VMAs 2017: Kendrick Lamar Wins Big During Serious, Political Show
The 2017 MTV Video Music Awards included many of the same beats as telecasts past: big singles being performed by bigger stars, with lots of irreverent humor and teen-friendly lingo (it was, indeed, a lit evening) in between. However, this year’s VMAs carried a more somber tone at times, with multiple emotional performances and real talk about the world outside of the walls of The Forum in Inglewood, California.
Credit Kendrick Lamar, who took home his first Video of the Year trophy for “Humble,” for setting the tone by kicking off the evening with a performance of “DNA” and “Humble” that was literally fiery — a guy in a flame-retardant suit flailed around onstage as the hip-hop superstar spit his well-known rhymes. Lamar also won Best Hip-Hop Video of the evening, and with Kanye West notably absent at this year’s ceremony, the rap universe revolved around K. Dot on Sunday night.
The tense political atmosphere was broached a number of times on Sunday night, although President Donald Trump was never denounced by name. Host Katy Perry made a few mentions of her support of Hillary Clinton during the telecast, joking that the fan-voted Best New Artist winner would actually win based on the popular vote. Cardi B expressed support for Colin Kaepernick while introducing a performance, and Paris Jackson spoke out against Nazism and the events of Charlottesville near the top of the show.
Later, a pastor and descendant of Confederate general Robert E. Lee urged his onlookers to “answer God’s call to confront racism and white supremacy head-on,” and introduced Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer who died during the Charlottesville protests. Ms. Bro announced the Heather Heyer Foundation as a new way to fight hatred, and also that all six nominees in the Best Fight Against The System categories would be honored that night.
Elsewhere, old rivalries resurfaced as Perry and Nicki Minaj performed a basketball-themed “Swish Swish” — a thinly veiled takedown of Taylor Swift — hours after Swift unveiled the dark, action-packed, self-referential video for her new single, “Look What You Made Me Do.” And Fifth Harmony kicked off their performance of “Down” with Gucci Mane by ejecting a masked fifth member from the stage (et tu, Camila?).
However, Ed Sheeran (who would win Artist of the Year) and Lil Uzi Vert formed an unlikely new partnership with a joint performance of “Shape of You” and “Xo Tour Llif3,” and Rod Stewart recruited the youth — better known as DNCE — to reinvigorate his classic disco hit “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus brought new singles to the VMAs ahead of the Sept. 29 release of their respective albums, while Thirty Seconds To Mars' Jared Leto honored Linkin Park's Chester Bennington prior to his group playing their new single, "Walk On Water."
Amidst the slew of stars, Logic, making his VMAs debut, emerged as one of the biggest winners of the evening while surrounded by a sea of household names. Performing his rising single “1-800-273-8255” with Alessia Cara and Khalid, the rapper ended the song by speaking out for mental health awareness, social unity and end to division. Pink, while accepting her Video Vanguard Award earlier in the evening, echoed that sentiment of breaking down barriers, in the form of refusing to conform to social expectations.
"We don't change,” Pink said. “We help other people to change, so that they can see more kinds of beauty.”