The Show Must Go On: The Virtual VMAs

by The Cowl Editor on September 17, 2020


by Madison Palmieri ’22 A&E Staff


On Sunday, Aug. 30, the MTV Music Video Awards, or the VMAs, were not held with their usual packed crowds and live performances, but rather with few spectators and pre-recorded outdoor performances. Hosted by Keke Palmer, the program made reference to many important topics. These topics ranged from the 2020 presidential election, with Palmer encouraging viewers to continue fighting against systemic racism, to the global COVID-19 pandemic and the recent passing of actor Chadwick Boseman. The award show’s virtual set-up stands apart as the defining component of this year’s ceremony.

The VMAs combined what the New York Times described as “disparate, green screen-heavy segments, piped-in crowd noise and soundstage performances” with Palmer’s timely commentary and the winners’ speeches in a format that has become increasingly familiar over the past six months, as many aspects of everyday life have shifted to virtual settings.

Although largely unwelcome, this change led to the creation of two new categories for the 2020 VMAs: Best Music Video from Home and Best Quarantine Performance. The former prize was awarded to Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber for their collaboration “Stuck With U” and the latter prize was awarded to CNCO for “Unplugged at Home.” For the sake of normalcy, hopefully there will be no need for these categories next year, but it is a testament to the dedication and talent of such artists as they have adapted their craft to these challenging times.

The work of these talented and dedicated musicians was recognized through other nominations, with some artists receiving multiple awards. Among these artists were Lady Gaga, who received the MTV Tricon Award, the Artist of the Year Award, and whose collaboration with Ariana Grande, “Rain On Me,” won the VMAs for Song of the Year, Best Collaboration, and Best Cinematography; The Weeknd, who received an award in the Video of the Year and Best R&B categories for “Blinding Lights”; and lastly, BTS, who won VMAs for Best Choreography, Best K-Pop, Best Pop, and Best Group for their hit “On.” Winners in some of the other competitive categories were Doja Cat for Push Best New Artist, Megan Thee Stallion for Best Hip-Hop with “Savage,” Taylor Swift for Best Direction with “The Man,” and Coldplay for Best Rock with “Orphans.”

The show also honored “Everyday Heroes,” or medical personnel working on the front lines of the pandemic whose musical renditions, shared via social media over the past six months, have been a source of comfort, hope, and inspiration. 

This human element was much-needed. As USA Today explains, “The pumped-in fake crowd noise and the creepy cartoon silhouettes of clapping audience members were a little too ‘Hunger Games’. . .not to mention the faces (of viewers? fans?) that were projected onto animated skyscrapers and billboards.” Although the digital audience eerily resembles that found in video games or in the television show Black Mirror and may be disturbing to some, it was perhaps the clearest indication of how rapidly everyday life has changed in 2020, for better or for worse.