The awards ceremony was dedicated to late Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman, who passed away over the weekend from a four-year battle with colon cancer.
The 43-year-old, best known for playing superhero T’Challa in the Marvel films among other notable films, had privately fought the illness since being diagnosed in 2016.
Boseman’s family announced his death, saying he died surrounded by loved ones.
The VMAs opened on a sombre note, with host Keke Palmer paying tribute to Boseman, whose other film roles included playing baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson in 42 and soul singer James Brown in Get On Up.
Palmer said: “Before we get into the music tonight, we need to talk about the devastating loss of Chadwick Boseman, an actor whose talent and passion is a true inspiration to all the fans he touched and everyone he encountered.”