Two Ways MTV’s Video Music Awards Embraced the Moment — And One Way It Didn’t

Author: Casey Gale       

MTV Video Music Awards

The main VMAs stage — meant to look like it topped a New York skyscraper — was revealed late in the broadcast to be a simple stage surrounded by a computer-animated city background. (Courtesy MTV)

MTV’s annual Video Music Awards (VMAs), which aired Aug. 30, was initially scheduled to be held at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center before both MTV and the venue decided it would not be feasible due to safety concerns regarding COVID-19. The VMAs was one of the first major award shows to take place during the COVID-19 era — the 2020 BET Awards were held in late June — and Convene took notes on how MTV managed to safely pull off a socially distanced event.

Here are two ways the event successfully embraced the new normal — and one way in which it fell short:

Keeping Their Social Distance

The VMA’s viewers are accustomed to spectacular stage performances where the live audience is part of the show. This year’s show required some major adjustments, but the VMAs still found a way to safely incorporate the audience. Artists Maluma and CNCO performed at Brooklyn’s Skyline Drive-In for fans who remained in their cars. The Weeknd performed atop the 17-story sky deck at the Edge at Hudson Yards, making the whole of New York City the audience.

‘A Sign of Respect’

Throughout the event, most backup dancers and even some singers, including Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga, wore masks during their performances. Lady Gaga also urged viewers to wear masks in public — “It’s a sign of respect,” the singer said during one of her acceptance speeches. Safety and social distancing were clearly top-of-mind during the event — whenever a presenter announced an award, they stepped far away from the microphone before the winner joined them on stage, to allow for more than six feet between them.

Is This Reality TV?

Though MTV touted the event as being held live across New York City, some news outlets are reporting that much of the event, from the red carpet interviews to award acceptance speeches, was filmed in advance. Aside from the performances in Brooklyn and Hudson Yards, which according to TV Insider were shot in advance but did include in-person audience members when taped, other performances were reportedly filmed at a studio in Los Angeles with green-screen technology. The main stage where awards were given out — meant to look like it topped a New York skyscraper — was revealed by the end of the night to be a simple stage surrounded by a computer-animated city background.

There is nothing wrong with using technology creatively, but with most meetings and events now a mix of live and prerecorded content, it’s best to be transparent with viewers about what’s live and what’s pre-recorded. In the age of spotty Zoom calls featuring coworkers’ pets and children running around in the background, MTV’s attempt to maintain a façade of a “normal,” glamorous award show felt a bit off.

Casey Gale is associate editor at Convene.

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