Video Music Awards poster, courtesy of MTV.
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The Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, contained a sea of almost 20,000 seats and every one of them was filled for the 36th annual MTV Video Music Awards on Monday night. All eyes were locked on the stage as singer Lizzo performed at the forefront with largely inflated balloons that resembled a bikini-covered backside bouncing around behind her. 

If anyone was surprised by this avant-garde expression of art, they probably haven’t been active followers of the VMAs throughout the years. Past performances included Britney Spears singing and dancing with a large python snake at the 2001 ceremony, to Lady Gaga turning heads wearing a meat dress while accepting a VMA in 2010. Original musical acts and purposeful messages are often the theme, and this year lived up to that expectation. 

Lizzo wore a bright yellow bodysuit as she sang two of her songs,”Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell,” and audience members such as Queen Latifah were shown singing along and dancing. Both songs contain powerful lyrics, including “You know you a star, you can touch the sky,” from “Good as Hell.” The words encourage people, especially women, to know their worth and own who they are. 

“All shades of beauty and body types on stage and overall just an amazing performance by her and the background singers and dancers,” said Twitter user, Tahlia Marie.

Taylor Swift opened the show singing two of her recent releases, “Lover” and “You Need to Calm Down,” with the latter containing lyrics that promote LGBTQ rights. The performance had a bright and cheery backdrop with rainbows and a large font reading “Equality Act” popping up in neon yellow. Swift later won Video of the Year Award and accepted it onstage with the music video cast and co-executive producer Todrick Hall. In addition, Swift thanked fans for signing the Equality Act proposal, which lobbies for equality of all genders and sexual orientations. She explained the act “now has half a million signatures, which is five times the amount that it would need to warrant a response from the White House,” calling out a lack of action on the government’s part.

Strong female performances are no stranger to the VMAs, starting with its very first show. 1984 was the opening year of the awards program put on by MTV and it set the tone for years ahead. The performance of the night that everyone was talking about: Madonna’s live set of her then brand new single “Like A Virgin,” which she sang in a revealing wedding dress, while crawling around on stage.At the time, the performance was shockingly risque for viewers and critics were initially skeptical of the outcome. In 2014, Billboard reflected on how Madonna’s publicist, Liz Rosenberg, was told of negative outcomes that could ensue. 

“People came up to me and told me her career was over before it started,” Rosenberg recalled.

They were proven wrong, however, and this early contribution from Madonna helped pave the way for freedom of expression for performers of the future.35 years later, the 2019 VMAs echoed liberated presentations from musical artists and only time will tell how their input will further impact culture down the road.

 

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