KeKe Palmer

In an evening marked by pleas for justice, VMA host Keke Palmer spoke of the need to “step up, take to the streets and make sure our voices will be heard. Enough is enough.”

With protests against racial injustice happening all across the country, artists at Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards used the platform to reflect how hard the year has been, even as they came to celebrate achievements.

Host Keke Palmer set the tone at the beginning of the night by recognizing that strength comes amid struggle. She also dedicated the evening to the late actor Chadwick Boseman, whose death from cancer at the age of 43 shocked the many fans he earned for his portrayals of Black icons, including Black Panther.

"With the Black Lives Matter movement, we’ve seen our generation step up, take to the streets and make sure our voices will be heard. Enough is enough," said Palmer, before mentioning the police shooting of Jacob Blake that has spawned nightly protests.

“What we just witnessed in Kenosha, Wisconsin, is yet another devastating reminder that we can’t stop, that we can never tolerate police brutality or any injustice,” she said. “We must continue the fight to end systematic racism.”

The Weeknd had the first performance of the night with "Blinding Lights," amid the skyscrapers of New York City. But he seemed heartbroken when he accepted two awards during the evening, including video of the year, saying it was hard to feel like celebrating, before asking for justice for Blake and Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her Louisville, Kentucky, home by police in a botched drug raid.

H.E.R. won the video for good award for her song "I Can’t Breathe," which includes footage from demonstrations as well as lists the names and faces of those whose deaths sparked thousands to take action against systematic racism.

Lady Gaga appeared in many different outfits and corresponding masks during the show, and dominated the night with a performance with Ariana Grande. The singer and actress encouraged fans to "be kind, mask up," during a performance of "Stupid Love," then later added that wearing a mask is a sign of respect.

Gaga was recognized for philanthropy and her activism on LGBTQ rights, and she asked fans to think about what defines them.

“I wish for you to think right now of three things that define who you are and take a moment to reward yourself for your bravery,” she said. “This has not been an easy year for a lot of people, but what I see in the world is a massive triumph of courage.”

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