The 2020 MTV Video Music Awards were always going to be unique, with the coronavirus pandemic upending the annual ceremony and most of the audience cheering on their favorite superstars from remote locations. Yet the VMAs on Sunday night (Aug. 30) made for a dynamic display of artistry across the mainstream, as well as relevant messages on safety concerns, social justice and a star that passed far too soon at the beginning of the weekend.
From the VMAs debut of BTS to Miley Cyrus’ throwback to her “Wrecking Ball” days to Lady Gaga’s show-stopping medley, check out the 12 can’t-miss moments from the 2020 MTV VMAs.
The Weeknd’s “Blinding” Cityscape and Powerful Acceptance Speech.
Kicking off the 2020 VMAs with one of the biggest songs of the year, The Weeknd leaned into the thematic disorientation of his No. 1 smash “Blinding Lights,” seemingly panicked as he raced around neon images… but then was delivered onto a platform overlooking Hudson Yards, where a helicopter filmed his vocal (and literal) pyrotechnics. Later, The Weeknd accepted two Moonmen, including the video of the year award for “Blinding Lights,” in a fittingly somber tone, calling for justice for the death of Breonna Taylor and the shooting of Jacob Blake.
Keke Palmer’s Poignant Intro.
Instead of opting for a jokey intro to commemorate what’s been a particularly brutal year, Keke Palmer smartly landed upon a serious monologue that highlighted opportunities for progress. “As rough as it’s been, there have been incredible moments of inspiration that have given my generation hope,” she said, before mentioning the Black Lives Matter and the recent unrest in Kenosha, Wisc. in her speech. “We can never tolerate police brutality, or any injustice.”
DaBaby’s Protest Statement.
“Stop Killing Us,” read a sign propped up near DaBaby’s performance of his No. 1 smash “Rockstar.” The Song of the Summer front-runner, which received a Black Lives Matter remix in June, received another powerful visual to stand against police brutality, as the Charlotte rapper performed atop a cop car and ended his medley with a raised peace sign.
Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” Callback.
For a performer with some of the most memorable performances in VMAs history, Miley Cyrus’ presentation of new single “Midnight Sky” was relatively subdued — until she ascended a staircase and hopped atop a giant, swinging disco ball, in an image that immediately recalled her iconic “Wrecking Ball” music video. Deliciously unsubtle!
Maluma’s Drive-In Pizzazz, and Best Latin Win.
Performing in a canary yellow suit, flanked by dancers in glittering face masks, and playing to a socially distanced audience of automobiles, Maluma brought the sex appeal to Brooklyn before immediately winning Best Latin for his “Que Pena” video with J Balvin. Winning his very first VMA, the veteran star appeared genuinely overjoyed, and thanked his longtime fans in Spanish.
BTS’ Explosive VMAs Debut.
It’s hard to believe that the BTS boys had yet to perform at a VMAs ceremony prior to 2020, but they certainly made the most of their debut, bringing “Dynamite” to the masses with tons of character and choreography. It was a historic performance of an already-inescapable pop hit; bonus points for the killer outfits, which looked office-job chic.
Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande’s “Rain” Dance.
In one of the evening’s unequivocal highlights, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande shared a stage — responsibly, of course, with each wearing face masks — and delivered their No. 1 hit “Rain On Me” to the masses, as the centerpiece of a larger Gaga medley celebrating her Chromatica album. Gaga performing “911” and a stripped-down, then sped-up, version of “Stupid Love” brought the euphoria of the Chromatica tour that never was this year, but “Rain On Me,” with its dueling melismas between Gaga and Grande, was the jewel of the set.
Doja Cat’s MTV News Throwback & Pure Emotion.
Any longtime MTV viewer knows those legendary MTV News intro graphics, and before kicking off her performance of “Say So,” Doja Cat honored the history of the channel while also spoofing herself, playing an anchor who… had not heard of Doja Cat. Later, she seemed touched to win the best new artist trophy, coming close to tearing up before concluding, “Stay safe, and thanks mom.”
Lady Gaga’s Face Masks.
Obviously Gaga’s many speeches throughout the evening, particularly her passionate acceptance of the Tricon Award, highlighted the evening… but so did reacting to each new Gaga face mask, pointing out your favorites and furiously Googling to see how much they cost. Of course Gaga could make pandemic safety outlandishly stylish.
CNCO’s Dance Moves.
During a night rife with throwback vibes, the CNCO boys debuted their new single “Beso” with some choreography that nodded to classic boy band setups, including some of Backstreet Boys’ best-known moves and *NSYNC dancing on top of cars in the “Girlfriend” video. Performing in front of a bunch of people in cars, CNCO kept the energy high.
Chadwick Boseman’s Multiple Tributes.
The Black Panther star’s untimely passing at the age of 43 shocked the world on Friday night, and the VMAs rightly honored the actor — first with a somber intro from host Keke Palmer to talk about “the devastating loss,” then with an emotional clip from one of Boseman’s acceptance speeches from the MTV Movie Awards and an appearance in the montage of artists who have passed. Wakanda Forever.
Black Eyed Peas’ Grand Closing.
A decade after ruling the pop charts with smashes like “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling,” Black Eyed Peas are still compelling millions of people to dance around their living rooms, and in the closing performance of the 2020 VMAs, the group — revitalized with a new album, Translation — brought their A-game with “Vida Loca,” featuring Tyga and Nicky Jam, before shouting out “the first responders and freedom fighters” with “I Gotta Feeling.”