The MTV Video Music Awards are known for creating viral moments meant to shock or amaze. But this year’s show was a much more grown-up affair that was full of important speeches, exciting performances and pop culture events.
Several award presenters called for equality, including the mother of a woman who was killed while protesting white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, and a descendant of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Other artists reached out to those suffering from depression. Pink taught her daughter a valuable lesson of self-acceptance.
Finally, Kendrick Lamar, the night’s big winner, set the stage ablaze at the beginning of the show, while Taylor Swift said goodbye to her reputation in a new music video.
Here are the show’s top moments:
PINK’S LESSON OF LOVE
Pink was honored on Sunday night with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. After performing a medley of her hits atop a car suspended from cables and riding around on a lawnmower, Pink used her acceptance speech to address her 6-year-old daughter, Willow, who arrived on the red carpet in a three-piece suit to match her parents’ suits.
The Grammy-winning singer said her daughter told her recently she felt like she was ugly. Pink responded that many artists, from Jackson to Prince to David Bowie and even herself, were regularly made fun of, but pressed ahead with their art to inspire others.
“We don’t change,” Pink said. “We take the gravel in the shell and make a pearl. And we help other people to change so they can see more kinds of beauty.”
And in closing, she reminded her daughter: “You my darling are beautiful.”
The musical community was hit hard this year with the suicides of two rock artists, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington and Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell. Jared Leto, actor and lead singer of the band 30 Seconds to Mars, talked about touring with both singers and how Bennington’s voice was “at once ferocious and delicate. That voice will live forever.” Leto used the tribute to reach out to those suffering with thoughts of suicide.
“Hear me now: You are not alone,” Leto said. “There is always a way forward. Reach out. Share your thoughts. Do not give up.”
That sentiment was amplified during a performance by Logic, Alessia Cara and Khalid, who performed a song for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, “1-800-273-8255.” The performers were joined on stage by suicide attempt survivors, some of whom were crying. Logic said the song was “a platform to talk about something that mainstream media doesn’t want to talk about: mental health, anxiety and depression.”
A CALL FOR EQUALITY
Throughout the night, the persistent theme for many artists and presenters on the stage was to call for unity and equality. Paris Jackson, daughter of Michael Jackson, said that America has zero tolerance for violence, hatred and racism.
Susan Bro, whose daughter Heather Heyer was killed when a man drove his car into a crowd in Charlottesville, said people all over the world had been inspired by her daughter’s courage.
“I want people to know that Heather never marched alone,” Bro said. “She was joined by people from every race and every background in this country.”
The violence in Charlottesville was sparked by the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. One of his descendants, the Rev. Robert Wright Lee IV, introduced Bro and said his ancestor has become a symbol of racism.
“We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism and hate,” Lee said. “As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin.”
RIP OLD TAYLOR
Taylor Swift declared the end of her reputation in her new music video for her first single “Look What You Made Me Do,” from her next album. In the video, which premiered during the VMAs first hour, the pop star emerged from the grave as a zombie and sang her accusations in a dark world where previous versions of herself come back to haunt her.
With a number of references to her feuding with other celebrities like Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West, the video parodies the media narratives around her career. It concludes with several Swifts arguing amongst themselves, with digs that have often been tossed at her such as “You are so fake,” or “There she goes playing the victim again.” Finally it ends with her own famous quote referring to Kanye West: “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.”
FIRE AWAY KENDRICK
With the top-selling album of the year, Kendrick Lamar was the big winner with six awards, including video of the year. He opened the show rapping his single “DNA,” in a cage of laser lights. Then as he transitioned to his hit “Humble,” a performer is set ablaze just a few feet away from Lamar in a dangerous and somewhat scary moment. The rest of the performance featured ninja-like dancers scaling a wall of fire behind Lamar.