While most awards shows try to keep things prim and proper, MTV’s Video Music Awards errs on the side of controversy. This century alone, the ceremony, which honors the best music videos of the year, has gifted us with several nuggets of pop-cultural infamy, such as Britney, Christina and Madonna’s three-way kiss in 2003; Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s twerk-heavy performance in 2013; and, most famously, Kanye West’s 2009 interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech.
This year’s host, Katy Perry, fresh off the release of her underperforming album Witness, will be using the show as an opportunity for audiences to see a different side of her before she joins the American Idol reboot later this year. The week has seen rumors that Swift, involved in an ongoing feud with Perry, would be making an appearance but the reports of an on-stage duet have been debunked. “Listen, I’d love for the beef to end. I’d love to take it off the BBQ,” Perry told the host of SiriusXM’s The Morning Mash-Up. “I’m down, but I haven’t heard anything of it.”
Instead Swift revealed that she will use the ceremony to premiere the video of her new single Look What You Made Me Do, released last night to a mixed reaction. “It’s ridiculous in a lot of ways, high-school gossip amplified to feed the public’s hunger for drama,” the Guardian’s Maura Johnston wrote. Perry, for her part, will perform a space-themed medley of her hits both old and new – and, according to Variety, might make her entrance descending from the ceiling, following on from Lady Gaga at the Super Bowl. “There’s going to be a lot of costume changes and a lot of movement,” VMA producer Garrett English hinted.
Leading the pack of nominees is Kendrick Lamar, up for eight awards including artist and video of the year, plus best cinematography, art direction and visual effects. His album Damn, the bestselling record of 2017, helped to make hip-hop, for the first time ever (at least by Nielsen standards), the industry’s dominant genre, supplanting rock ’n’ roll in terms of overall consumption. “I’m happy to see my fans and I‘m happy to bring a great aesthetic to the stage when it plays back for these viewers,” Lamar told MTV of his performance on Sunday.
Close behind Lamar is Perry and The Weeknd, both up for five awards. The latter will perform on the night, which will also see Miley Cyrus, Ed Sheeran, Demi Lovato, Lorde and Pink, who is this year’s recipient of the Michael Jackson video vanguard award. The singer joins an esteemed group of winners that includes Kanye, Justin Timberlake, Madonna, Rihanna, Janet Jackson, David Bowie, Britney Spears, Beyoncé and Tom Petty.
This year’s ceremony also marks the first time the VMAs have done away with gendered categories, following in the footsteps of MTV’s Movie & TV Awards. Earlier this year, Emma Watson won the first ever non-gendered actor award. “The first acting award in history that doesn’t separate nominees based on their sex says something about how we perceive the human experience,” Watson said during her speech. “Acting is about the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes – and that doesn’t have to be separated into two different categories.”
The VMAs have followed suit by combining the nominees for what was formerly best male and female music video into one awards: video of the year. The videos up for the night’s highest honor include Lamar’s Humble, Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic, Alessia Cara’s Scars To Your Beautiful, DJ Khaled, Rihanna, and Bryson Tiller’s Wild Thoughts, and The Weeknd’s Reminder.
MTV has also added a new category this year – best fight against the system – for videos advocating for social justice. The competition for that category includes Logic’s Black SpiderMan, Immigrants (We Get the Job Done) from the Hamilton Mixtape, Big Sean’s Light, Alessia Cara’s Scars To Your Beautiful, Taboo and Shailene Woodley’s Stand Up/Stand N Rock #NoDAPL, and John Legend’s Surefire. MTV has also invited active-duty transgender servicemen and women to the ceremony in the wake of president Trump’s decision to ban trans troops for the military.
“DoD confirms that MTV has invited Service members in their personal capacity to this year’s VMAs,” said Pentagon spokesman Lt Col Paul Haverstick in a statement. “At the request of the Services, DoD is reviewing the parameters of the individual invitations.”
The VMAs will take place at the Forum in Inglewood, California, on 27 August.