The world is in a serious place, beset with racism, sexism, suicide, violence and general repression. Some of the artists and presenters at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards used the channel’s platform to speak out against those conditions. But not all could be bothered, and this edition of the long-running awards show suffered from that, as it unevenly lurched between harsh reality and pop humor, including such gaffes as following a heartfelt speech against racism with Rod Stewart doing “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”
Highlighting the show was an impassioned speech from Susan Bro, the mother of Charlottesville accident victim Heather Heyer, who announced the formation of a foundation to offer scholarships to proponents of social justice.
“I have been deeply moved to see people across the world find inspiration in her courage,” Bro said of her late daughter. Bro went on to say that, in the spirit of her daughter, MTV was awarding all six nominees for the best fight against the system video with a Moon Man trophy. “Through their diversity, these six videos show there are many ways to take action and many battlegrounds in the fight for social good.”
For the rest of the artists, actress Paris Jackson made the most overt real-world political connection, decrying racism and white supremacy. “We must show these Nazi, white supremacist jerks in Charlottesville and all over the nation. We have zero tolerance for their violence, hatred and discrimination.”
Pink won the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, presented by close friend Ellen DeGeneres, who joked that she accepted the gig before realizing it was Game of Thrones finale night.
Pink rode onstage atop a golf cart and did a medley of her hits including “Get the Party Started,” “Raise Your Glass,” “Just Give Me a Reason” and “So What.” She then told a touching story about female empowerment in the face of criticism and bullying. She pointed out to her daughter how the singer breaks certain stereotypes of female pop stardom. “Do you see me growing my hair, changing my body?” she asked. “We [artists] don’t change. We take the gravel in the shell and make the pearl. Thanks to the artists out there lighting the way for us.”
Kendrick Lamar kicked off the awards with the night’s most spectacular performance. His renditions of “DNA” and “HUMBLE” featured fire, sky-flying with wires and a general energy that was lacking from many other artists. He later won six awards on the evening, including video of the year for “HUMBLE.”
Other performance highlights included Miley Cyrus doing “Younger Now,” a straight pop rocker that’;s the title track from her new album. Cyrus eschewed the twerking and other controversial actions of past MTV performances, living up to a pre-show promise to her father to be good; Logic, who powered through his “1-800-273-8255,” a suicide-prevention homage; and Ed Sheeran, whose “Shape of Things” was helped by a Lil Uzi Vert appearance. Sheeran was later named artist of the year.
There were more than a few strange moments in the show. Julia Michaels, up for best new artist, was not so fortunate. Her performance of “Issues” was halved when the channel cut to commercial in the middle of her song.
Later in the show, a moving tribute by Jared Leto to deceased rockers Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden was followed by a video of a Linkin Park performance at the 2010 VMAs. That, too, was cut short by a fade to commercials.
Earlier, Lorde, who was battling the flu, didn’t sing during her performance, instead providing an interpretive dance to the track. Twitter exploded with comments at the latter.
Katy Perry hosted the awards and was a generally good sport, even though her material left something to be desired. She had no problem poking fun at herself, including a comment that a prop baby was “fake, just like my teeth.” She also had a sketch with an astronaut cameo from true Moon Man Buzz Aldrin, and a somewhat telling fake interlude with a paparazzi, in which she was accused of having an affair with actor Morgan Freeman. The skit ended with a somewhat tasteless reference to child murder victim JonBenet Ramsey.
Despite some rumors, there was no reconciliation with Taylor Swift, with whom Perry has been feuding. Swift won best collaboration video with Zayn, but neither artist was present to accept. Swift did send along a world premiere video for her new single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” showcasing a harsher, more mature style, albeit with a joke kicker at the end.
Jesse Ignjatovic was executive producer for the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards. Bruce Gillmer, Garrett English and Lee Lodge were Executive Producers. Melanie Block served as Executive in Charge of Production, while Amani Duncan is Music Executive in Charge. Wendy Plaut was Celebrity Talent Executive in Charge.