ABOVE PHOTO: Missy Elliott poses in the press room with the Video Vanguard award at the MTV Video Music Awards at the Prudential Center on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019, in Newark, N.J. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
By Mesfin Fekadu
NEWARK, N.J. — The incomparable career of Missy Elliott, therapper-singer-songwriter-producer-dancer whose music videos have moved the needle over the last two decades, was honored at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards, where Taylor Swift also took center stage with her gay pride anthem, “You Need to Calm Down.”
Elliott earned the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, and brought her colorful and eccentric music videos to life, from “Work It” to “Lose Control,” on Monday at the Prudential Center in Newark.
She even sported the inflated trash bag she wore with confidence and charisma in the video for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” in 1997.
“I’ve worked diligently for over two decades and I never thought I would be standing up here receiving this award,” Elliott said.
The 48-year-old game-changer dedicated her award to the dance community and said her music video inspirations included Janet Jackson, Madonna, Peter Gabriel and Busta Rhymes.
She also honored the late R&B icon Aaliyah, with whom she was close and collaborated. The 18th anniversary of Aaliyah’s death was Sunday.
“Aaliyah, I love you. We miss you,” Elliott said in her acceptance speech.
Other performers Monday included former Fifth Harmony member Normani, who won best R&B video and brought skilled dance moves to “Motivation”; Spanish singer Rosalia, who also danced with precision and won best Latin and best choreography awards; and rapper-singer Lizzo, who turned into a gospel singer as she wowed the audience with the upbeat anthem “Good As Hell,” her 2016 song that reached new heights this year. She also sang “Truth Hurts,” which was released in 2017 but became a worldwide hit this year.
The VMAs, which took place in New Jersey for the first time, closed with a superb performance by artists from the Garden State — including Queen Latifah, Redman, Wyclef Jean, Naughty by Nature and Fetty Wap. Rapper-actor Ice-T, who has loudly represented the West Coast, introduced the performance and reminded the audience that he was born in Newark.
Outside the arena, before the show began, a handful of people were arrested for protesting Newark’s water crisis. Elevated levels of lead have been found in the water, leading city officials to distribute water and water filters to residents.
Inside, Swift kicked off the VMAs, going from eye-popping pop star to guitar-strumming singer-songwriter. She gave a colorful performance of “You Need to Calm Down” — which won video of the year — and later grabbed her guitar to sing the ballad “Lover,” the title track from her album released Friday.
“I just want to say that this is a fan-voted award, so I first want to say thank you to the fans, because in this video several points were made, so you voting for this video means that you want a world where we’ll all treated equally,” she said.
Swift and a number of cast members from the video appeared onstage to accept the honor. The video for “You Need to Calm Down,” a song in which Swift calls out homophobes and her own haters, featured a number of famous faces, including Ellen DeGeneres, Laverne Cox, RuPaul and the cast of “Queer Eye.” Before the video’s release, Swift announced that she supported the Equality Act.
“You Need to Calm Down” also won the video for good honor. Todrick Hall, the multi-faceted entertainer who has appeared in some of Swift’s videos, including “You Need to Calm Down,” accepted the honor.
Swift won three honors, tying with Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish for most wins of the night. Grande, named artist of the year, and Eilish, who won best new artist, didn’t attend the VMAs. BTS also didn’t attend the show, hosted by comedian and actor Sebastian Maniscalco, but they won two honors: best group and best K-pop.
Other winners included Cardi B, who took home best hip-hop for “Money”; Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker” won best pop; “Senorita,” which Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello performed during the show, won best collaboration and best cinematography; and the Chainsmokers and Bebe Rexha’s “Call You Mine” won best dance.
Megan the Stallion, who performed during the pre-show, won best power anthem with her new hit, “Hot Girl Summer,” featuring Ty Dolla $ign and Nicki Minaj.
Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Old Town Road,” the longest-running No. 1 song in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, won song of the year and best direction.
“This is my first award ever,” the 20-year-old newcomer said.