Give them all the awards. Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s VMA performance of “Rain on Me” was everything we wanted and more. Grande and Gaga performed “Rain on Me” for the first time at the 37th annual MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday, August 30, where Gaga sang a medley of songs from her most recent album, Chromatica. The awards show, which was hosted by Keke Palmer, was held in New York City and is the first major awards show since TV and movie productions were halted in March. Though there wasn’t a live audience for the show, artists performed at locations across New York City for the VMAs. Some performances were also pre-recorded.
The performance started with Gaga on a couch as she watched a broadcast of the VMAs. It continued with her sliding down a pole before going into “911” from her May album, Chromatica. After “911,” she transitioned into “Rain on Me.” Midway through “Rain on Me” came Grande, who wore pigtails with a metallic purple dress and platform white boots. “Rain on Me” ended with Gaga improvising a rap verse of “Rain on Me” before she and Grande walked away. Next in Gaga’s Medley was an acoustic rendition of “Stupid Love,” which Gaga performed at a piano outfitted to look like a human brain. After she sang the chorus at the piano, Gaga went into a speech about “love” before she performed the studio version. She ended the performance by climbing back to the room she started in, where she laid on the couch.
“Rain on Me,” which was released on May 22, was a promotional single for Gaga’s sixth album, Chromatica, which debuted a week after the release of the duet. “Rain on Me,” which debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, was nominated for seven awards at the 2020 VMAs: Video of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Collaboration, Best Pop, Best Choreography, Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects. Gaga was also nominated for two separate categories: Artist of the Year and Best Quarantine Performance for her performance of “Smile” at the “One World: Together at Home” concert in April. Grande, for her part, also received two more nominations separate from her nods for “Rain on Me”: Best Collaboration for her May song “Stuck With U” with Justin Bieber and Best Music Video From Home for “Stuck With U.” Both Grande and Gaga led the 2020 VMA nominations with nine nominations each.
In an interview with Apple Music’s “New Music Daily” at the time of the release of “Rain on Me,” Gaga talked about her and Grande’s bond while recording and writing the song. “She was so wonderful,” she said. “I remember I said to her, ‘OK, now, everything that you care about while you sing, I want you to forget it and just sing. And by the way, while you’re doing that, I’m going to dance in front of you,’ because we had this huge big window…And she was like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God, I can’t, I can’t. I don’t know. Oh my God. OK, OK.'”
Gaga continued, “And then I did it and she sang, and she started to do things with her voice that [were] different. It was the joy of two artists going, ‘I see you…’ Humans do this. We create things that make us feel comfortable. We put them all around. I do it all the time. We all do things to make ourselves feel safe. And I always challenge artists when I work with them. I go, ‘Make it unsafe, make it super fucking unsafe and then do it again.’ And it was just awesome to watch her.”
Gaga also revealed that one of the song’s most memorable lines—”I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive”—came from a conversation she had with Grande that helped her through some sad emotions she was experiencing at that time. “She was, ‘You’re hiding.’ And I was, ‘I am hiding. I’m totally hiding.’ And then this friendship blossomed and this song ‘Rain On Me,’ the lyrics that I wrote right here in this studio, ‘I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive. Rain on me,'” Gaga recalled. “This is about an analog of tears being the rain. And you know what it’s also a metaphor for, is the amount of drinking that I was doing to numb myself. I’d rather be dry. I’d rather not be drinking, but I haven’t died yet. I’m still alive. Rain on me. OK, I’m going to keep on drinking. This song has many layers.”