Rapper Kendrick Lamar dominated the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday as the glitzy gala took a political turn with impassioned denunciations of white supremacists in America.
Lamar won the most prestigious award of Video of the Year for “HUMBLE.,” his ironic look at his growing fame in which he dresses up as everything from the pope to Jesus in “The Last Supper.”
Lamar opened the show in Los Angeles with a martial arts-themed performance with ninja dancers, one of whom eerily appeared to set himself ablaze.
One of the most acclaimed rappers of recent times, Lamar took home six statuettes — rechristened the “Moon Person” from “Moonman” to be gender-neutral.
English songwriter Ed Sheeran won Artist of the Year, a new prize after the separate male and female categories were merged, while singer-songwriter Khalid won for new artist.
While Lamar’s latest album DAMN, toned down his earlier political bent, the globally televised awards gala itself did anything but.
The mother of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old anti-racism protester killed when an avowed white supremacist drove into a crowd during the August 12 unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia, took the stage and vowed to “make Heather’s death count.”
Controlling her emotions as the crowd applauded, Susan Bro announced a foundation in her daughter’s name to offer scholarships to pursue careers in social justice.
Bro presented “Best Fight Against the System,” a new award that recognizes activism in a music video. In the spirit of equality, Bro said all six contenders would share the prize.
The songs ranged from attacks on racism to “Scars to Your Beautiful” by rising star Alessia Cara, an ode to healthy body image which she performed at the awards, dancers around her rustling her hair and removing her oversized dress.
The singer P!NK also took up body perceptions as she accepted an award for lifetime achievement, saying she gave a PowerPoint demonstration to her daughter about successful androgynous musicians after the six-year-old voiced doubt about her femininity.
SHARP WORDS FOR TRUMP
Paris Jackson, a model and the daughter of the late “King of Pop” Michael Jackson, also lashed the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville.
“We must show these Nazis,” she said to cheers, “that we have zero tolerance for their violence and hatred.”
With Texas being whipped by massive storm Harvey, the gala sent best wishes to residents in harm’s way. Host Katy Perry asked viewers to consider donations to the American Red Cross.
Perry used wires to float onto the stage in an MTV-style moonsuit before an evening of shifting attire, ending with the singer back in the air to slam-dunk basketballs during her song “Swish Swish.”
Perry took aim at President Donald Trump as she urged fans to choose a winner in a category still open to online voting.
“This is one election where the popular vote actually matters,” quipped Perry, one of the most vocal celebrity campaigners for defeated candidate Hillary Clinton. “But hurry up before some random Russian pop star wins.”
MTV invited transgender US service-people to attend the show — two days after Trump ordered a ban on new transgender recruits in the military.
TAYLOR GOES GOTHIC
Pop A-lister Taylor Swift used the awards to unveil the video for her latest song, “Look What You Made Me Do,” in which she showed a new dark, bad-girl image.
The camera opens with imagery of a cemetery and a grave that says “Here Lies Taylor Swift’s Reputation” — a theme that will apparently weigh heavily on Swift’s newly announced album, which is entitled Reputation and comes out on November 10.
The 27-year-old singer, usually known for her squeaky-clean image, appears in the video in a crashed car, smashing up a store with a baseball bat and sitting atop a motorcycle in a spiked leather jacket.
Jared Leto of Thirty Seconds to Mars paid tribute to two rock singers who committed suicide this year — Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden — before putting on a trippy performance with thermal cameras.
The rapper Logic, joined by Cara and Khalid, reinforced the anti-suicide message singing “1-800-273-8255” — the title a reference to a help line, with the number emblazoned on the T-shirts of dozens of people who had attempted suicide and joined them on stage.
On a lighter theme, pop great Rod Stewart sang a new take on his 1978 hit “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” — this time with much younger dance group DNCE.