Lady Gaga has taken home five MTV Video Music Awards from this year’s socially-distanced ceremony, wearing an array of face masks to accept her trophies.
The singer said wearing a face covering was “a sign of respect” and acknowledged the crushing impact of both the coronavirus pandemic and social unrest across America, telling fans “a renaissance is coming”.
The virtual ceremony was filmed without a live audience and featured pre-recorded outdoor performances in front of small audiences across New York City’s five boroughs due to the health crisis.
The night celebrating pop culture and music was dedicated to Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, who died on Friday aged 43 after privately battling colon cancer for four years.
Gaga had led the night with nine nominations, winning Moon Person trophies for artist of the year, song of the year, best cinematography and best collaboration for Rain On Me, as well as the first ever Tricon award, in recognition of her achievements in music, fashion and acting.
“I want to share this award with everybody at home tonight. Everybody that is their own form of a Tricon,” she said.
“This has not been an easy year for a lot of people, but what I see in the world is a massive triumph of courage.
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“Just because we’re separated right now and culture may feel less alive in some ways, I know a renaissance is coming and the wrath of pop culture will inspire you and the rage of art will empower you as it responds to hardship with its generosity and love.”
The evening had kicked off with host Keke Palmer telling viewers at home: “Before we get into the music tonight, we need to talk about the devastating loss of Chadwick Boseman, an actor whose talent and passion is a true inspiration to all the fans he touched and everyone he encountered.
“We dedicate tonight’s show to a man whose spirit touched so many. He is a true hero. Not just on screen but in everything he did. His impact lives forever.”
There was also a video tribute to Boseman, which included his appearance at the 2018 MTV Movie and TV Awards.
Chadwick Boseman: Why did Black Panther have such a huge impact?
Palmer’s opening monologue also contained references to the tumultuous year, touching on the COVID-19pandemic, plus the Black Lives Matter movement sparked by the death of George Floyd in May.
“We can never tolerate police brutality,” the actress and singer said from a set near the Empire State Building.
“It’s our time to be the change we want to see. We need to come together, and music has that power.”
The ceremony also boasted a world TV premiere, with Gaga and Ariana Grande performing their winning duet together on the night, both wearing face masks throughout.
Grande also took another joint win for best music video from home, for her duet with Justin Bieber, Stuck With U.
Taylor Swift won best direction for The Man music video, a song about industry sexism, which clearly hit a note with the industry figures who voted for it.
Canadian artist The Weeknd – who was made up to appear bruised and bloodied – took the video of the year award for Blinding Lights. He also took the award for best R&B video for the same song.
H.E.R won the video for good award for I Can’t Breathe, while K-pop superstars BTS won best pop for On.
Some of this year’s biggest pop culture moments also got a look in, with Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s viral WAP music video and Netflix’s wild documentary series Tiger King both referenced in the ceremony.
Miley Cyrus also debuted her new single Midnight Sky, referencing her famous Wrecking Ball video by swinging on a sparkling disco ball.
The Black Eyed Peas closed the proceedings, with one of the group saying “Wakanda forever”, the phrase that encapsulated the black pride generated by Black Panther, as well as “Black Lives Matter”.
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The VMAs marked the first major US awards show to take place during the coronavirus pandemic, and will lead the way for next month’s Emmy’s.