Since 1984, some of pop culture’s most revered moments, quotes and gestures originated at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs). Britney Spears’ sweeping, serpentine performance of I’m a Slave for You. Lady Gaga’s meat dress. Kanye West’s presidential bid. Miley Cyrus and the twerk heard ‘round the world. Michael Jackson’s moon-walking medleys. Hammer Time. Lil’ Kim, Diana Ross and one purple jumpsuit…these are images embedded in our collective social conscious, through memories and endless GIFs on our Twitter feeds.
The 2017 VMAs, held at The Forum in Los Angeles in August, certainly spawned plenty of extraordinary moments.
Here were a few of my favorites:
Lorde’s silent, avant-garde performance of Homemade Dynamite
The pop star flounced around stage like a ballerina from Mars, which isn’t too unusual for the VMAs. Not singing (or even lip-synching) is, however, a bit unusual.
Lorde tweeted a response to confused fans and reporters who covered the event, explaining how she had the flu and was on an IV drip just days before the ceremony.
— Lorde (@lorde) August 27, 2017
I still think her modern, possibly interpretive dancing was sick (pun intended).
Transgender military members march the red carpet
Days before the ceremony, President Trump announced via Twitter his formal order to enact a transgender ban in the military, which could potentially leave thousands of transgender troops without a job in six months.
To show support for these soldiers, MTV President Chris McCarthy invited six transgender members of the Army, Navy and Air Force to attend the ceremony.
“Any patriot who is putting their own life at risk to fight for our freedom and stand for equality is a hero at MTV, and to young people everywhere,” McCarthy told Billboard.
These heroes stepped out on the VMA “red” carpet (it’s actually blue) alongside the president of GLAAD, Sarah Kate Ellis.
Logic’s performance of 1-800-273-8255 has ringing aftereffects
The Maryland-based rapper performed his chart-topping single 1-800-273-8255 (the number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) flanked by Khalid, Alessia Cara and a host of suicide attempt-survivors wearing stark white shirts emblazoned with the phone number. The number appeared in bold letters behind the orchestra.
Watch the performance:
Logic ended his cogent performance with a promise to the audience: “I don’t give a damn if you’re black, white, or any color in between. I don’t care if you’re Christian, you’re Muslim, you’re gay, you’re straight—I am here to fight for your equality.”
It’s fitting that Logic was awarded the VMA for Best Fight Against the System, a new award (which MTV also incorporated into its Movie & TV Awards this spring), that underscores the VMA’s spirit of political and social activism.
The song depicts a teen contemplating suicide after being bullied for his sexuality, but deciding to call the hotline instead of taking his life. In a sign that the VMA performance and music video may have resonated, the Lifeline saw a 50 percent increase in calls the day after the VMAs.
“Logic’s performance of 1-800-273-8255 on the MTV VMAs last night delivered a positive message that has had and will continue to have a lasting impact,” said Lifeline Director Frances Gonzalez in a statement to Billboard.
Some of the calls were from people who wanted to thank the organization or volunteer. Others were from people in crisis. “It’s interesting to think about those people who maybe would never have called in another situation,” said Lifeline director Susan Sinwelski to Buzzfeed News. “I don’t think that in the history of suicide prevention we’ve ever had such a big moment in the spotlight.”
Taylor Swift’s polarizing world premiere
The VMAs have often been monumental for Taylor Swift. This year, Swift didn’t even have to show up to make an impact—the video for her new single, Look What You Made Me Do, did enough.
Swift’s team announced that the video would premier at the VMAs less than 72 hours before the ceremony. The video, laden with motifs alluding to her controversial relationships with other stars, is largely self-deprecating. It pokes fun at her former “reputation” as a sweet, giggly teenager, at her internet presence (one scene shows her ruling over #SquadGoals University) and her “surprise” face. Naturally, the video went viral.
IDK IF I’M EVER GONNA BE ABLE TO BREATHE AGAIN #LWYMMDvideo
— Kristin Harris (@KristinHarris) August 28, 2017
It’s no surprise she chose to air this video, which is part of her forthcoming Reputation album, at the VMAs. The VMAs sent Swift’s name into orbit in 2009 after Kanye West interrupted her acceptance speech (cue surprise face).
Watch a compilation of Swift’s historic VMA moments: