor Swift – I Don’t Wanna Live Forever
Best Pop Video: Fifth Harmony ft. Gucci Mane – Down
Best Hip Hop Video: Kendrick Lamar – HUMBLE.
Best Dance Video: Zedd and Alessia Cara – Stay
Video of the Year: Kendrick Lamar – HUMBLE.
Song of Summer: Lil Uzi Vert – XO Tour Llif3
Artist of the Year: Ed Sheeran
Best New Artist: Khalid
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