The 8 Moments From MTV’s 2017 Video Music Awards That Global Citizens Need to Watch
These performances, speeches, and moon people are an inspiration.
Though people are more likely to tune into MTV to watch “Catfish” than actual music videos these days, the annual MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) remain a major pop culture event.
From Beyonce’s bold feminist statement in 2014 to Alicia Key’s poetic call for love on the 53rd anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech in 2016, the awards show has served as a platform for artists to bring attention to the issues that matter to them.
This year’s VMAs took things even further. Artists used their performances and speeches to address racism and inequality and to call for unity, while MTV switched up its award categories to better recognize artists’ efforts to promote social justice and de-gender their artistic accomplishments.
So in case you opted to watch the “Game of Thrones” season finale over the VMAs, here’s a look at the night’s most noteworthy moments.
Kendrick Lamar Kicks Off the Night
Global Citizen Kendrick Lamar got the show off to a fiery start — literally. Laser lights created a prison cell-like display around Lamar as a soundbite played of Fox News broadcasters criticizing his 2016 single “Alright.” The song touches on police brutality, while its hook — “we gon’ be alright” — is “a chant of hope and feeling,” Lamar told the New York Times.
Lamar performed a medley of “DNA” and “Humble,” hits off his latest album, which also addresses themes of racial injustice and inequality in the US. The performance hit back at reporter Geraldo Rivera’s claim, also in reference to Lamar’s song “Alright,” that “Hip-hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years.”
Paris Jackson Takes a Stand Against Racism
Paris Jackson, the first presenter of the night, spoke out against racism and violence.
"We must show these Nazi white supremacist jerks in Charlottesville, and all over the country, that as a nation with liberty as our slogan, we have zero tolerance for their violence and their hatred and their discrimination," the 19-year-old daughter of Michael Jackson said. "We must resist."
Logic, Khalid, and Alessia Cara Spotlight Suicide Prevention
Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, best known as the rapper Logic, performed his moving hit “1-800-273-8255” with Khalid, Global Citizen Alessia Cara, and 50 survivors of attempted and those who have lost loved ones to suicide. The song’s clever title is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
I made this song for all of you who are in a dark place and can’t seem to find the light.— Bobby Tarantino (@Logic301) April 26, 2017
“I don't give a damn if you are black, white, or any color in between. I don’t care if you’re Christian, you’re Muslim, you’re gay, you’re straight, I am here to fight for your equality because I believe that we are all born equal, but we are not treated equally and that is why we must fight,” Logic said at the end of his performance. “We must fight for the equality of every man, woman, and child regardless of race, religion, color, creed, and sexual orientation."
Jared Leto also drew attention to mental health issues on the VMA stage, honoring Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell, the lead singer of Soundgarden, both of whom committed suicide earlier this year.
Pink and Alessia Cara Deliver Messages of Self-Acceptance
Pink won one of the biggest awards of the night, the Video Vanguard Award, but she used her stage time to tell a story and promote a message of self-acceptance. The “So What” singer said her six-year-old daughter had recently told her “I’m the ugliest girl I know...I look like a boy with long hair.”
In response, Pink shared that she has been criticized for looking “too masculine” many times, but also highlighted all the successful artists with androgynous looks — from Janis Joplin to Freddie Mercury to David Bowie. And she stood by both her look and message.
“We don’t change,” she told her daughter. “We take the gravel and the shell and we make a pearl. And we help other people to change so that they can see more kinds of beauty.”
Global Citizen Alessia Cara also took the stage, for a second time, to perform her popular song of self-acceptance “Scars to Your Beautiful.” The song’s lyrics echo Pink’s sentiment, saying, “You don't have to change a thing, the world could change its heart.”
MTV Unveils Its Newest Award Category: the “Best Fight Against the System” Award
If Global Citizen gave out awards at the VMA, this would be our category!
Cara’s uplifting “Scars to Your Beautiful” was among the winners of last night’s new “Best Fight Against the System” award. The award was presented by Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer who was recently killed during the violence Charlottesville, and was given to all six nominees.
Fellow Global Citizen Big Sean also won the award for “Light” which addresses race and inequality. Other winning artists included John Legend for his “Surefire” video, which shows anti-immigrant and anti-muslim hate, and Black Eyed Pea’s Taboo for his Dakota Access Pipeline resistance anthem “Stand Up/ Stand N Rock #NoDAPL.”
Heather Heyer’s Mother and Robert E. Lee’s Descendent Are United Against Racism
Reverend Robert Lee IV, General Robert E. Lee’s great-great-great-great nephew, according to Billboard, took the stage to unequivocally denounce racism and introduce Bro, whose daughter died protesting a statue of Robert E. Lee.
“We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism, and hate. As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America's original sin,” he said. “Today, I call on all of us with privilege and power to answer God's call to confront racism and white supremacy head-on. We can find inspiration in the Black Lives Matter movement, the women who marched in the Women's March in January, and, especially, Heather Heyer, who died fighting for her beliefs in Charlottesville.”
MTV’s “Moonman” Takes a Giant Leap for Humankind
Last night’s VMA winners walked away with MTV’s first “Moon People.”
“Why should it be a man?” MTV President Chris McCarthy told the New York Times ahead of the awards show. “It could be a man, it could be a woman, it could be transgender, it could be nonconformist.”
MTV also gender-neutralized some of its award categories, merging the “Best Male Video” and “Best Female Video” categories into “Artist of the Year.” Emma Watson was the recipient of "the first acting award in history that doesn't separate nominees based on their sex” at the MTV Movie & TV Awards earlier this year.
Transgender Members of the Military Own the Red Carpet
Just days after President Donald Trump gave a formal order prohibiting the Department of Defense from allowing transgender people to openly serve in the military, six transgender members of the military walked the red the VMA carpet with the president of GLAAD, an NGO focused on LGBT representation in the media.
"Any patriot who is putting their own life at risk to fight for our freedom and stand for equality is a hero at MTV, and to young people everywhere," McCarthy said in a press statement.
"The only thing we're asking for is to be treated just like everyone else in the military and be discriminated against only based on our performance,” Army Captain Jennifer Peace, one of the six who attended the VMAs, said.