MTV VMAs 2019: big wins for Taylor Swift, Lil Nas X, but Missy Elliott steals the show
Ceremony lacked its usual controversy while coming off as a mixed bag of references
From left to right: Missy Elliott, Lil Nas X and Taylor Swift at the 2019 MTV VMAs. Photographs: DJ Johnson/EPA, PA Wire
The 2019 VMAs often didn’t seem to know what year it was – a mix of dad jokes, Latin music, double-denim outfits and one performance set in 2079, in a ceremony that mostly lacked the typical controversy.
With awards split between longtime pop dominator Taylor Swift and the very 2019 star Lil Nas X, it was perhaps fitting that the night’s top honour celebrated the genre- and era-defying musical work of Missy Elliott.
Swift opened the show with two singles from her new album Lover: the technicolour trailer park-themed You Need To Calm Down, and return-to-form acoustic track Lover.
The colourful performance kicked off a big night for Swift, who took home Video of the Year for You Need To Calm Down: a song pitched as an LGBTQ anthem for Pride Month. In her acceptance speech, she pointed to the Equality Act, for which the video solicited petitions. “By voting for this video, you showed that you want a world where everyone is treated equally,” she said. Swift also took home the trophy for the Video for Good category.
The night’s other major winner was Lil Nas X, whose genre-smashing hit Old Town Road spent a record-breaking 19 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, and took home the award for song of the year. “This is my first award ever,” he said as he unrolled a person-sized scroll as his “speech” – causing Lizzo to nearly drop her diamond-encrusted tequila.
An overshadowed host
After the notable no-shows of 2018’s event, this year’s VMAs went deep on the talent bench, with performances from newer acts such as HER alongside veterans including Miley Cyrus, who performed Slide Away: a song released earlier this month, just days after news broke of her split from Liam Hemsworth.
The music largely overshadowed host Sebastian Maniscalco, a 36-year-old Italian-American comedian who MC’d the event after last year’s VMAs went without a host. Following a muted introduction seemingly aimed at the dads – in which he admonished the kids to put away their phones, joked about MTV offering a “safe space” (“If you feel triggered or offended they’re providing a safe space backstage where you’ll get some stress balls and a blankie,” he said), and ensured everyone knew there were no participation trophies – Maniscalco was largely quiet for the rest of the night.
Instead, the spotlight belonged to Missy Elliott, who received the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award. The hip-hop icon earned the loudest cheers of the night and a standing ovation for her performance of hits – including Supa Dupa Fly, Get Ur Freak On, Work It and Lose Control – which was, in the words of presenter Cardi B, “FIRE.”
“Nobody deserves to be the Video Vanguard more than Missy,” Cardi B said in an introduction for Elliott that highlighted the Virginia native’s influence on songwriting, fashion and, of course, music videos.
In her acceptance speech, Elliott was visibly emotional: “I have worked diligently for over two decades and I never thought I would be standing up here receiving this award,” she said . She name-checked her video influences (Busta Rhymes, Janet Jackson, Peter Gabriel and Madonna), offered a tribute to Aaliyah (who died 18 years ago on Sunday) and celebrated “the dance community all around the world”.
“This is the next generation,” she said, bringing out her youngest dancers, “and I promise y’all – I love y’all with all my heart.”
Despite the choice of host, the next generation emerged as a theme of the night, with several performances illustrating the dominant global, meme-able, Spanish-seeking forces in music.
Barcelona native Rosalia performed in Spanish, and took home the award for best Latin video; Colombia native J Balvin and Bad Bunny, of Puerto Rico, performed their hit Que Pretendes in a 3D-accentuated emoji playland; and former Fifth Harmony member Normani had a breakout performance of her dance showcase single Motivation.
In a nod to the feverish coverage of their summer romance, Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello performed a teasing, nose-to-nose rendition of their duet Senorita. The couple topped favourites Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus for best collaboration.
Other winners included Jonas Brother’s Sucker for best pop, Cardi B’s Money for best rap, Billie Eilish for best new artist and an absent Ariana Grande for best artist.
In the end, the final star of the night was New Jersey, the oft-second fiddle to New York which hosted the VMAs for the first time. In what frontman Joe Jonas called a “Jersey dream”, the Jonas Brothers - originally from Wyckoff, New Jersey – received their award from three stars of the Sopranos; and the show closed with a tour of the state’s contributions to hip-hop, featuring New Jersey natives Ice-T (born in Newark), Fetty Wap, Naughty by Nature, Wyclef Jean, Lords of the Underground, Redman and Queen Latifah. – Guardian News and Media 2019