MTV’s annual Video Music Awards are the network’s best-known television offering. So when he decided to go ahead with this year’s ceremony on Sunday, August 30 as a live show – making VMA 2020 the first major live awards show to take place since COVID-19 shut down events across America – the decision certainly turned heads.
With days to go, music fans still have no idea what to watch.
The VMAs were scheduled to take place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but MTV abruptly declined the venue two weeks ago after consulting with local health officials. Instead, the artists will appear in various locations outside of New York City boroughs; MTV and its parent company Viacom, however, were vague as to whether fans would be allowed to attend the shows, saying only audiences would be “limited.”
Since the massive outdoor stages are hard to keep a secret, photos of the facilities under construction have already been shared on social media. A video of a scene in Greenpoint – which fans have speculated is for Lady Gaga, one of the few confirmed performers – racked up more than 7,000 views on Twitter in one day. MTV and Viacom have been quiet about the specifics of security procedures. When Rolling stone asked VMAs what protocols were in place to prevent fans from trying to get a glimpse of their favorite stars on the day of the show, a spokesperson for ViacomCBS responded with the following statement: “Health and Safety of everyone involved is of the utmost importance. We have rigorous protocols in place, including testing and screening, and we work in close coordination with national and local authorities to ensure all guidelines are followed. All performers and crew go through quarantine and testing protocols and remain in quarantine when not rehearsing / playing / working. “
However, artists traveling to New York for the event have been declared exempt from the mandatory 14-day quarantine that other travelers face, CBS News reported on Monday. So if the artists arrive for the show, they don’t have to quarantine themselves for the usual two weeks before working and rehearsing, but MTV has asked them to do so during the off hours.
Music production experts say it’s not too early to put on a show of this scale if it can be done safely – but it involves details like online COVID-19 precautionary courses and setups socially remote stage and audio and lighting construction. “The reality is that this kind of televised event is often a shit show without having to deal with COVID, from a production point of view, ”says a behind-the-scenes expert, who asked to remain anonymous because they are not specifically involved in VMAs. “I would like a proof [of safety] before I sent one of my crew into the field. If there are four stages, will they be sure to have four production directors and four stage directors? Will everyone have the same health facility? “
But the list of performances itself is also a point of confusion for most music fans. While MTV said earlier this month that artists such as Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, The Weeknd, Miley Cyrus, BTS and Maluma would perform, it did not say which sets would be performing live from New York.
Stars Roddy Ricch and J Balvin have already been confirmed as performers – but the two have since withdrawn. Roddy broke the news of its cancellation on Instagram Live, saying the team “was doing everything in our power to make it work” but “due to COVID compliance issues at the last minute we had to cancel the performance.” Balvin, who lit up the VMA scene with Bad Bunny last year, has yet to give a public explanation. The star, however, is based in Colombia, where international travel has been banned with the only exceptions being cargo and humanitarian flights, and Balvin also announced he was recovering from COVID-19 earlier in August.
Other Will-They-Don’t-Want artists include Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, Harry Styles, and Taylor Swift, according to various rumors circulating in the music industry.
As this is the first VMA to occur since CBS and Viacom merged in December, parent company superiors have a guinea pig in their hands. This show is an opportunity to test a new model for other events – CBS presents both the Grammys and the Super Bowl, for example. CBS even made the decision to simultaneously air the show on a broadcast network for the first time, adding it to the Sunday night lineup on another of its channels, The CW. The goal is also to strengthen the ratings of the VMA in recent years. While 12.4 million people connected to VMAs on their TVs in 2011, that number was halved in 2012 and that number was only 4.9 million in 2019.
Much of this has to do with the general decline of cable television. The number of pay-TV households peaked in 2010 at 105 million and has since fallen to 82.9 million. To counter the problems in the television world, MTV says VMAs are still successful online: the show garnered 269 million “social / video” views in 2019, an 85% increase from the previous year , according to Conviva Social Insights. But if a fan passively watches a 15-second Instagram story while scrolling through their feed, is that considered a social / video view? Conviva representatives did not immediately respond when Rolling stone asked about the methodology of this metric.
All in all, the 2020 VMAs face significant pressure on Sunday. When MTV holds the annual celebration at the end of each summer, it’s essentially the one time of year when the network is relevant to younger generations, even if it seems to be hanging on to audiences by a thread. (If the video killed the radio star, the internet and its YouTube offspring are about to kill MTV.) But could the show’s many novelty points – from Lady Gaga’s return to the very first performance BTS’s highly anticipated VMA’s quirk of airing a live show during a pandemic and its new simulcast – spark renewed interest? At least we won’t find out for long.