TV Review: The 2017 MTV Video Music Awards Get Some Things So Right — and Others So Wrong – Variety
If one single moment sums up the 2017 VMAs, it was this.
Robert Lee IV, a pastor and a descendent of Civil War general Robert E. Lee — whose statue was at the center of the violence in Charlottesville earlier this month — introduced himself to the audience and said, “We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism and hate. As a pastor, it is my responsibility to speak out against racism, America’s original sin.” He then introduced Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, the woman killed when a suspected neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist demonstrators in Charlottesville.
“Only 15 days ago my daughter Heather was killed protesting racism,” she said. “I miss her but I know she’s here tonight.” She then announced the Heather Heyer Foundation, which will help provide scholarships to students interested in pursuing law, education and social justice issues. “I have committed myself to making her death count.”
As Lee and Bro walked slowly toward the back of the stage, the camera moved to Hailey Baldwin — wearing a mesh bodysuit that highlighted her black panties — who introduced the next performance, from Rod Stewart and DNCE. As Bro, visible in the background, received a deep and heartfelt embrace from Kesha, Baldwin flashed devil horns and gushed, “We’re headed to Vegas to ask just one question: ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’!”
The 36th annual MTV Video Music Awards, broadcast live from The Forum in Los Angeles, ping-ponged between such extremes for the entire night. Water-cooler-chatter-spawning shade was thrown between Fifth Harmony and former member Camilla Cabello and (more subtly) Taylor Swift and show host Katy Perry, while Alessia Cara and Pink made powerful statements about body-shaming and accepting people for who they are. A rousing opening set from Kendrick Lamar — performing a medley of “D.N.A.” and “Humble,” which meant the first words heard during the entire show were “Police brutality” — was immediately followed by Ed Sheeran playing the deeply uncontroversial “Shape of You”; in the middle of the song the cameras cut to Bleachers frontman Jack Antonoff eating a banana.
And early in the show, a Dior-clad Paris Jackson, Michael’s daughter, said “If we were to put our voices together, do you realize the impact we could make? We must show these Nazi supremacist jerks that we have zero tolerance for their violence, hatred and discrimination. We must resist!” She then said, with an impressively self-aware laugh, “And now: the nominees for Best Pop Video!”
Of course, the VMAs have walked the line between the profound, the profane and the inane almost since their inception — Miley Cyrus followed up her 2013 twerking fiasco (the last major water-cooler moment the VMAs have had) by having a formerly homeless youth accept her Video of the Year award in 2014 and plug My Friend’s Place, an organization in Los Angeles that helps young homeless people find housing, jobs, health care and schooling.