The 2019 MTV Video Music Awards

Well, here I am writing about the MTV Video Music Awards. I does remain my favorite of the awards themselves as a television event, certainly, although I will say that for the second year running my ability to engage with the nominees has dropped.

It is entirely possible that I am An Old Person, and therefore pop music is leaving me behind. There are a couple of cases 1 where I think it is almost certainly me, and several more 2 where I’m pretty sure that it is definitely them, not me.

But, of course, there is no such thing as “definitely them,” there is only the fickle mind of the pop-music audience, and the record-selling companies that market thigns at them by makng brightly colored short-films to varying degrees of success. 

So anyway Missy Elliott will be receiving the Video Vanguard award, which is great, because she’s reliably entertaining, and her videos are great. 

Best Cinematography

As every year, I remain baffled by how to evaluate the cinematography in music videos. I guess some of the camera work is fine, as such, but I tried as hard as I could to figure out how it would make any difference. I will say that Solange’s “Almeda” is a pretty cool video, but seems exactly wrong for this sort of thing. I guess I’ll go with the one that mimics movies and call it a day.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ariana Grande, “thank u, next”

Best Choreography.

So the actual dancing in FKA Twigs’s “Cellophane” looked super-demanding, which puts me in the position of deciding whether that should get a choreography award or just, like, a physical exertion award 3. Luckily the nigh-robotic synchronized moves of BTS are here to present me with a safe option.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: BTS, “Boy With Luv” (f Halsey)

Best Art Direction

There’s a real thing happening in the music video world. Because there’s no more money in any of it, a lot of videos are tremendously low-budget. That makes the art direction, when it works, really pop, and also makes videos that aren’t tremendously low-budget seem both less-impressive 4 and also more noticeable 5. I mean, that’s interesting, but the answer is “Old Town Road”. So I’m not sure that it came into play very much this year.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road” (f Billy Ray Cyrus)

Best Editing

Much like with cinematography, I have a hard time deciding which video is better-edited under the circumstances, especially given that mostly my opinion of editing is “there’s too much of it”, but that’s also a cranky opinion, and doesn’t really mean much. I guess the “Almeda” video, which has a bunch of different sources, seems like it was harder to edit, so it’s the best one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Solange, “Almeda” 

Best Visual Effects

So I try, when it’s VMA time, to consider the video itself, rather than the song, since the song isn’t really what’s being rewarded except in the category marked “song.” That said, every single song in this category is terrible, and I hated all of it. On top of that, most of the actual visuals here are garish, terrible and nonsensical. I guess it goes to Ariana Grande again, albeit for a different video. This is a weird year for me vis-a-vis the VMAs, guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ariana Grande, “God is a Woman”

Best Direction

This is a category where the separation of song from video benefits the winner, because “Old Town Road” is a dumb jingle as a song, but a triumphant work of genius as a music video, and I have to think that the director is the person responsible for that. Good job, Calmatic. You put Vince Staples, Chris Rock and Billy Ray Cyrus in a music video together, and the world salutes you.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road” (f Billy Ray Cyrus)

Video for Good

Last year this was called “video with a message”, but I suppose the end result is the same. It’s still got John Legend in it, which in the end amounts to the same thing. I’m not entirely sure why “Nightmare” or “You Need to Calm Down” are actually here, but I guess this is why I’m not an MTV awards-granting executive. The Lil Dicky video is a lot of fun, and prevents me from having to spend even one more second thinking about the cover of “Runaway Train” that Skylar Grey abetted, so it wins.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lil Dicky, “Earth” 

Best Rock

Every year I harbor fantasies of taking this entire category and throwing it out a window, because every year it is terrible and has nothing to do with rock music. It was weird to see Lenny Kravitz again, though, I don’t mind saying that. As always, Twenty One Pilots is again the closest thing to a rock band in the category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Twenty One Pilots, “High Hopes”

Best Dance

As far as it goes, the actual videos in this category full of awful songs are ok. The weird manipulative dead-dog Marshmello video is a little unnecessary, but it’s more than made up for by the joy of Bebe Rexha murdering the members of the Chainsmokers with the scenes in Memento order.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Chainsmokers, “Call You Mine” (f Bebe Rexha)

Best Latin

None of these songs really did it for me as such, but only one of them brought Snow back to public consciousness, and then put him in the video. That’s a real value add, right there. Anybody can sample “Informer,” but putting the man himself on the track is a real surprise. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Daddy Yankee, “Con Calma” (f Snow)

Best K-Pop

I’m sad that only one k-pop girl group is represented, since that wing of the scene is a little less same-y than the boy bands (and especially the boy bands represented here), but I like Blackpink enough that they probably would have won even with more options. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Blackpink, “Kill This Love”

Best R&B

I’m happier about this category than I am about most, mainly because even the songs that are terrible still have ok videos. I like Anderson.Paak so much, however, that even the worst song on his worst album is better than the rest of the field here. To be clear: “Make it Better” is the worst song on his worst album. Hard not to blame Smokey for that one. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Anderson.Paak, “Make it Better” (f Smokey Robinson)

Best Hip-Hop

Look, I was late to the “Old Town Road” train because, honestly, the song is bad. But I like Lil Nas X so much, and the video is so good, that I’m officially trying to make up for lost ground in terms of playing “Old Town Road”. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lil Nas X – “Old Town Road” (f Billy Ray Cyrus)

Best Pop

I applaud the Jonas Brothers for making excellent use of their wives. I almost, but do not actually, applaud Taylor Swift for filling a video with people more interesting and entertaining than she is, and for trying to make something out of hugging Katy Perry. I applaud Khalid’s bravery for appearing on film in that fucking shorts suit. I applaud Ariana Grande for making a music video out of one of the greatest movies of all time. There are reasons I have, variously, applauded Bruno Mars and Card B, but another boring music video collaboration isn’t one of them. I don’t really applaud 5 Seconds of Summer for much, nor Billie Eilish. I gues that means Ariana Grande, by being the only person whom I liked something about unreservedly that wasn’t “the girl who played Jean Grey in the X-Men movies”, is the winner again. I write all this out so that you can see what I’m up against, here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Arianna Grande, “thank u. next”

Push Artist of the Year

So “Push” is the name of what amounts to an “Artist of the Month” program over at MTV, and this is the award they give to the one of those artists that, I guess, turned out the best? I don’t know. Of the twelve artists they decided were gong to be big news, these six were the ones they felt they were most right about. I can’t really quibble with the selection, and I’m as happy as anybody to see such an award go to Lizzo, even though she should also be up for many other such awards.


Best Collaboration

I think the winner here is obvious, so I’m going to point out that, like most movie songs, “Shallow” doesn’t do much work outside of its own context like this, and also that the “Boy With Luv” video is super-weird to watch because Halsey is obviously cut into it post-facto. If there was an award for “worst editing” it would go to whoever’s job was to AfterEffects Ashley Frangipane into that BTS video. Anyway. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road” (f Billy Ray Cyrus)

Best New Artist

So one of the reasons that I’ve shortened my VMA writeups from the former “write something about everybody and consider” to the lightning-round style “just make a joke and pick the best one” is that the arena of pop music is in a place right now where I’d have to find, like, eight things to say about each thing that I liked, of which there are a teeny tiny number. So even under the circumstances, where I’m not saying as much, I’m still stuck with the following: I do not think that Lil Nas X rises above his novelty presentation, and as much as I like the video, I do not care about him as an artist, and while I think Billie Eilish clearly has something that has captured the attention, and H.E.R. is better than most, I’m going to have to go with Lizzo yet again, the only one of these people that I have any real enthusiasm for.


Best Group

I laughed for a good ten seconds when I saw the Backstreet Boys were here. I will never stop finding mirth in the hilarity of the pop-music wing of the record-selling indsutry trying everything they can to get somebody back on the map. Also I hate all of these groups’ output, but I respect the way that BTS did their thing, and I guess, just like every single year I do this, I have to shout them out for successfully cultivating a giant record-buying fanbase through none of the conventional means 6.


Song of the Year

All of these songs, as songs, are awful. There are not two consecutive listenable minutes in any of these songs. Chris Rock saying “Boogity Boogity” is the best part of this entire field, but it’s not nominated. Nevertheless, it’s the winner, because I can’t think of any other way to make any of this work.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Rock, “Boogity Boogity” (as appears at the end of the video for: Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road” [f. Billy Ray Cyrus])

Artist of the Year

Cardi….B? I guess? Despite the fact that she did nothing but feature on things during the period of eligibility? Is that good enough? It has to be, because the second-best artist here is Halsey, and the third-best is Billie Eilish and like, I can’t live this way. We need a better group of pop stars, y’all. 


Video of the Year

Here it is. The cream of the cream. The let there be no sailing beyond. The foreign phrase that means something that’s the best. This would all be much easier if I liked Billie Eilish or 21 Savage I guess. Actually, 21 Savage isn’t bad. Generally speaking, he’s better than Lil Nas X, but I’m going to need to watch the “Old Town Road Video” again, because it really is the video of the year.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road”

That does it. Here’s hoping that some of our better pop stars manage to put something out in the next year or so. Also, if you know any aspiring pop stars who are better than this crop of folks, feel free to let me know and I’ll do everything in my power (which is nothing) to make them famous enough to get nominated for a vma.

  1. most of the k-pop, most of the latin stuff and Billie Eilish, generally 
  2. Ed Sheeran, Drake, Sam Mendes, the usual suspects 
  3. that is to say, is it impressive that she met up with the choreography, or did the choreographer just say “do some really difficult pole work” and that was it? I mean, I’m sure it’s not that last thing, but I still have no idea how any of this works. 
  4. because of course a Taylor Swift video can be extremely art-decorated, there’s a budget and they can just do what they want. 
  5. because of course that Taylor Swift video is well art-directed, they could afford to hire whoever they wanted to do it. 
  6. you know, for a pop group, since every other band on Earth has to do it this way more or less by default, and this statement only applies in America. So there you go. 

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