Kendrick Lamar was the king of the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards, winning six awards on a night full of emotional performances, political moments and a new, eye-popping Taylor Swift music video.
Lamar’s “Humble” won video of the year, best hip-hop video, direction, cinematography, art direction and visual effects on Sunday at the Forum in Inglewood, California. He also gave an explosive performance of “Humble” and “DNA”, backed by ninjas dancing near fire.
But the VMAs, hosted by a forgettable Katy Perry with performances by Miley Cyrus and Ed Sheeran, was tamer than most years, not relying on the shock value and wild antics of past shows. Instead, touching performances and powerful speeches took centre stage.
Logic performed his inspirational song “1-800-273-8255”, named after the phone number for the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. He was joined onstage with suicide attempt survivors as well as singers Alessia Cara (best dance video winner) and Khalid (best new artist winner). Lyrics from Logic’s song include: “I don’t wanna be alive/I just wanna die today” and “I want you to be alive/You don’t got to die today.”
Kesha introduced the performance and also offered words of encouragement: “As long as you don’t give up on yourself, light will break through the darkness.”
Pink was also emotional when she accepted the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, telling the audience a story about her daughter, who was sitting in the crowd with her father Carey Hart. Pink said her daughter recently told her that “I’m the ugliest girl I know ... I look like a boy with long hair.”
Pink said she then showed her 6-year-old daughter photos of performers such as Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Janis Joplin, George Michael, Elton John and Freddie Mercury.
“You are beautiful and I love you,” Pink said to her daughter.
Rock singer and Oscar winner Jared Leto remembered Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, who hanged himself in July. Leto also mentioned Chris Cornell, who hanged himself in May.
“I think about his band, who were really his brothers, and I remember his voice,” Leto said of Bennington. “That voice will live forever.”
“Hear me now, you are not alone. There is always a way forward. Reach out. Share your thoughts. Do not give up,” Leto added.
The night also featured political moments focused on the August 12 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that turned violent after Nazis and white nationalists opposed to the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee clashed with counter protesters. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed when a car ploughed into a crowd.
The Rev. Robert Wright Lee IV, a descendent of Gen. Lee, told the audience: “As a pastor it is my duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin”.
Heyer’s mother then entered the stage, telling the audience: “Only 15 days my ago, my daughter Heather was killed as she protested racism. I miss her but I know she’s here tonight.”
Bro announced The Heather Heyer Foundation, a non-profit that will award scholarships and “help more people join Heather’s fight against hatred.”
Paris Jackson also spoke out against hatred.
“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. We must resist,” Michael Jackson’s eldest daughter said before presenting an award.