The 2017 VMAs Embraced Resistance

The ceremony touched on racism, suicide, the transgender military ban and other hot-button issue. Oh, and music videos, too.

The Video Music Awards celebrate music and pop culture, but this year the ceremony also celebrated the spirit of resistance that has inspired so many to stand up to intolerance, injustice and indifference.

Honorees and presenters addressed white supremacy, suicide prevention and the ban against transgender service members, among other hot-button issues.

Four active transgender service members and two veterans walked the red carpet, in response to Donald Trump’s ban on trans personnel in the Armed Forces.

Susan Bro—the mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed in Charlottesville—took the stage at the Forum to announce the winner of the Best Fight Against the System award (which was shared by all six nominees).

Michael Tran/FilmMagic

She also announced a foundation in her daughter’s name with the descendant of Robert E Lee. “Only 15 days ago, my daughter was killed as she protested racism,” said Bro. “I miss her, but I know she’s here tonight.”

Paris Jackson also addressed the violence in Virginia, calling on young Americans to stand up to “Nazi white supremacist jerks.”

“We as a nation with liberty as our slogan—we have zero tolerance for their violence, their hatred and their discrimination. We must resist.”

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Most artists avoided referring to Donald Trump directly, though host Katy Perry made a sly reference from the stage. “Listen, guys, this is one election where the popular vote actually matters,” said the “Swish Swish” singer, who campaigned for Hillary Clinton. “So vote online, but hurry up, before some random Russian pop star wins!”

Others were more subtle in their digs.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Jared Leto paid tribute to rockers Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell, who took their own lives this year, while Logic performed his song “1-800-273-8255,” named after the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Introduced by Ellen DeGeneres, Video Vanguard honoree Pink used her spotlight to address self-esteem and gender stereotypes, recalling how her 6-year-old daughter, Willow, was told she was “the ugliest girl I know” and looked like “a boy with long hair.”



“Artists that live their truth, are probably made fun of every day of their lives, and carry on, and wave their flag, and inspire the rest of us,” said Pink, who presented a slideshow of androgynous rock stars like Prince and David Bowie. “”So, baby girl, we don’t change. We take the gravel in the shell and we make a pearl. And we help other people to change so that they can see more kinds of beauty.”

But there were award to give out, too: Kendrick Lamar was the night’s big winner—nabbing six Moonpersons, including Video of the Year for “Humble.” Directed by Dave Meyers, the video examines the trappings of fame and sees Lamar dressed up as pope and partaking in a “Last Supper.”

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Fifth Harmony won Best Pop Video award for “Down,” while Ed Sheeran was named Artist of the Year. Surprisingly, Taylor Swift skipped the VMAs, despite winning best collaboration for “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” her duet with Zayn, and debuting “Look What You Made Me Do” during the ceremony.

Is she really that sore at Katy Perry?

Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Below, view a list of all the evenings winners.

Video of the Year: Kendrick Lamar, Humble

Artist of the Year: Ed Sheeran

Best collaboration: Zayn and Taylor Swift, I Don’t Wanna Live Forever

Best New Artist: Khalid

Best Hip Hop: Kendrick Lamar, Humble

Best Dance: Zedd and Alessia Cara, Stay

Best Pop: Fifth Harmony feat. Gucci Mayne, Down

Best Fight Against the System: The Hamilton Mixtape, Immigrants (We Get the Job Done); Alessia Cara,
Scars to Your Beautiful; John Legend, Surefire,; Logic feat Damian Lemar Hudson, Black Spiderman; Big Sean, Light; Taboo feat. Shailene Woodley, Stand up/ Stand N Rock #NoDapl

Best Direction: Dave Meyers and The Little Homies (for Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble”)

Best Cinematography: Kendrick Lamar, Humble

Best Art Direction: Kendrick Lamar, Humble

Best Choreography: Kanye West, Fade

Song of the Summer: Lil Uzi Vert, XO Tour L1if3

Best Visual Effects: Katy Perry feat. Skip Marley, Chained to the Rhythm

Best Editing: Young Thug, Wyclef Jean

Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award: Pink

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.