Kendrick Lamar Sets a Fiery Tone at 2017 MTV VMAs

Politically-charged award's show give artists, celebrities and a grieving mom a stage to talk about injustice.

Patrick Greenby Patrick Green
Photo: Steve Granitz (Getty Images)

We all remember Britney Spears iconic 2001’s MTV Video Music Awards performance when she wrapped an albino Burmese python around her barely legal neck while gyrating to “I’m A Slave 4 U”, but I bet you can’t remember who won Video of the Year (it was “Lady Marmalade” by Christina AguileraMýa, Pink, and Lil’ Kim featuring Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott).

Also: Best Albums of 2017… So Far

MTV’s VMAs have always been more about the show’s performances than the actual awards handed out.

The 2017 VMAs were no different as everyone will be talking, texting, and posting about WTF happened than who actually took home a “Moon Person”, which is a more all-inclusive, gender neutral replacement to MTV’s former “Moon Man” award.

Kendrick Lamar was the big winner of the night, winning the Video of the Year award for “Humble,” and also earning the coveted VMA opening performance spotlight with a literally “fire” medley of “DNA” and “Humble”.

Lamar’s incendiary performance was followed by a “power to the people” speech by Paris Jackson, “Let’s leave here tonight remembering that we must show these Nazi, white supremacist jerks in Charlottesville and all over the country that as a nation with ‘liberty’ as our slogan, we have zero tolerance for their violence, their hatred and their discrimination. “We must resist.”

Both Lamar and Jackson set the politically-charged tone for a VMA night that took itself more seriously than usual.

The idea of social activism through the prism of the VMAs is a noble one considering the huge number of impressionistic eyeballs it attracts, but when you have pin-up rapper Cardi B shouting out “Colin Kaepernick” while fighting off a nip slip it can seem a bit ingenious — the message of support not the bare breast.

INGLEWOOD, CA - AUGUST 27: Cardi B speaks onstage during the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 27, 2017 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Host Katy Perry was there to provide some comic relief, but provided neither “comedy” nor “relief” with a bunch of stiff outfit gags and one note pop culture jokes.

Pink accepted the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award after unleashing a fury of power ballads and a personal speech directed at her daughter and all those who feel out of place (like maybe those who actually listen to Pink? I kid, I kid).  

The most poignant part of the VMAs was when Rev. Robert Wright Lee IV, a 24-year-old pastor and a descendent Confederate general Robert E. Lee, spoke out against racial injustice. 

“We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism and hate,” Lee said. “As a pastor it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin.”

Lee then introduced Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed in Charlottesville while marching as a counter-protestor against a white supremacist rally seeking to stop the removal of the statue of General Robert E. Lee.

Bro announced the launch of a foundation named in honor of Heyer. MTV paid tribute to Heyer, by honoring all six of the videos nominated for the new category of best fight against the system (see the full list of MTV VMAs award winners below).

The 2017 VMA AWARD NOMINEES (WINNERS in BOLD):

Best Pop Video

Shawn Mendes – “Treat You Better”

Ed Sheeran – “Shape of You”

Harry Styles – “Sign Of The Times”

Fifth Harmony ft. Gucci Mane – “Down” – WINNER

Katy Perry ft. Skip Marley – “Chained To The Rhythm”

Miley Cyrus – “Malibu”

Best Dance Video

Afrojack ft. Ty Dolla $ign – “Gone”

Calvin Harris – “My Way”

Kygo x Selena Gomez – “It Ain’t Me”

Major Lazer ft. Justin Bieber and MØ – “Cold Water”

Zedd and Alessia Cara – “Stay” – WINNER

Best Collaboration Video

Charlie Puth ft. Selena Gomez – “We Don’t Talk Anymore”

DJ Khaled ft. Rihanna & Bryson Tiller – “Wild Thoughts”

D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty – “Broccoli”

The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey – “Closer”

Calvin Harris ft. Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry & Big Sean – “Feels”

Zayn & Taylor Swift – “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)” – WINNER

Best Hip Hop Video

Chance the Rapper – “Same Drugs”

DJ Khaled ft. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper & Lil Wayne – “I’m The One”

D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty – “Broccoli”

Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.” – WINNER

Big Sean – “Bounce Back”

Migos ft. Lil Uzi Vert – “Bad & Boujee”

Best New Artist

Julia Michaels

Khalid – WINNER

Kodak Black

Noah Cyrus

SZA

Young M.A

Song of Summer

Camila Cabello Feat. Quavo – “OMG”

Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi, Feat. Justin Bieber – “Despacito (Remix)”

DJ Khaled Feat. Rihanna and Bryson Tiller – “Wild Thoughts”

Fifth Harmony Feat. Gucci Mane – “Down” Ed Sheeran – “Shape of You”

Demi Lovato – “Sorry Not Sorry”

Shawn Mendes – “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back”

Lil Uzi Vert – “XO Tour Llif3” – WINNER

Video of the Year

Alessia Cara – “Scars To Your Beautiful”

Bruno Mars – “24K Magic”

DJ Khaled ft. Rihanna & Bryson Tiller – “Wild Thoughts”

Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.” – WINNER

The Weeknd – “Reminder”

Artist of the Year

Ariana Grande

Bruno Mars

Kendrick Lamar

Lorde

Ed Sheeran – WINNER

The Weeknd

Best Fight Against the System

Logic ft. Damian Lemar Hudson – “Black SpiderMan” – WINNER

The Hamilton Mixtape – “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” – WINNER

Big Sean – “Light” – WINNER

Alessia Cara – “Scars To Your Beautiful” – WINNER

Taboo ft. Shailene Woodley – “Stand Up / Stand N Rock #NoDAPL” – WINNER

John Legend – “Surefire” – WINNER


Patrick Green is Crave’s music editor. Follow the LA-based writer/director’s tales, lies, and exaggerations @ByPatrickGreen on TwitterFacebookVimeoInstagram