What You Didn't See At The 2020 VMAs

The 2020 MTV Video Music Awards looked a lot different than the VMA's in years past, which made the beginning of Lady Gaga's performance — where she played some footage from the 1999 ceremony — all the more poignant. On August 30th, 2020, there was no Lil' Kim donning an exposed breast as an accessory and no Miley Cyrus twerking on a middle-aged Robin Thicke in a nude, latex bodysuit and scandalizing grandmothers across middle America. Yeah, Cyrus was there, but she danced (and didn't even twerk) all by her lonesome. 

Unlike previous years, the 2020 ceremony, which was hosted by Keke Palmer, was mostly remote and prerecorded. The red carpet, which is notoriously the most raucous of any awards show lest Gaga's meat dress prove us wrong, happened in advance, and there was an audience of nearly no one. Any applause was, almost certainly, a sound effect. The hottest accessory, which was evident in Gaga's various outfit changes, was a face mask. In other words: it may not have been the most exciting VMAs in history, but that's a hard bar to live up to considering the awards show is generally one of the less stuffy and formal of televised award shows. Nonetheless, as the first major awards show to attempt to have an in-person ceremony during the pandemic, some interesting things definitely happened behind-the-scenes. Here's what you didn't see at the 2020 VMAs.

The show was moved from Barclays Center at the last minute

The 2020 MTV VMAs may have aired on a Sunday night, but that's not when most of it was filmed. According to Page Six, MTV took extremely stringent measures in order to follow CDC guidelines amid COVID-19 concerns. This meant that the show wouldn't be held at Brooklyn's Barclays center like originally planned. Instead, it was set for various outdoor locations across New York City, the once-epicenter of the virus, to pay homage to the city's resilience. New York tough, baby!

"The VMAs will highlight the boroughs in an exciting show and return to Barclays Center in 2021. MTV will continue to work closely with the Department of Health, state and local officials, the medical community, and key stakeholders to ensure the safety of all involved," a rep told Page Six in a statement.

Per Page Six's report, talent was forced "to quarantine for three to four days" before they were scheduled to shoot — which seems at odds with some of the interstate travel quarantine guidelines set by Governor Andrew Cuomo. For example, at the time of this writing, those traveling from California are required to quarantine for 14 days, so hopefully, they did that, too. In addition, those on-set, including makeup artists and management, had to get tested when they arrived and before the performance. To limit physical contact, performers did pre-show red carpet interviews, rehearsals, and their actual performance "within the same day or week."

What happened to The Weeknd's face?

The Weeknd may have been socially distant throughout his epic performance at the MTV VMA's, but it'd be hard to stand six feet away from his massive presence. The star absolutely cleaned up with his video for "Blinding Lights," which scored him the award for both Video of the Year and Best R&B Video. Before racking up awards, though, the singer caused a major stir when he emerged bloody and bruised in public. So what happened to his face?

No, the Weeknd didn't get into a pre-VMAs fistfight. There's no drama here. According to Page Six, the singer was merely "mimicking the battered look he had in a recent short film" for After Hours, his most recent album. He happened to leave the hotel in his stage makeup, worrying fans, who he stopped to sign autographs for. He also sported the look during his Saturday Night Live performance some months prior, but the paps will blow anything out of proportion. In all fairness, the makeup was pretty shocking and lifelike, but the dude wasn't trying to pull a Jussie Smollett. It was an artistic statement.

The VMAs confused Manhattan with a late night fireworks display

Prior to the televised event, New York City was hit with a wildly mysterious and slightly enraging show: a full Macy's-sized display of fireworks that shot off from the Hudson at 11 p.m. on a Thursday night. Yes, we're mostly working from home, but does that mean we don't need sleep? 

According to the New York Post, the "coordinated display" was originally scheduled for 8 p.m. but postponed by three hours because of the weather. An hour before midnight, it shot off from three barges, sending Twitter on a wild goose chase of who could possibly be responsible and why? As one user tweeted (via the New York Post), "Too late for this nonsense!!!"

Well, New Yorkers, after three days of stewing in anger and caffeine, we've finally found the culprit. You can thank The Weeknd, who probably could've waited for the weekend to wake up all of the West Side and parts of New Jersey. According to Page Six, the singer shot his pre-recorded performance on Thursday from the Edge in Hudson Yards, which also meant there were some pretty loud, low-flying helicopters circling around the area if the fireworks weren't annoying enough. He also "did another shoot" from a second, undisclosed location somewhere in Brooklyn. If the performance wasn't so epic, we'd probably be yelling for everyone to just get off our lawn — or concrete.

Why Taylor Swift skipped the ceremony

Taylor Swift and her video for "The Man" were up for some major Moonmen this year, despite the fact that she's already moved on from Lover and ushered in the Folklore era with all its cozy, cardigan-clad comfort. The singer-songwriter was nominated for Video of the Year, Video for Good, Best Art Direction, Song of the Summer, Best Pop, and Best Direction. She won the latter award — for the first video she ever directed in her sprawling career — and delivered a selfie-style message from what appeared to be an office or bedroom. Okay, but why wasn't she at the awards show? 

Swifty is at the point in her career where she doesn't need to go to any awards show, and with the novel coronavirus pandemic, the singer has chosen to quarantine with her boyfriend Joe Alwyn. According to E!, the pair went on vacation to Park City, Utah, earlier in the month before heading to Los Angeles to let the rest of August sip away like a bottle of wine. She said she'd never walk Cornelia Street again, and she meant it!

Lady Gaga was beyond excited for the VMAs

Lady Gaga, the VMAs' resident artist of the year, was absolutely hyped for the awards show, even if it meant social distancing from nearly anyone who wasn't Ariana Grande or a backup dancer. The pair, who won Best Collaboration, performed their single "Rain On Me," and Mother Monster showed off an epic collection of face masks, making us entirely rethink the homemade masks we bought from Etsy.

From the looks of it, the VMAs were the highlight of Gaga's quarantine, if only because there's not a ton you can do while promoting an album you released during widespread lockdowns when the live entertainment industry is almost at a full stop. In July, the star shared an emotional, bare-faced selfie where she revealed that she's "so grateful and so blessed" to have scored nine nominations for her album Chromatica"This is such a difficult time for people all over the world, I really honor how lucky I am to have a day like today," she wrote in the Instagram caption. "I hope you all will celebrate yourselves in this moment, everyone should be nominated for an award right now. For bravery, for courage, for the strong human spirit." 

Leave it to Gaga to always be inspiring. She followed up that message a month later, asking, "Can it be tomorrow so I can perform for my fans?" Can this entire thing be over so anyone can perform for their fans?

Maluma had strict rules for his audience

Colombian artist Maluma, who won the award for Best Latin Video, planned an unexpected feat during the MTV VMAs. He performed in front of a live audience with CNCO. Remember live audiences? According to TMZ, this took some careful planning. They opened up the casting to only "super fans," who would be socially distant during the outdoor show at Skyline Drive-In movie theater. Like you expect from a performance shot in a drive-in, the audience sat in cars, not dissimilar to the Chainsmokers' socially distant concert that made headlines for not actually being socially distant. This time, though, people appeared to be following the rules.

In the casting call, Maluma expressed that fans must live in the NYC area and could only bring an additional person if they lived together. The fans also had to take a COVID-19 test on August 23 and lock themselves down until the show. He didn't appear to have any problems enlisting fans, and it was one of the few audiences of the night.

Ariana Grande glammed from home

Ariana Grande didn't attend the MTV VMAs — at least not on the day it happened because there was no day it happened. Nonetheless, the star decided to dress up and celebrate from home. According to Elle, the ceremony marked the first time Grande and Lady Gaga sang their single "Rain On Me," and the pair won the award for Best Collaboration and Song of the Year. Additionally, Grande was nominated for a handful of other awards, including a second Best Collaboration nomination for her song with Justin Bieber. That's a big deal and deserves a fierce red carpet — or white wall — moment.

In an Instagram post, Grande showed off her VMA day look, a sleek leather mini skirt and a turtleneck combination by Mugler. Instead of her signature ponytail, she opted for two high pigtails. "Happy VMA day ::) so excited for u see our first rain on me performance tonight," she wrote. "Just want to say thank you to @MTV being so diligent in making this such a safe & healthy experience for all of the performers and crew involved. it's so greatly appreciated and i can't imagine how difficult it was to figure out!" Who says quarantine can't be glamorous?

Keke Palmer got nostalgic

Keke Palmer hosted the 2020 VMAs, but you might have never known from looking at her. Behind the scenes, the star had been throwing it back to a simpler era: the nineties. We never thought a year could possibly have us nostalgic from crimped hair and dial-up Internet, yet here we are.

In her first throwback post, the actress channeled the spice girls in a chrome mini dress with a baby blue purse. Are we getting hints of Baby Spice in there? A day prior to the show, Palmer took to Instagram to show off what she would've worn if she hosted the ceremony back in the iconic era of Diana Ross' infamous Lil' Kim breast jiggle. Honestly, she looked fly — like a member of TLC kind of fly. The girl certainly wasn't chasing waterfalls in that brown satin getup. After that, she moved into the noughties and channeled "Dirrty"-era Christina Aguilera (you may know her as solely X-tina). Honestly, if there's one thing Palmer has taught us this year, it's that 2020 is sorely lacking in dyed patent pleather.

Bella Hadid ran into her ex looking like a '90s bombshell

We can't say that Bella Hadid totally knew she'd run into her ex-boyfriend, The Weeknd, while filming the MTV VMAs. All we do know is that she wore a completely sheer outfit with an exposed g-string just in case the situation casually arose. Clearly, she's learning some stuff from Khloe Kardashian's Revenge Body.

According to a report from Daily Mail, the pair were reportedly stuck in the same shoot location on Friday, where a source claimed they "played it cool and crossed paths with each other, same place, same time." They appeared to be "on good terms," but the following day, The Weeknd was spotted "looking somewhat contemplative" while walking around the waterfront at Battery Park City. We're not sure what that means. Maybe he was thinking about how all of New York secretly hated him for setting off three barges worth of fireworks near midnight. Maybe he missed Hadid. Who knows?

Per our own report, the couple dated on and off from 2015 until 2019, citing work commitments as the primary reason behind their split. So, what does it mean now that work commitments have brought them together?