It wasn’t an awards show that will go down in history — no sexy snakes, three-way kissing, pregnancy reveals or tantrums here — but the 2020 MTV VMAs had some performances that helped satiate the world’s yearning for live music.
Many of the performances felt like glorified music videos rather than live entertainment, though especially since a handful were pre-taped in different locations rather than the originally-planned Barclays Center. And as a result, there seemed be even more lip-syncing going on than usual.
But still, the best in the biz brought it, providing a much-needed distraction from the never-ending cycle of doom and gloom.
Here are some of the standout performances at the 2020 VMAs.
The first performance of the main show quickly upped the ante from the pre-show, with a bloody-faced The Weeknd performing his No. 1 hit “Blinding Lights” from over 1,000 feet in the air at the Edge in Hudson Yards. It was a stunning opener with the cityscape as his backdrop, with helicopters circling, so much so that you hardly missed the fact that there weren’t any fans in the audience to watch him. After the whole thing ended with a fireworks display, it was hard to imagine there being a better opener than that if the awards show had gone on at Barclays Center, as originally intended.
Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande
Boy oh boy, did the VMAs need Lady Gaga this year. And she needed them right back. After her much-anticipated album “Chromatica” came out in May, Gaga wasn’t able to do any of the usual promotion and performances to pump up her latest LP. You could feel that she’s been waiting for that moment to really do it justice — and she finally got it performing “911,” “Stupid Love” and “Rain on Me,” her No. 1 duet with Ariana Grande, with whom she led all VMAs nominees with nine nods.
The pre-show was pretty meh, with most of the performances looking like canned videos, making you long for the pre-COVID days when they would perform on top of the Radio City Music Hall marquee. But the 23-year-old Scotsman brought some real soul and live energy to the proceedings with a stripped-down performance of “Before You Go” that made you realize he wasn’t a one-hit-wonder with “Someone You Loved.” He’s the kind of powerful, passionate singer who didn’t need any of the bells and whistles that typically put the razzle-dazzle in the VMAs. This was pure talent and artistry that you might expect to see more at the Grammys.
In any other year, Maluma’s performance of his new single “Hawai” might not have stood out. But the Colombian reggaeton star made the best of this year’s production challenges brought on by the pandemic by performing at a drive-in location in Brooklyn backed by a troupe of mask-wearing dancers. He even went into the “audience” to bring his sexy swag closer to the socially distanced cars. It felt more “live” than just about anything else in the show up to that point. And his reward for his performance? He won the Best Latin VMA for “Que Pena” with his fellow Colombian J Balvin. All in all, it was a good night for Maluma.
Singing her new song “Midnight Sky,” Cyrus started off her performance slow, simply writhing in a slinky dress and dancing while holding onto her mic. But as the Queen of the VMAs typically does, she turned things up a notch by recreating her now-iconic 2013 music video, “Wrecking Ball,” this time straddling a giant disco ball. After ascending a giant staircase, she stripped down to panties and hopped on, working some of her old moves with a fresh take.