How the 2020 MTV VMAs Reflected the COVID-19 Era

2020 MTV Video Music Awards- Lady Gaga accepts the MTV Tricon Award-Publicity-H 2020
Viacom/CBS

Lady Gaga accepts the inaugural MTV Tricon Award.

Outdoor performances, masks and social distancing were widespread throughout the awards show, which also seemed to feature pre-taped moments mixed with in-person appearances.

The 2020 MTV VMAs featured a mix of seemingly traditional awards show moments, virtual acceptance speeches and outdoor performances as it became the latest awards show to try to mount a ceremony amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Host Keke Palmer emceed from a stage with what appeared to be a digitally generated backdrop of New York City, including videos of house-bound fans watching and applauding. Palmer and presenters took the stage to what sounded like computer-generated applause.

But Palmer didn't waste much time before acknowledging COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, joking that she wasn't sure if she was the first choice to host or "the only one brave enough to do it during COVID."

Beyond that, she acknowledged that 2020 has been "a rough year for everybody."

"When something goes wrong, I just say '2020,'" Palmer said, before seriously adding that amid the pandemic, people have gone "above and beyond," from those handling deliveries to house-bound customers to grocery-store workers to hospital staffers.

During the rest of the show, presenters took the stage and appeared from digitally generated balconies, with Palmer herself popping up on a balcony after a break and declaring that she's "on top of every building."

Winners also accepted their awards in person and via video acceptance speeches, with Lady Gaga making frequent in-person appearances throughout the show, wearing multiple outfits, including various fashionable face masks. Her numerous masks included one with horns, another with a silver grill and a third with a digital display that changed colors during her medley performance midway through the show, during which she was joined by a mask-wearing Ariana Grande, who took a minute to pull her black facial covering back over her nose at the end of the pair's "Rain on Me" segment. As she continued performing, Gaga told viewers to "mask up."

Later Gaga, sporting a shiny silver mask, urged viewers to "wear a mask," adding that it's a "sign of respect," and she told them to "stay safe."

"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," Gaga said.

Meanwhile, The Weeknd kicked off the show performing from atop Manhattan at The Edge at Hudson Yards, accompanied by fireworks and a helicopter, while Maluma performed from the Skyline drive-in in Brooklyn to a crowd of fan-filled cars, separated by flashing light rods, and accepted an award from the drive-in shortly after he finished performing.

Gaga and Maluma were both accompanied by dancers wearing face masks.

Presenters and performers were also shown walking through a backstage area where socially distanced production staffers were spotted wearing masks.

Presenter Anthony Ramos was also shown donning a "vote" face mask backstage. Doja Cat later told people to "stay safe" after a hard year.

The awards show also featured three awards influenced by the pandemic, best video from home, best quarantine performance and a non-competitive tribute to performances from front line workers in the "everyday heroes" category.

It was previously announced that the VMAs would be taking place from various outdoor locations throughout New York City, to pay tribute to the area hit significantly hard by COVID-19 this spring.

After a particularly rough experience with the pandemic, with as many as 11,000 new cases a day in April, New York has seen the number of daily new coronavirus cases decline since then and stay below 1,000 a day since early June. And Friday, the state celebrated three straight weeks of the number of daily positive tests being less than one percent.

The 2020 MTV VMAs was executive produced by ViacomCBS Media Networks' president of music, music talent, programming and events Bruce Gillmer and Den of Thieves co-founder Jesse Ignjatovic. Den of Thieves' Barb Bialkowski served as co-executive producer.