Some mark the end of summer by the changing of the leaves, some by the trudging rank and file of children back into schools. The MTV Video Music Awards aren’t one of those ends, but they are a sort of flickering-lights “last call” situation. Summer isn’t over, it’s just coming to an end. As a result, it is the best time to look at a bunch of four-minute record-label commercials full of bright colors, flashing lights, and various and sundry displays of the human body.
This year’s crop is about as boring as it’s ever been – the brief blip of visual entertainment represented last year has given way to a bunch of blah sameness. The video vanguard award is going to P!nk 1, which sort of struck me as surprising, although I don’t really know why – she’s made a bunch of videos that people remember, certainly.
I suppose mine is not to question why, merely to proclaim the difference between right and wrong. And so it goes.
Song of Summer
I mean, I guess I get it, but there’s still not, like, a nomination process. Just BLAMMO: Luis Fonsi. Sad, really. I would’ve liked the chance to vote against it. It’s still a terrible song. It’s better than a couple of years ago when there were a million people in this category though.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: It pains me to not have a choice here, is what I’m saying.
This is pretty transparently an excuse to get a bunch of people in the door. “There’s not anywhere else we could put, say, Lorde” say the MTV executives, “so pretend the editing in that video is something impressive.” It is not, I’m telling you. There’s like, nothing special about it. Or any of the other editing jobs here. I suppose because this is a technical category, it has to go to Young Thug, because while it’s true that there isn’t really anything special happening with the editing, the whole thing is edited to be delightfully meta, and quite funny. You should all go watch it.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Young Thug, “Wyclef Jean”
This is the first of what would turn out to be six thousand nominations for Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble,” about which expect to hear more later, except to say that while there is an impressively-choreographed bit 2, the rest of it isn’t much to speak of. Teyana Taylor is credited as doing her own choreography on the Kanye video for “Fade”, which premiered at last year’s VMAs anyway, which is I guess it’s own kind of impressive. The Ariana Grande entry here is more “we don’t know how else to get them nominated for stuff” faire. I would’ve thought that the same thing was true for the Fifth Harmony video, but it turns out they’re nominated in other places, so I guess there’s just no accounting for taste.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sia, “The Greatest”. Say what else you may about the musical/visual career of Sia, the choreography is always the best part.
Best Visual Effects
Here’s “Humble” again, which is clearly being feted as being all things to all people, and which is hands down the best song nominated for a VMA this year, but is also less “all things to all people” and more “a whole bunch of things at once all the time,” which is a different sort of idea. The KYLE video’s visual schtick is funny at first, but wears thin by the end of the song 3. “Chained to the Rhythm” is not only not visually interesting, but is less visually interesting than the other Katy Perry song that’s nominated for a VMA this year. Harry Styles can’t fly, so making him appear to do so in the “Sign of the Times” video is certainly an effect. I genuinely like the “Dis Generation” video, though. I like the moving camera thing, and the repeating elements, and basically the entire set of visuals. So it wins.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: A Tribe Called Quest, “Dis Generation”
Best Art Direction
I’m still unclear on what “Art Direction” is in a music video context. This is a perennial problem. Luckily this category has a clear solution anyway. Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic” is like a bad parody of Bruno Mars as performed by Bruno Mars, and the video makes this somehow even worse. Whatever “art direction” is, DJ Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts” video doesn’t have it. “Humble” is here again, because what the hell, why not? The Weeknd’s “Reminder” is nominated for a second time, despite the fact that I have no idea what marks it as special as a video, and I guess they just wanted to make real sure Abel would show up. The video for Katy Perry’s “Bon Appetit” is genuinely unsettling, featuring a bunch of really uncomfortable, sometimes even disturbing visuals. I would’ve also called it the visual effects one if I didn’t like the ATCQ video so much. It definitely gets this one, though.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Katy Perry, “Bon Appetit” (f. Migos)
Still with this bafflingly-well-nominated The Weeknd video! I really should be consulted on these things. Also: “Chained to the Rhythm” is really a dreadful Katy Perry outing. I get that she’s the host, but man alive I bet we could’ve come up with something else. Like, y’know, her other video of the last year. That one. It’s still better than “24K Magic”. I wanted to say that it should go to the Alessia Cara video, because that one has a bunch of people in it that are talking over the music and stuff, and then I realized that if I was inclined to give this award to someone for their job being complicated, it really should go to “Humble.” That looks like it was a lot of work.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”
Imagine Dragons and Halsey would be in the running for “most pointless cinematograpy”, or perhaps “most confusing cinematography”. Ed Sheeran quite sensibly takes advantage of the natural sweeping beauty of the English countryside, but I’m not quite sure what that’s meant to say about the camera usage in the video. “Humble” seemed like a complicated direction, but again, the camera itself wasn’t a big part of that. Luckily the second-best song nominated for a VMA this year is also the song with the best video.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: DJ Shadow, “Nobody Speak” (f Run the Jewels)
Best Fight Against the System
Weirdly, “Humble” is not in this category. I guess it’s not “fight the system”-y enough for the people at the VMA selection committee. Taboo’s “Stand Up” is clearly well-intentioned and deeply earnest, and I’m glad he got to say his thing. John Legend’s “Surefire” video tells the story of a cross-borders Romeo & Juliet style love-story, which is I guess fighting against a system in the technical sense, while also just being regular old romance pap in another. Alessia Cara’s “Scars to Your Beautiful” includes interviews with people who have scars 4, and is otherwise just another in the endless string of “conventionally attractive young, economically successful pop singer lady says everything will be just fine if you just be yourself” songs that are meant to be uplifting, but are by and large just insulting. I have nothing to say about Big Sean’s video for “Light”. It’s a pretty good song, it’s a pretty good video. The Hamilton Mixtape’s “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” is one of the best reworks on the record, and features three (of the four) rappers that I am decidedly a fan of, but it’s also really long and doesn’t quite get anywhere as a video. Logic’s “Black Spiderman” video is great, and makes its point, and is fun to watch, and is just great. It’s double-great, that’s what it is.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Logic, “Black Spiderman” (f Damian Lamar Hudson)
At least a numerical majority of these videos are nominally “rock” music, which puts this above most “rock” categories in most awards shows. Green Day made a pretty boring video for “Bang Bang.” I have no idea what it’s doing here, unless it’s to throw the utter horrorshow of that Fall Out Boy video into sharp relief. I hold nothing major against Coldplay. I confess that if I was a younger person, I would probably have bought into 21 Pilots’ thing. This is a reversal from previous stances on a band that I still don’t actively like, but now at least understand the appeal of. The Foo Fighters wrote a pretty good song, and made a pretty good video, and win sort of by default. Please don’t consider this a ringing endorsement.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Foo Fighters, “Run”
I think at this point in the proceedings, everyone is aware of my feelings on all of these people. So let’s talk about how Ty Dolla $ign spells his name, right? It’s Ty, like “ty”, and then it’s Dolla Sign, like “Dolla Sign,” but it includes a dolla sign. Wouldn’t Ty$ just be easier? Am I insane when I say that I think he used to spell it that way? I’m not insane, right?
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Afrojack, “Gone” (f Ty Dolla $ign)
Best Hip Hop
DJ Khaled: still so very irritating. Big Sean and DRAM both made good videos for good songs here, but honestly I’m having a hard time recommending them for much of anything. The “Same Drugs” video is fine, I guess, but it’s also for the weakest single on Chance the Rapper’s last album. Migos’ video for “Bad and Boujee”does basically nothing for the song – although the song is still pretty righteous. So I guess here we are back at “Humble”.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”
Every single one of these videos is a dumpster fire. There are MANY perfectly fine pop songs nominated in other categories – why are none of them here? This is stupid. I hate this.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Like, that Lorde video? Or hell, that The Weeknd video? Or even that Alessia Cara video is better than all these.
This category is mainly notable for being the one category in which Taylor Swift, sworn enemy of Katy Perry, appears. Partly this is due to the fact that she has stayed pretty under the radar for the last couple of years 5, but, y’know, it’s still a thing worth noting. Good thing for Ms. P that the song and video are dull and boring. That said, I remember more of that video than either Calvin Harris’s video or Charlie Puth’s, so it’s only in the middle of this dreary pack. DJ Khaled and The Chainsmokers decided to make videos that are nothing but a straight shot down the middle of standard-issue music-video achievement. Definitely not the sort of thing you give someone an award for. I like DRAM. I don’t know how much I would say the video for “Broccoli” in particular is worth the award, but it’s a pretty good song anyway.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: DRAM, “Broccoli” (f Lil Yachty)
Best New Artist
I never really know if this is meant to be judged on the artist in question’s music video presence, or on their sort of year in general, so I’ll just assume that this, like so many of these categories, is a reason to invite these people up to the ceremony more than any kind of actual lauding – MTV wants to be associated with these artists officially, so they’ve done so in this way, and it matters more that they are cool than any specific aspect of their year as such. Because that way I can make this decision and not have to feel like hanging myself.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA
Artist of the Year
Certainly with seven nominations outside of this category, Kendrick Lamar is being all but directly groomed for this one, so there’s no real reason to beat around the bush here. I mean, if he were less deserving it might be something to discuss, but even Lorde and The Weeknd (the other two people in this category who have done stuff worth celebrating this year) aren’t really contenders in any meaningful way.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar
Video of the Year
It’s not like the “Humble” video is in any way bad – it’s fine! It’s a good video! It might even be a great video! – it probably doesn’t need this weird handicapped 6 competition here – it could’ve beaten other good videos even! But, y’know, it isn’t up against good videos. It’s up against stupid videos. Such is the way of things, I suppose.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”
Supplementary Micro-Predictions: The Performances
But the awards show is only kind of-sort of about the awards themselves! It’s also about the performances surrounding the awards. So let’s take a look at those also.
She’s the host, so she’s going to get some weird lead-off thing. She played “Chained to the Rhythm” at the Grammys (and it was terrible), but this is set to be the alleged Taylor-baiting (and definite Swet Shop Boys-jacking) “Swish Swish,” so at least it could be pleasantly catty?
WILL IT BE ENTERTAINING: Possibly? Before a year ago I would’ve thought that visual spectacle was something that Katy Perry was able to deliver consistently, but man after watching her videos and such I have to doubt that that’s still the case. So probably, but maybe not.
She just pulled out of the Teen Choice Awards because she “created an unrealistic schedule” for herself. I guess that’s fine.
WILL IT BE ENTERTAINING: Hard to tell. She’s recently coming off what feels like a hiatus, with her not releasing more than just the one single (the aforementioned “Malibu”) in the last year or so, and also changing her social media approach (and quitting marijuana) 7. So this could be part of the unveiling of New Miley, which I guess would be interesting historically, but honestly it’s probably just going to be super boring. Because “Malibu” is super boring, and “Younger Now” is even worse.
A perennial VMA choice, and probably inevitable given that “Humble” was nominated for seven awards (with Kendrick himself nominated for an eighth). This performance is going to be the also-excellent “Loyalty,” which is fine, and which is going to feature Rihanna.
WILL IT BE ENTERTAINING: Well the performance is liable to be pretty good. Historically his awards show performances have been visually strong, but also very cluttered, and the fact that this whole thing is next to considerable hullabaloo about “Humble” (despite, again, the performance not actually being “Humble”), a visually strong but very cluttered music video, says that it’s liable to be entertaining, but probably overstimulating.
No one’s favorite redheaded balladeer is going to stand on stage and caterwaul at us.
WILL IT BE ENTERTAINING: Of course not.
Girl groups! And dancing! And weird costume choices!
WILL IT BE ENTERTAINING: Probably only to costume designers in need of a cautionary tale.
Lorde took such a relative long time (in pop music terms) between albums, and the promotional cycle was so long-burning for her first album, that I’ve kind of forgotten what her television appearances look like. She was pretty good on SNL a couple of months ago or whenever that was.
WILL IT BE ENTERTAINING: She’s got a great voice, it’ll be “Perfect Places,” which is a pretty great song, and it will probably include some of her dancing, which is, if nothing else, a unique visual experience. So yes.
I suppose I understand the utility of continuing to tour when you don’t really have much going on show-wise – it’s an expectation on the part of the fans, and there’s probably something to be gotten out of it for the performer 8, but I don’t really understand taking the show to television (beyond, y’know, the appearance fee or whatever) if you’re just going to stand onstage and sing while a bunch of lights flash at you. Making this even less explicable, he’s going to perform “Reminder,” which is the pretty-boring song he’s gotten all these nominations for. So after you see clips of the video a few times, he’s going to sing it.
WILL IT BE ENTERTAINING: Not any moreso than just watching one of his videos or listening to the record or whatever.
Thirty Seconds to Mars
This has to be a joke, right? There’s no way this is actually true.
WILL IT BE ENTERTAINING: Good lord no.
In case Ed Sheeran wasn’t enough for you, here’s Ed Sheeran 2: Somehow Sheeraner.
WILL IT BE ENTERTAINING: No
Logic, Alessia Cara & Khalid
Well, these are three reliably high-energy performers, and while I don’t think the song (“1-800-273-8255”) 9 is super-great, I don’t begrudge them using their platform to perform it. Good for them.
WILL IT BE ENTERTAINING: Probably
I suppose I can say, in all honesty, that I have no idea what Julia Michaels does onstage, or how it’s going to come across on television. So that’s something.
WILL IT BE ENTERTAINING: uuuuuhhhhhh….maybe? At the very least it will be something I haven’t already seen. So there’s that.
He’s going to play “Congratulations,” presumably because Quavo will already be in the room. By this point I will be grateful even for this.
WILL IT BE ENTERTAINING: Probably yes, at least by comparison.
She’s receiving the video vanguard award, which usually means a performance, but it also usually means a sort of hit medley thing. According to Wikipedia, she’s just performing “What About Us,” which is a fine song 10. P!nk is traditionally pretty good in this environment, and it’s sort of the end-of-show closing number, so it should be pretty good.
WILL IT BE ENTERTAINING: Most likely yes.
- still with the exclamation point though, right? ↩
- the bit with all the bobbing heads ↩
- this is partly because the song is fucking interminable ↩
- and presumably they have these scars “to their beautiful”, I guess? ↩
- she has recently announced that in November (which means in time for consideration for the 2019 Grammys – see previously – among other things) she is dropping an album. She did so via a series of videos featuring parts of a scary-ass cg snake, which means she’s either taking ownership of the “snake” talk that drove her from instagram, or she is doing something less scrutable than that. I was one of the people that, prior to the revelation of the full set of videos (and thus the full animal) though it was a dragon, which would have been much cooler. Alas and alack. ↩
like in the golf sense, not the medical sense – I’m saying the VMAs are setting him up to win by putting him on this bunny slope. You know. The bunny slopes in golf, which is the sport in which people are handicapped. Those bunny slopes. Shut up.
- or whatever ↩
- otherwise why be a performer at all? ↩
- it’s the number for the national suicide prevention hotline, and while I think that is definitely an admirable thing to make into a catchy pop song I still don’t, y’know, find myself listening to it of my own volition, y’know? ↩
- and probably a good decision to make for her voice, considering it sounds like a real effort to sing. ↩