Kendrick Lamar and Ed Sheeran won the top prizes at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) on Sunday, but an absent Taylor Swift and lifetime achievement honoree Pink dominated the show.
An angry Swift took on her critics in the world premiere of the music video for her first solo single in three years, “Look What You Made Me Do.”
The satirical music video depicted Swift, 27, crawling out of a grave and declaring her old self dead in a portrayal of a hard-edged artist with nothing left to lose, drawing more than 470,000 views on Youtube within an hour of its premiere.
Lamar, who went into Sunday’s event in Los Angeles with a leading eight nominations, kicked off the show with a medley that featured dancers in flames.
The California rapper went home with six statuettes, including the top award for video of the year and best hip hop video for “Humble.”
British singer-songwriter Sheeran was voted artist of the year.
Despite days of fevered speculation, Swift herself was a no-show, though she won the only category in which she had been nominated – best collaboration for “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” with Zayn Malik.
Nevertheless, her new video quickly became one of the show’s most talked-about moments, largely overshadowing performances by the likes of Sheeran, Fifth Harmony and Lorde.
The video ended with Swift reviving all the personas of her music career – from gawky, guitar playing 16-year old to poised Grammy winner – and having them call each other out for being fake, pretending to be nice and playing the victim.
Hosting the VMA show was Swift’s long-time rival, Katy Perry, who made her entrance from the ceiling wearing a space suit and ended the three-hour event with a performance of single “Swish Swish” with Nicki Minaj.
Pink, the winner of the 2017 Vanguard Award, gave a speech about beauty and acceptance directed to her six year-old daughter Willow, who was in the audience, that moved many to tears.
“Baby girl, we don’t change,” the singer said. “We take the gravel and the shell and we make a pearl, and we help other people to change so they can see other kinds of beauty.”
The event also showcased social issues.
Six transgender military service men and woman walked the VMA red carpet, and a group of suicide survivors stood silently on stage during a performance of the song “1-800 273-8255”, the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.