With most of music industry's top acts absent, from Beyonce to Bruno Mars, the MTV Video Music Awards lacked star power and felt flat, and some of the winners turned heads for the wrong reasons.
New York rapper Cardi B kicked off the MTV Video Music Award (VMA) show on Monday, where politics quickly took centre stage with a performance highlighting US President Donald Trump's controversial immigration policies.
Dozens of immigrant children and their families, wearing white t-shirts saying "We are all human beings," joined rapper Logic on the VMA stage in New York City for his song "One Day."
The song and a new music video protest the zero tolerance policy that saw thousands of immigrant children separated from their parents in June after crossing the southern border with Mexico without documents.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance said in a statement that they and two other groups had helped to organise the performance.
Cardi B, in her first public appearance since giving birth to her first child in July, picked up an early win for song of summer for her dance hit "I Like It" with J Balvin and Bad Bunny.
The 25-year-old singer went into Monday's fan-voted ceremony with a leading 10 nominations after a breakthrough year that saw a string of brash female empowerment hits like "Bodak Yellow."
It was also a big night for recently engaged Ariana Grande, 25, who won the best pop video award for "No Tears Left to Cry" and was making her first public outing with fiance Pete Davidson.
Jennifer Lopez brought the audience to its feet with a song and dance medley of her biggest hits as she was presented with MTV's annual Vanguard Award, named after Michael Jackson, recognising her 20 years in show business.
"It's been an incredible journey of dreaming my wildest dreams, and then watching them come true," said Lopez.
Cardi B and Bruno Mars, Beyonce and husband Jay-Z, and Childish Gambino are competing for the top prize - video of the year - against Grande's "No Tears Left to Cry," Camila Cabello's "Havana," and Drake's "God's Plan."
But Beyonce and Jay-Z, along with Gambino, Bruno Mars and Drake were among several top artists not attending the ceremony in New York City.
Performing as The Carters, Beyonce and Jay -Z earned eight nominations for their "APES**T" video, which was shot inside the Louvre in Paris against the backdrop of some of the world's most famous art works.
Childish Gambino, the music stage name of actor Donald Glover, earned seven nominations for his hard-hitting video "This Is America" about black identity and police brutality.
The VMAs, the first gathering of top music artists since the death last week of Aretha Franklin, will honour the soul singer during the show, organisers have said, but no details have been given of what is planned.