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The VMAs are going where no awards show has gone before

What in the world can we expect from the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards, the first major awards show to take place during the pandemic? Outdoor stages are hurriedly being constructed across New York City, according to Rolling Stone. Lady Gaga has been holed up somewhere in the city all week, dyeing her hair blue and taking ice baths in preparation for her performance of "Rain On Me" with Ariana Grande, per her Instagram activity.

It’s certainly going to look different from broadcasts of the past: coronavirus complications forced the VMAs to go semi-virtual last minute — ditching its normal venue, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn — in order to adhere to social-distancing protocols. With covid-19 likely to stick around through the fall and winter, the VMAs are taking on lots more significance this year, by showing us what other high-profile entertainment events, like the Emmys or the Super Bowl, could look like in pandemic times.

The enduringly delightful Keke Palmer is hosting MTV’s live ceremony, and it sounds like she’s going to be doing a lot of, um, traveling. "It'll be a lot of darting from stage to stage, and showing the beautiful boroughs in New York," Palmer told USA Today. "There will be some consistent spots, but it will be a lot of traveling and movement throughout."

Speaking of those various stages, Rolling Stone pointed out it’s hard to keep the construction of huge outdoor stages quiet in a place like New York City. A video of a rehearsal taking place in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, on Twitter has accumulated over 200,000 views, with fans speculating it’s where Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga will perform on Sunday night.

Aside from the logistical challenges of safely producing multiple outdoor concerts at once, the VMAs has the threat of fans flocking to see their favorite artist perform to contend with. Unlike the Republican National Convention, which ushered 1,500 maskless civilians onto the White House lawn, MTV doesn’t want thousands of people crowding to catch a glimpse of Gaga, Grande or The Weeknd. But the VMAs were tight-lipped about the exact health and safety protocols in place.

A ViacomCBS spokesperson issued the following statement to Rolling Stone: “The health and safety of everyone involved is of the utmost importance. We’ve put rigorous protocols in place including testing and screening, and we’re working in close coordination with state and local officials to ensure all guidelines are being followed. All performers and crew are subject to quarantine and testing protocols and remain quarantined when not rehearsing/performing/working.”

Talent coming to New York weren’t required to quarantine for 14 days like other out-of-state travelers, however. It seems they’re just being regularly tested and told to lie low in their hotel rooms till Sunday night, kind of like the athletes in the NBA’s “bubble” or the actors working at Tyler Perry’s “camp quarantine.” Imagine how quickly the pandemic would be under control if all citizens had access to free, frequent covid-19 testing. My oh my, the difference a little fame and fortune make.

Anyhow, the VMAs will be pretty easy to watch live on Sunday night, even if you don’t have a cable subscription. It’ll be on MTV (of course) as well as The CW, making this the first year the VMAs will air on broadcast TV. You can also stream the show online at vma.mtv.com starting at 8 PM Eastern. In addition to Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, and The Weeknd, musicians like BTS, Black Eyed Peas, Miley Cyrus, DeBaby, Doja Cat, Maluma, and CNCO are slated to perform. Roddy Ricch and J Balvin were both supposed to appear but dropped out due to coronavirus complications.