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The 2020 VMAs Go Virtual and Lack Musical Diversity


Hosted by Keke Palmer, the 2020 Video Music Awards (VMAs) were a strange and unusual sight this year. Because of the pandemic, the show went virtual and many of the routine music video award events were altered. Although some major structural changes had to be made to the original show, MTV producers were determined to get creative with the challenges of COVID-19 restrictions. 

The VMA show aired on Sunday, August 30, drawing a total of 6.4 million viewers, down 5 percent in viewership from last year. Alternating between at-home acceptance speeches, an array of green screen segments, and canned crowd noise, this ceremony was unlike any since the show launched in 1984. Highlights included a bedazzled Miley Cyrus swinging from a disco ball and a decked out Lady Gaga sporting a series of impressive masks. 

The program was entirely pre-recorded, eliminating some of the spontaneity of the original award show. Iconic moments from VMA history such as Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech or Nicki Minaj’s altercation with Miley Cyrus are the kinds of dramas that were lost by pre-recording the entire show.  

The majority of the performances were shot at locations across New York City. One highlight of the show was The Weekend’s rooftop performance of “Blinding Lights,” complete with a firework display that disturbed many Manhattan residents. Additionally, Chloe x Halle never ceased to impress with their seamless harmonies showcased in their performance of  “Ungodly Hour.” Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande collaborated for a highly choreographed performance of “Rain on Me” on a futuristic set. Lady Gaga was the biggest winner of the night, bringing home five awards, including Artist of the Year and Song of the Year for “Rain on Me.” Best Music Video of the Year was given to the Weekend for “Blinding Lights,” and Best New Artist went to Doja Cat.

Despite the challenging circumstances, Keke Palmer executed her job very well. She is the first black woman to host the VMAs, hopefully paving the way for more representation of marginalized groups at this award show in the future. Palmer was able to touch on the current social climate and the BLM movement while still maintaining the amusing and fun tone of the program. At the commencement of the show, she also made a heartfelt dedication to Chadwick Boseman. It was almost inevitable that this show would be a little bit awkward, however, it ran fairly smoothly and the awkwardness subsided after viewers adjusted to the new format. The execution was impressive considering the circumstances.

If we look at some of the main winners this year, like Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, The Weekend, and Billie Eilish, they only represent only a fraction of what the music industry has to offer. Many of these artists have also already garnered lots of money, press, and fame over the years, which makes them well suited for producing expensive and elaborate music videos. Award shows like the VMAs usually cater to a certain age demographic where pop and rap music transcend in popularity, leading to a shortage of musical diversity. 

Although most of these awards are voted on by the people, it is unclear who nominates these candidates for the most part. If these shows were to truly reflect what was popular at the time, the nominations would need to be at least partially influenced by the public. This brings into question the necessity of these types of award shows: what is their purpose? Generally, the VMAs primarily focus on certain genres of music such as pop, rap, and country. This defeats the purpose of accurately depicting the music industry as a whole and giving credit where it is deserved. In reality, the VMAs only really give credit where the big funds are. In recent years, the ratings, viewership, and prestige of this ceremony have declined. One might ask if this is because the awards don’t represent the interests and diversity of the audience and industry at large. 

 When I think of Berkeley High School (BHS) and the selection of music popular among students, these artists usually don’t come to mind. The variety of music that the VMAs reward is slim, and in order to appeal to a place like BHS, where diversity is abundant, the music must be diverse as well. This lack of credibility and representation has been an issue not only at the VMAs but in the music industry altogether. Music is constantly evolving and the award shows should do the same if they wish to remain relevant.