The Vast Emptiness of the VMAs Red Carpet

The Vast Emptiness of the VMAs Red Carpet

by Evan Ross Katz

A red carpet amidst a pandemic? "Sounds very 2020... let's do it," thought the brains at MTV, who enacted a "show must go on" directive for this year's Video Music Awards. The show was held on Sunday night at Brooklyn's Barclays Center, sans audience but with plenty of pre-taped crowd cheering. Host Keke Palmer dedicated the ceremony to Chadwick Boseman during her opening speech, and she wasn't the only one seizing on the opportunity to make the night more meaningful. "It's really hard for me to celebrate right now and enjoy this moment, so I'm just going to say: justice for Jacob Blake and justice for Breonna Taylor," The Weeknd shared after winning video of the year and best R&B for "Blinding Lights."

Beyond that, the night might as well have been renamed the Video Gaga Awards. Lady Gaga picked up five moonmen, including Artist of the Year, Song of the Year ("Rain On Me" with Ariana Grande), Best Collaboration and Best Cinematography, along with the newly minted MTV Tricon Award (possibly a renaming of the Video Vanguard Award, which was not presented last night). Cementing the "fashion" category of her tricon status, Gaga showed out in nine looks, one for every nomination.

Look 1: Area Fall 2020 Couture heart quilted parka with a helmet by CONRAD and shoes by Pleaser Shoes.

Look 2: Custom technicolor Iris van Herpen Haute Couture with a mask by Cecilio Castrillo and shoes by Pleaser Shoes.

Look 3: Christopher John Rogers Fall 2020 "Baja Blast" silk taffeta ball skirt and cropped kimono blouse with a mask by Lance Victor Moore and a necklace by House of Emmanuele.

Look 4: Maison Valentino Fall 2020 silver sequin jumpsuit and white tulle and organdi feather-embroidered coat with a mask by MaisonMet and shoes by Pleaser Shoes.

Look 5: Custom Candice Cuoco liquid chrome ruffled winged, train coat with a bra and choker by Manuel Albarran, MaisonMet mask, Lance Victor Moore face armor and Maison Valentino bodysuit.

Look 6: Custom Vex Clothing jade-green latest harness cup bra, fishnet gloves and matching garters with a custom sound reactive mask by Diego Montoya in collaboration with Smooth Technology and with custom laser cut lucite embellishments by ISLYNYC.

Look 7: Custom Deadly Fetish lilac and black latex bra, briefs and leg garter with a studded custom Vex Clothing one sleeved-bolero and latex glove with a digital mask by Diego Montoya/Smooth Technology.

Look 8: Custom BCALLA catsuit with a digital mask by Diego Montoya/Smooth Technology, Edward Avedis belt and Saint Laurent shoe.

Look 9: A graphic MTV T-shirt and shoes by Pleasers.

The whole spectacle was a triumph, a victory lap of sorts with elements of oddity accenting looks that always felt fashion and never costume. Particular attention should be paid and respected to the CJR look, which felt like a pointed meeting of two of the creative world's most spirited minds. She wore the dress. But also, the dress wore her. It offered up balance. It was a sort-of fashion tête-à-tête that we were all lucky enough to be privy to. "I'm speechless," Rogers wrote on Instagram. "One of the women who've singlehandedly inspired me the most and allowed me to dream about what fashion could be, and what fashion can do, is wearing something my team and I dreamed up just a few months ago in a fashion-week fury."

Beyond Gaga, though, the red carpet was garish. Mugler, once a rare red carpet sighting, seemed to be everywhere — and I'm not so sure that's a good thing: Ariana Grande in a blue bodysuit and matching skirt from the Fall 2020 collection, Miley Cyrus in an embroidered dress and gloves from the Fall 2020 collection, Madison Beer trailing in Mugler Spring 2020.

Versace was also in abundance on the carpet, maybe too much so. Maluma wore a bespoke Atelier Versace black suit with the house's signature Medusa details; Doja Cat wore a Spring 2020 (again with the last season) mini-dress enriched with jungle-inspired embroidery; Joey King wore a Pre-Fall 2020 mini-dress in a neon tie-dye rose print.

Sofia Carson wore Giambattista Valli Haute Couture Fall 2020; Drew Barrymore wore Celine Spring 2020; Bella Hadid wore Nensi Dojaka x SSENSE; Nicole Richie wore Cong Trie; Bebe Rexha wore Lionne Clothing.

On the men's side there wasn't much. Jaden Smith wore a Chanel-like cropped sweater jacket that featured jeans with a shrewdly placed crotch rip, pink sunnies and platform New Balances. Eye-catching and chic, but ultimately unmemorable. It was very "if Jonathan Anderson directed Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." The only other competition came courtesy of Machine Gun Kelly, in a bright pink Berluti suit from Kris Van Assche's Fall 2020 collection. He looked good. I prefer Andrew Scott's crimson-red double-breasted Berluti suit with the layered shimmering pink silk disco shirt that he wore to the 2020 SAG Awards. In comparison, MGK's look feels rather unremarkable.

A part of me wishes there were more looks to talk about, to conjure the excitement that red carpets once brought about, but the lack of stars only served to underline the reality that we're not quite ready for an awards show in this capacity. Had Gaga not shown up last night, we'd be left talking about DaBaby's D*lce & G*bbana hat, Supreme jacket and Louis Vuitton shorts. In other words, we'd have nothing. And maybe that is how it's meant to be for now.

Of course last night wasn't awash, with Gaga encouraging folks to wear masks — "It's a sign of respect," the Tricon pronounced — and celebs like Palmer and The Weeknd using their spotlight to recast focus away from the spectacle and back to the real-life issues that pervade. But for now, despite a "NOW OPEN" sign, the red carpet remains an empty walk.

Welcome to "Wear Me Out,"a column by pop culture fiend Evan Ross Katz that takes a look at the week in celebrity dressing. From award shows and movie premieres to grocery store runs, he'll keep you up to date on what your favorite celebs have recently worn to the biggest and most inconsequential events.

Photos via Getty