Music royalty assembled on Sunday as the MTV Video Music Awards returned to Los Angeles for a night of show-stopping performances, awkward attempts at comedy, and moving calls for acceptance, tolerance, and equality. While the three-hour broadcast captured most of the best and worst moments, EW was on-the-scene to give viewers insights into what they missed. Here are the highlights, lowlights, and more from inside The Forum in Inglewood, California.
Practice makes perfect for the crowd
It isn’t just the artists who need to rehearse before their big performances; the same goes for the crowds. Before the VMAs could begin, those lucky enough to be down by the stage needed multiple lessons on how to wave, clap, and stay hydrated. Another tip: High fives are good while grabbing is bad. The tutorials even continued around Kendrick Lamar as he kneeled onstage prior to his opening act. And if the audience couldn’t remember how to “all be one” and hold hands in the air for the ending of Pink’s Vanguard Award medley, we got our third demonstration from a VMAs employee while Pink was visible and preparing by doing some boxer-like loosening up.
Lamar owns the night
VMAs viewers don’t need us to tell them that Kendrick Lamar was the big winner. The Los Angeles native took home six Moon Person trophies, including the ultimate prize for Video of the Year. Yet, maybe an even more impressive honor was Lamar giving the night’s most crowd-pleasing performance. Kicking off the show with a medley of “DNA.” and “HUMBLE.,” Lamar set the tone with a fiery showcase that generated an energy and vibe in the building that couldn’t be duplicated in the hours to come.
Chance the president
What if we told you that the most popular person at the VMAs didn’t win any awards or take the stage? Everyone in attendance — whether fan, celebrity, or cameraperson — was determined to get some face-time with Chance the Rapper. The shockingly under-nominated “Same Drugs” rapper was playing the role of a politician during the show, shaking hands, giving hugs, and kissing babies (he was sitting next to DJ Khaled). Among the people to earn a conversation and embrace with Chance were Pete Davidson, Khalid, and VMAs employees.
Donald Trump gets one interesting mention
In a night full of impactful and important political moments, President Donald Trump was the elephant in the room as his name was never mentioned, even as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Charlottesville, and white supremacy, all were. But that didn’t extend to the commercial breaks. While those at home watched previews for Siesta Key or Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart getting very close and messy, The Forum was being treated to various rap music over the speakers to bridge the gaps, including one very interesting choice: YG and Nipsey Hussle’s “FDT (F— Donald Trump).” The song, which previously caught the attention of the Secret Service, was more well-received than many of the actual live performances.
Katy Perry shoots and misses… a lot
Hosting an awards show isn’t an easy gig, which has been demonstrated over the years by many professional comedians and late-night hosts. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Katy Perry didn’t turn in a Tina Fey and Amy Poehler-type performance. But we couldn’t have expected it to be this painful, right? It was a rough night for Perry, considering she failed to muster any real enthusiasm or excitement from the crowd. In addition to her jokes either falling flat at an alarming rate (the world has moved on from FYRE Festival, it seems) or going over the heads of many (there was not a huge Handmaid’s Tale fanbase at the VMAs, apparently), her closing “Swish Swish” performance only noticed an uptick in reaction with the appearances of Nicki Minaj and giant fake basketballs.
Not much response for Swift
The biggest news from the VMAs seemed to focus on who wasn’t there. Despite having a brand new single to promote, Taylor Swift passed on attending the VMAs. That didn’t stop the show from debuting the video for “Look What You Made Me Do,” which surprisingly failed to elicit much of a response from the audience. The premiere wasn’t aided by the lack of build-up, with it seemingly being snuck on during a quickly announced return from commercial, plus being at a weird time (why didn’t the clip land a second-hour spot?). The only brief reaction was when there was a brief gasp when people wondered if that was Swift’s friend-turned-rival, who happened to be hosting, making a cameo.
The one moment that earned a full-on standing ovation
The 2017 VMAs proved how hard it can be to get a standing ovation. Many moments deserved the distinction, such as Pink’s inspiring message to her daughter or Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, launching a foundation to help “join Heather’s fight against hatred.” But the sole instance of every single person being out of their seat and clapping was the conclusion of Logic, Alessia Cara, and Khalid’s performance of “1-800-273-8255,” named after the number for the suicide prevention hotline. Flanked by suicide survivors wearing T-shirts that read “you are not alone,” Logic gave an inspirational speech, calling for universal equality and imploring everyone to stand and applaud for “the foundation we are laying for our children.” Tears were shed and fans were gained.
Some performances had no chance to succeed in the room
Demi Lovato, and later, DNCE and Rod Stewart performing live from Las Vegas were probably very entertaining, but to those in Los Angeles, it was hard to tell. The two performances were shown on two not-so-big screens, making it almost impossible for the VMAs crowd to see, never mind invest in what was happening. The unique efforts of 30 Seconds to Mars was a different story but had a similar result. The Jared Leto-fronted band was in The Forum, even though it didn’t feel like it. You were either watching on the same small monitors or looking at them in the dark back corner where they were barely visible amid large amounts of smoke. The visually compelling collaboration with Travis Scott had to have left a better impression on the viewers at home.