The MTV Video Music Awards have earned notoriety for their made-for-television shock moments but in the era of Donald Trump, the gala is set to take on a new political bent.
The awards, which the youth culture network will broadcast worldwide Sunday evening from Los Angeles, for the first time will honor not just videos but activism with a new prize for “Best Fight Against the System.”
Reflecting the shifting cultural norms, the VMAs this year have also gone gender-neutral, abolishing separate male and female categories and rechristening its space-themed “Moonman” statuette as the “Moon Person.”
Pop superstar Katy Perry, fresh from a racy new album, will serve as host of the awards — which traditionally have been more closely watched for off-the-wall incidents than for news of the winners.
Perry has been one of the most prominent names in the left-leaning celebrity world to campaign vigorously against Trump’s agenda — and VMA participants hinted there could be moments of advocacy from the stage Sunday.
“The system is messed up right now; a lot of people are unhappy. It feels like a lot of voices aren’t being heard in this country,” said Terrence J, the former star of the music video countdown on Black Entertainment Television who will be part of the VMA broadcast.
“Instead of just watching the show, we’re going to see a moment,” he said.
The nominees for “Best Fight Against the System” include John Legend’s “Surefire,” which depicts anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States.
Other contenders include a celebratory tune about immigrants from the blockbuster musical “Hamilton” as well as an anthem against the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline led by Taboo of The Black Eyed Peas.
– ‘Despacito’ in margins –
Despite the tone, the VMAs have not been without their own controversy.
“Despacito” — the infectious reggaeton track led by Luis Fonsi — did not initially receive a single nomination even though the video has quickly become the most watched of all time on YouTube.
The absence was reportedly due to snafus in the submission process for nominations. MTV later included “Despacito” — its remixed version with Justin Bieber — in a category of “Song of the Summer,” which like other key awards is determined by fans’ voting.
Kendrick Lamar, one of the most acclaimed figures in hip-hop, leads the night with eight nominations. His “HUMBLE.,” ironically looks at fame as he dresses as the pope and as Jesus in “The Last Summer.”
Tied for second at five nominations are Perry for her sci-fi amusement park fantasy video “Chained to the Rhythm” and The Weeknd, the young R&B sensation who will be among the performers Sunday.
– ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy (in 2017)?’ –
Other stars set to take the stage include Lorde, Ed Sheeran, Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus — whose appearances were once almost guaranteed to raise eyebrows but who has appeared to tone down her music for her latest album which comes out next month.
Taylor Swift, one of the biggest names in pop music and a sometimes rival to Perry, will use the VMAs to premiere the video for “Look What You Made Me Do,” the vengeful dance track that she released Friday as the first track of her upcoming album.
Among classic acts, the VMAs will feature the English crooner Rod Stewart who has promised a new take on his 1978 hit “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” with the much younger dance-rock group DNCE.
P!NK, often seen as one of the most substantive stars in mainstream pop, will receive the Video Vanguard Award in recognition of lifetime achievement.
The VMAs nearly every year generate headlines for head-scratching moments such as Lady Gaga wearing a dress of raw meat, Kanye West vowing to run for president and Britney Spears and Madonna making out for the cameras.