MTV VMAs: Taylor Swift Premieres New Video, Kendrick Lamar Takes Most Moon People and Social Issues Are Front and Center

2017’s MTV Video Music Awards featured a ton of fanfare, a few noteworthy performances and speeches, even less awards surprises and not much spark. The signature event, which in years past has offered artists a platform for stunts ranging from moving to controversial, felt a bit hollow this year, opting to play things more safely. Sure, a few speeches came close to rousing, and Kendrick Lamar lived up to his VMA performance standards with a literal scorcher, but the annual musical spectacle had little else in the way of surefire water cooler conversation.

Much of this year’s VMA hype surrounded Taylor Swift and her teased premiere for the video to her latest single, “Look What You Made Me Do.” Swift never showed up at the event, but her absence didn’t stop the debuting clip from shooting up the Youtube charts in just minutes. Host Katy Perry did not introduce the video, a hint that her and Swift’s relationship is still anything but smooth.

Taking on hosting duties for the year, Perry donned the moon person suit and launched into a monologue that reached otherworldly levels of cringe.”Even in the apocalypse, we deserve a great soundtrack,” she mercifully concluded. In Perry’s defense, one redeeming moment in her hosting duties was when the pop singer addressed the devestation in Texas, saying “All of us here at the VMAs are sending love to the people of southeastern Texas and everyone affected by Hurricane Harvey right now,” asking everyone to donate to the Red Cross. “We are praying for your safety and the days to come, and we stand with you as you rebuild because we’re all in this together.”

Every year, many tune in just for the performances, and with The Weeknd ducking out of his set this year, thankfully other explosive performances were there throughout the night to make up for the slack, including a fiery Kendrick Lamar mashup of “Humble” and “DNA” that featured daring dancers. Logic delivered a socially-charged performance of his song “1-800-273-8255,” named after the suicide prevention hotline, in which the rapper was joined on stage by survivors of suicide and those who lost someone to suicide.

One of the more interesting moments was when a flu-striken Lorde, who didn’t sing a single word, opted instead to give the audience an eyeful with her improvisational dance performance to “Homemade Dynamite.” They say dance like no one is watching, and that is exactly what Lorde accomplished as she jumped, glided and flung herself around the stage. Another fine moment of the evening was when (the now foursome) Fifth Harmony sprinkled a little salt on the world pop music drama, throwing shade at ex-member Camilla Cabello, by having a mysterious fifth “member” removed from the ensemble at the beginning of their set.

Ed Sheeran and Miley Cyrus took the stage and both giving performances that you would expect from either artist, and Khalid and Lil Uzi Vert held their own during there time on stage. Finally, Katy Perry and Nikki Minaj joined forces on “Swish Swish” to close the show, yet it wasn’t the slam dunk one would expect from the duo, but instead another akward moment in a long line of akward moments for Perry throughout the night.

A major highlight of most VMA’s is the speeches, and this show was no exception. Jared Leto offered a sincere and poignant tribute to two fallen comrades over the past year — Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington. Later, following her performance, Pink inspired some and moved others to tears with a speech aimed at showing her daughter to never be ashamed of who she is, a message she used to connect with everyone watching who struggle with self-acceptance. That may have been the night’s most impactful speech if it weren’t for Susan Bro, mother of fallen Charlottesville protestor Heather Heyer, who announced a new anti-hate foundation in her daughter’s name before introducing all six nominees for MTV’s newest award, Best Fight Against The System. All six nominees, Logic ft. Damian Lemar Hudson, The Hamilton Mixtape, Big Sean, Alessia Cara, Taboo ft. Shailene Woodley and John Legend were all honored with the award for using their voices and platforms to fight for social justice.

When it came most talked about awards for the night, Kendrick Lamar cleaned up as many expected he would, racking up six awards for “Humble,” including the most coveted Video of the Year award. But one category that did manage to allude Lamar was Artist of the Year, a distinction that went Ed Sheeran’s way. Other significant wins saw Khalid snag Best New Artist, an absent Zayn and Taylor Swift winning Best Collaboration, Fifth Harmony taking home the Best Pop award for “Down,” and Coldplay’s “Head Full of Dreams” getting the nod for Best Rock.

Overall, this year’s event stood firm with an overarching message of love and acceptance. Still, as uplifting as the event tried to be, the crowd was lacking many familiar faces and those in attendance seemed like they would rather be somewhere else, anywhere else. Many moments throughout the event felt terribly middling, and nothing ever quite connected with the same spark of past years. Things this time around just felt muted and afraid to make much noise.

MTV Video Music Awards took place at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. and aired Sunday night on MTV. A full list of winners can be found here.