Photo Credit: Bryan Bedder (All Photos)
You would be forgiven for forgetting that the VMAs are actually about music – discussions around this year’s ceremony focused on Yung Gravy’s surprising choice of date and a controversial, somewhat anticlimactic comeback by Johnny Depp as Moonman. But this year’s award show saw nominations and live performances by the likes of Jack Harlow, Nicki Minaj, and Blackpink – while Taylor Swift took home three awards and announced a new album Midnights in her acceptance speech.
Both the awards themselves, and the live performances, were the sort of mixed bag you’d expect – with lots of questionable choices and a few pleasant surprises. The always captivating Lizzo performed “2 Be Loved” – perhaps the best song from her uneven new album – it’s a deeply honest examination of conquering self-doubt. Blackpink, meanwhile, basked in the confidence of being the world’s biggest working girl group with their rendition of “Pink Venom.”
Less compelling was Jack Harlow’s opening performance of “First Class,” such a dredge of a song that even a surprise Fergie appearance couldn’t save it. Brendon Urie – now the sole member of Panic! At The Disco – added some charisma and charm with his performance of “Don’t Let The Light Go Out,” but was ultimately undone by the same problem that plagues so much of his most recent album; he simply doesn’t have the vocal chops to deliver on the grandiose ambition of his song.
If the show’s nadir was Snoop Dogg and Eminem’s cartoony, metaverse-style performance – effectively a poor man’s version of Gorillaz – then its centerpiece was Nicki Minaj’s epic ten-minute medley; featuring “Monster,” “Anaconda” and recent chart-topper “Super Freaky Girl,” among other hits. The performance was a reminder of Minaj’s singular position in rap music. It was just a shame, given how much of a trailblazer she has been, that no other female rappers performed at the main event. A performance by Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, or even Flo Milli (who was demoted to the Dorito’s-sponsored ‘Extended Play’), would have served as a fitting reminder of how Minaj helped pave the way for the excellent current class of female rappers.
The main two awards – Video and Song of the Year – were awarded to deserving winners; Taylor Swift for the “All Too Well” short film and Billie Eilish for “Happier Than Ever,” while Bad Bunny took home Artist of the Year. Dove Cameron won Best New Artist; the nominations list for which was severely underwhelming.
Elsewhere, there were a few gratuitous snubs – “Do We Have A Problem?” beating Kendrick Lamar’s “N95” felt particularly egregious – and though there were some welcome nominations for alternative stars like Wet Leg and Rina Sawayama, both were ultimately beaten by considerably better-known competitors. This tendency of the VMAs to make the safest and, largely blandest, choices again and again and again, perhaps explains why this year’s ceremony – despite the odd highlights – will fail to revive the VMAs’ declining relevance.