MTV’s 34th annual Video Music Awards show was heavy on #resistance. Oftentimes, the pop spectacle was secondary to the political speeches and woke performances. Special guests, presenters and entertainers addressed racial tension stoked by Charlottesville and Trump’s divisive trans military ban.
Walking the red carpet before the show, trans service members Sterling James Crutcher, Logan Ireland, Jennifer Peace and Akira Wyatt and veterans Laila Ireland and Brynn Tannehill were joined by GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis.
Trans military personnel were invited to the ceremony earlier this month. “Any patriot who is putting their own life at risk to fight for our freedom and stands for equality is a hero at MTV, and to young people everywhere,” MTV President Christopher McCarthy said to CNN in a statement.
The Moonman trophy, used since 1984, got a gender-neutral makeover and is now a “Moon Person.” “Why should this be a man? It could be a man, it could be a woman, it could be transgender, it could be nonconformist,” said McCarthy.
Host Katy Perry (love or loathe her, she’s an engaging entertainer) kicked off the show with timely jokes about the state of the nation and fashion – should she wear ripped jeans or the red cloak/white bonnet combo from The Handmaid’s Tale?
Kendrick Lamar, who received the most VMA nominations, ultimately winning 6 “Moon Person” statues, hit the stage with an exhilarating medley of hits “DNA” and “HUMBLE.” Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, backed by ninja dancers, one in flames and a burning scaffolding, Lamar’s galvanizing performance made the backdrop of pop queen beefs (TayTay vs. Kanye vs. Katy vs. Lorde vs. Nikki vs. etc.) look even pettier than they already were.
Pink was presented with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award video. She performed a medley of her hits, ending with her latest single, “What About Us?,” unity the audience in solidarity with her messages of strength, acceptance and non-conformity.
Jackson’s daughter Paris railed against racists emboldened by the riots in Virginia saying, “We must show these nazi, white supremacist jerks in Charlottesville and all over the country that as a nation with liberty as a slogan, we have zero tolerance for their violence, their hatred and their discrimination. We must resist.”
Fourth generation descendant of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Reverend Robert Wright Lee spoke out against hatred, saying racism is, “America’s original sin.” He introduced Heather Heyer’s mother Susan Bro, who announced the launch of a foundation in her daughter’s name.
Of course the event was not short on outstanding musical performances. Highlights included Alessia Cara’s literally stripped down rendition of “Scars to Your Beautiful.” She later joined Logic and Khalid for the tear-jerking, suicide-prevention anthem “1-800-273-8255.” Logic brought the crowd to its feet with his sermon-like rap, which contained the empowering line, “We are all born equal, but we are not treated equally and that is why we must fight.
As Katy Perry stated at the start of the evening, “Even in the Apocalypse, we deserve a great soundtrack.”