New York City has partially reopened during the past few weeks, but concerts and other mass gatherings are still banned and there’s no timetable for when that might change. That’s why many people were a little surprised earlier this week when Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the MTV Video Music Awards would take place at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on August 30th.
“Among the measures all parties involved have aligned to include extensive social distancing procedures, meaningful capacity limitations, the virtualization of components where possible, and limited capacity or no audience,” MTV said in a statement. “Details and potential options to come at a later date based on the science and data in New York.”
The VMAs have been held everywhere from Los Angeles to Miami to Newark, but the show has been staged in New York City 18 times over the past 36 years. That includes the first one back in 1984. Dan Aykroyd and Bette Midler hosted that year. The Cars somehow won Video of the Year for “You Might Think” even though they were up against Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” (The fans were a little more sensible and gave Jackson the “Viewers’s Choice” award.) David Bowie picked up Best Male Video for “China Girl” and Cyndi Lauper scored Best Female Video for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
Madonna made history that night by seductively rolling around on the ground in a wedding dress while singing “Like a Virgin,” but there were also performances by Rod Stewart, Huey Lewis and the News, Tina Turner, ZZ Top, Ray Parker Jr., and David Bowie. They gave Bowie the Video Vanguard Award and he played his new single “Blue Jean” in a pre-taped segment from London. Check it out right here.
The VMAs have gone through many highs and lows since that first installment. In the Nineties, the show was a major cultural event that managed to eclipse even the Grammys year after year, but the streaming era has not been kind to it, and its audience is a fraction of what it was back then. The pandemic does give MTV an opportunity to completely rethink the show from the ground up. Whether or not any major artist wants to schlep to Brooklyn and perform in the middle of this, though, is still very much an open question.