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I Want My MTV

The 2020 MTV VMAs in a Time of Uncertainty

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, every corner of American life has undergone some variation of change. From businesses to schools to media, no aspect of society has been untouched by the influence of the pandemic. The entertainment industry is no exception.


The MTV Awards, an annual event that awards music artists for their performances and musical contributions, took a new form in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Due to the ongoing state of the nation, MTV made various alterations to their usual program to ensure the safety and enjoyment of their audience. 


According to The Washington Post, the 2020 MTV Awards were broadcast live from an outdoor venue in New York City on August 30th. The LA Times reported that the show had been planned to air at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but due to safety concerns, these plans were reevaluated. To assure that the event would abide with the state and city safety guidelines, MTV consulted the Department of Health and local officials. Additionally, MTV opted for a virtual audience with cheers electronically injected by the producers; there was no in-person ceremony that could be physically attended. 


Musical artist and TV personality Keke Palmer was chosen to host the event. According to MTV, some of the top nominees for video of the year were Billie Eilish’s “Everything I Wanted,” Eminem’s “Godzilla,” Future’s “Life is Good,” Lady Gaga’s “Rain on Me,” Taylor Swift’s “The Man,” and the Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights.”


Top nominees for artist of the year were DaBaby, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Megan Thee Stallion, Post Malone, and the Weeknd. Top nominees for song of the year were Billie Eilish’s “Everything I Wanted,” Doja Cat’s “Say So,” Lady Gaga’s “Rain on Me,” Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage,” Post Malone’s “Circles,” and Roddy Ricch’s “The Box.”


Additionally, new award categories were added to acknowledge the music videos and performances filmed at home. A special interlude was also included to honor healthcare workers and their efforts during the pandemic. 


Many of the artists made statements on the state of the U.S. within their speeches. According to The Washington Post, numerous artists paid tribute to Chadwick Boseman, the widely admired star of Black Panther who had died in August due to a battle with colon cancer. 


Others hid messages within their performances such as DaBaby, who sang some of his hit songs from the back of a police car while flaming buildings and a poster reading “Stop Killing Us” appeared behind him, referencing the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality in America.


Many of the performers encouraged their audiences to take safety precautions in light of the pandemic. According to The Washington Post, Lady Gaga made various mask changes as she went up to obtain multiple awards, urging the audience to wear face coverings. A number of stars, such as Taylor Swift and Megan Thee Stallion, pre-recorded their speeches from their homes rather than making a physical appearance at the awards. Despite the increased safety precautions, there were some notably extravagant performances. According to The Washington Post, K-pop group BTS performed their new single “Dynamite” with live choreography. Other artists, such as Miley Cyrus, pre-recorded their performances, allowing for some elaborate props and production; Cyrus herself swang from a disco ball while singing her latest single “Midnight Sky.” 


Although the pandemic has greatly restricted some parts of American life, some businesses have continued to push on and revitalize their industries despite many obstacles. MTV’s approach to the VMAs may provide a prototype on how other companies may approach concerts or entertainment ventures in the future.