The MTV Video Music Awards have earned something of a bad reputation over the years. As we’ll discuss, the winners (let alone nominees) often seem like they were chosen for the fan appeal more than their artistic achievements and there is a major lack of real respect for the categories that don’t involve the talent. But as much as MTV hates to hear it, the VMAs are pretty much an institution at this point and that can actually be a good thing.
For 35 years the performances at the VMAs have pushed the more lauded Grammy Awards to new heights and showcased performers who might not get such a big spotlight. Moreso, every so often the VMAs find a way to remind us of what creativity and new technology can achieve in the context of a live event (anyone remember Beyonce’s jaw-dropping 15 minute number in 2016?) . And when impressive performances by Miley Cyrus and Rosalia become afterthoughts because of a wealth of eye-popping moments, well, you might find yourself with more “bests” than “worsts” when reflecting on MTV’s big night.
WORST: Taylor Swift’s opening number
That was odd. Swift came out with the whole gang from her “You Need To Calm Down Video” under a large rainbow, but despite dancers and some well-known “RuPaul’s Drag Race” dance queens only sang about half the song. She then segued to a guitar and mic to perform “Lover,” the title track from her own album, by herself. It was bizarrely anti-climatic? Why didn’t she flip them and sing “Lover” first to end with a more upbeat song? So, so strange.
WORST: Wait, who was the host again?
It was comedian Sebastian Maniscalco and despite selling out arenas across the country he hasn’t really popped in the mainstream media yet. It also seems, by his comedy, that his audience is, um, decades older than even the high bar of the VMA audience? Maniscalco certainly was game for the challenge, but his opening monologue felt more like 1999 than 2019 and he simplydisappeared throughout the show. Someone could watch most of the telecast and think there actually wasn’t a host. We’ll give him credit for one off the cuff line about Shawn Mendes, but that was low hanging comedy fruit. Someone needs to do a 30 for 30 about how or why Maniscaloco got this gig in the first place.
French Montana reminded everyone he was an immigrant and so were most of the nominees in the Best Latin category. There was J. Balvin reminding everyone about the fires in the Amazon. Taylor Swift reminded viewers that a petition in support of the Equality Act now has 500,000 signatures still hadn’t been recognized by the White House despite the fact it has three times the amount needed to earn such a response and H.E.R. took on a number of issues with her signature song “Anti.” Sure, no one said “Trump, but with most stars avoiding speaking out on pressing issues on awards shows over the past year it was refreshing to see the music industry realize the VMAs are a platform to get people’s attention on the pressing issues in the world.
French Montana presenting the Best Latin award at the VMAs: "As an immigrant, I feel like we are the people that make this country."
Via MTV pic.twitter.com/zupbDlpER5
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) August 27, 2019
She blew up at Coachella. She shocked at the BET Awards. She was the only memorable part of the 2019 MTV Movie Awards. And she killed it at the 2019 MTV VMAs while performing under an iconic image of a giant ass floating in the air. Honestly, at this point, this year’s major breakout star might want to take a break from live televised performances until the Grammy telecast in January. Lizzo is going to get a ton of major nominations (I mean, she better) and that appearance could be one for the ages. Until then, this one was pretty much neck and neck with her BET Awards moment.
BEST: Jonas Bros.
Beginning at the legendary rock club The Stone Pony in nearby Asbury Park, the Jonas Bros. stepped outside the venue into a sea of fans as they made their way to a stage close the boardwalk. Not only was this direction and execution of this sequence worthy of an Emmy nomination, but the Jonas clan’s live performance of both “Sucker” (a potential Song of the Year Grammy nominee) and “Only Human” were on fire. The cloudy evening with the sun peeking through actually provided a more dramatic backdrop than the producers of the show could have hoped for. And that drone (or helicopter) shot as the fireworks went off? I mean, top notch production.
BEST: Jersey’s Hip-Hop Reunion
Naughty by Nature, Queen Latifah, Redman, Wyclef Jean and Fetty Wap pulled out a medly of Jersey hip-hop classics to celebrate the VMAs broadcasting out of Newark. This could have gone very wrong, but with Naughty and Latifah leading the way it was one of the highlights of the night. And why did Latifah stop rapping again? She’s still got it.
WORST: Too much product placement
It was simply a bit much. Toyota clearly paid for the Jonas Bros out of area showcase, Pepsi was all over the “we can’t be here” sit down salutes to Missy Elliot and Extra Gum was part of a pre-taped performance that was utterly forgettable. In this era of diminishing ratings sponsorship pays the bills, but honestly Viacom, this was a bit much.
BEST: Missy Elliott has her moment
After an incredible live performance celebrating her major hits (we see you Alyson Stoner), Cardi B presenting Missy Elliott a very long overdue Video Vanguard honor. And frankly, it was the perfect choice. Missy was just as big as Cardi is now in her day and arguably more influential for her musical and visual contributions (some of which Timbaland deserves some credit for). However, watching Elliott on stage, I can’t remember the last time a recipient seemed to get so much genuine love from their peers and the audience in attendance. Now if they only would watch her incredible new video for “Throw it Back” and stream it some it finds some life on the charts.
BEST: That Stage (!)
If moving the VMAs from Barclays Center or STAPLES to Newark allowed the production enough extra coin for what turned out to be a simply stunning set we endorse a return next year. From Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello‘s “Senorita” to Missy Elliot’s tribute to Mendes solo performance to Rosalia and Normandi‘s sets, the gigantic digital stage (floor) would make any awards producer gasp. This is the sort of forward-thinking innovation the Oscars needs, to be honest. Can someone pass that on to The Academy and ABC please?
BEST: Producer Shade
Queen Latifah and John Travolta presented Video of the Year to Taylor Swift for “You Need To Calm Down.” A song about being your authentic self. Your authentic self. Huh. Yeah, I see you VMA segment producers. (On and we’re still not over Travolta thinking drag queen Jade Jolie was Swift on stage either).
John Travolta mistook Jade Jolie for Taylor Swift when handing over the award for ‘Video of the Year.’ ???? pic.twitter.com/z8MsJtcp1V
— Pop Crave (@PopCraveMusic) August 27, 2019
WORST: Did you have to show up to win?
There is a still a disconnect between the impressive (mostly) live performances and the winners. It often seems like if you can show up and perform you’ll get an award. For instance, somehow Ariana Grande didn’t win any major awards for “Thank U, Next”? Really? She won the fan voted Song of the Summer, but even that seemed off? And this is a “worst” that has been pretty consistent for over a decade. If the awards don’t count, maybe have less of them or give serious ones out in a ceremony beforehand instead of having MTV News update the Direction, Cinematography and other honors online afterward. We get that MTV doesn’t program videos, but we can still respect the art form right?