Back in March, when Lady Gaga was gearing up to unveil her sixth album Chromatica to the world, she gave a clue about how the music would reach people. "I might sound silly," she said at the time, "but I'm on it right now — I'm not on another planet. If you see and listen to Chromatica, and you want to live there too, you're invited."
This year's shutdown of the touring industry has largely made it so that the only way to experience Chromatica was via the album itself. But at the 2020 VMAs, Gaga set about changing that, bringing Chromatica to electricity-filled life on the largest stage possible for a nine-minute medley of some of its most affecting numbers.
She began, as is the custom in 2020, at home — under a blanket and wearing a mask. But this is Lady Gaga, so the mask was actually mechanized with an LED pulse, which matched her angular, choreographed movements once she migrated to the stage alongside her fleet of dancers. She first ran through "911" in a strap-heavy outfit, quickly changing into her "Rain on Me" attire. Then it was time for the proper debut performance of the clubby song with Ariana Grande, the tune that earlier picked up the VMA for Best Collaboration.
Gaga sported a spiky shoulder, Grande rocked a pair of insanely high white platforms, a black mask, and long, long pigtails, and together, they reached that same synchronized jumping moment that makes their visual so affecting. Right as "Rain on Me" hit its apex, the masked pair showed how they're fearless in spite of hardship, anchoring each side of the stage (socially distanced), jumping to the house beat, liquefying themselves in unison before us.
By the end of the tune, they were both whipping their hair around, singing to the skies, and Grande even hit her patented whistle note at the song's climax — but Gaga still wasn't done.
After another quick costume change, she followed up "Rain on Me" with an intriguingly slowed-down, piano-led version of "Stupid Love" that found her playing at a piano that's also in the shape of a brain — in front of a knotty tangle of roots, in keeping with the Chromatica world's blending of the organic and the robotic. "I want you to love yourself tonight and every night, celebrate yourself, love who you are, be kind, mask up, be brave, and braver all the time," she said, walking toward the center of the stage for one final dance sequence. And then she was done, so she left via a ladder. She ascended, then disappeared once more under the blanket.
Gaga and Grande were this year's most-nominated artists, each nabbing nine nods, and it won Song of the Year as well. Their joint VMA "Rain on Me" performance, as a key entry in the Chromatica universe, marks a high water mark in a busy year for both of them. Accepting the Moon Person for Best Collaboration earlier in the night, Gaga celebrated the enduring uplifting power of the song with a simple message.
"This is for us," she said. "We turned our tears that felt like endless rainfall into diamonds."
The 2020 VMAs have kicked off across MTV's linear and digital platforms, as well as with several outdoor performances around New York City. Find the complete winners list here and everything else you need to know at vma.mtv.com.