The 2019 MTV Video Music Awards — held in New Jersey for the fist time, at Newark’s Prudential Center on Monday night — was another big Taylor Swift show.
In addition to her opening performance just three days after releasing her new album, “Lover,” T-Swizzle picked up the night’s biggest award, Video of the Year, for “You Need to Calm Down.” But Ariana Grande, who was tied with Swift for the most nominations at 10, didn’t even bother to show up.
Still, there were no shortage of highs and lows at this years’s VMAs.
BEST: Falling in love with Taylor again
Taylor Swift — who shared the lead with Ariana Grande for the most nominations (10) coming into the 2019 VMAs — opened the show with a two-song parade of her new album “Lover.”
First was a colorful version of her single “You Need to Calm Down,” its LGBTQ-positive message emphasized with a rainbow flashing over the stage. There were even “Drag Race” stars portraying various pop icons. But the best part was when Swift picked up her acoustic guitar to perform “Lover,” the gorgeous title track of her new LP, to which the audience seemed to already know all the words. No bells or whistles needed, it brought the focus back to her music, where it belongs.
WORST: The kiss that never happened
Having already performed his solo single “If I Can’t Have You” earlier in the night, Shawn Mendes returned to the stage to perform “Señorita,” his new No. 1 single with Camila Cabello. With the stage appearing to be lit in candlelight, the two young, videogenic pop stars managed to create a sexy intimacy within the arena, playing up their rumored romance. More than once, they appeared to be ready to go into full make-out mode right in front of the audience and the world. But the kiss that never happened just proved to be one big tease.
BEST: Lizzo’s ‘You deserve to feel good as hell’ speech
Last year, the MTV Video Music Awards didn’t quite seem to capture the music that was really happening at the moment. But the 2019 VMAs — held for the first time in New Jersey, at Newark’s Prudential Center — rectified that early on with a performance by one of the It Girls of summer 2019: Lizzo. Serving big-girl realness, the breakout artist got everyone — including New Jersey native Queen Latifah — on their feet.
She sang “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell,” spreading her empowering vibes while showcasing her soulful vocals — with afro’ed background dancers and in front of a giant blow-up butt. Taking a swig from a bedazzled bottle of Patron, the breakout star bellowed: “Love yourself in a world that doesn’t love you back. You deserve to feel good as hell.” By the end of it all, there was no doubt that she was “100 percent that bitch.”
WORST: Video of the Year presented mid-show
When New Jersey natives — and “Hairspray” costars — Queen Latifah and John Travolta took the stage to present Video of the Year midway through the MTV Video Music Awards, it was a WTF moment that had everyone checking their clocks. How could the night’s biggest Moon Person, traditionally the last award of the night, be presented so early in the festivities? Taylor Swift won her second Video of the Year trophy, this time for “You Need to Calm Down,” but it says a lot about how little these awards actually mean these days that the evening’s highest honor was presented out of nowhere.
BEST: Missy’s Vanguard Award was overdue
“This may be the most overdue award ever,” said Justin Timberlake, who, along with Timbaland, Ciara, Lizzo and Janet Jackson, paid taped tribute to Missy Elliott — recipient of this year’s Video Vanguard Award. And when Missy hit the stage, it was clear exactly why she was the kind of game-changer who deserved this award. Kicking it off with new single “Throw It Back,” Missy went through hits “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” “Get Ur Freak On,” “Work It,” “Pass That Dutch” and “Lose Control” with an army of elastic, acrobatic dancers. Elliott turned the Prudential Center into one big, hot hip-hop club that had everybody working it in the aisles.
WORST: Lil Nas X turns ‘Panini’ into ‘Tron’
We should have known something was wrong when Billy Ray Cyrus — the featured singer on Lil Nas X’s mega-smash “Old Town Road (Remix)” — introduced the 20-year-old rapper who has owned much of 2019. This was supposed to be the moment when the world got to see Lil Nas X perform his history-making hit for the first time. Instead, in a huge letdown, there was no “Old Town Road,” with Lil Nas X choosing to perform his new single “Panini.” Talk about womp-womp. The futuristic, choreograph-heavy performance failed to reveal much of the artist’s personality at a time when he could have made a career-defining statement. Opportunity missed.
BEST: Crowd was a ‘Sucker’ for the Jonas Brothers
The remote performances that have been done over the years at the VMAs have been a mixed bag. But having New Jersey sons the Jonas Brothers perform at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ, made total sense. Looking stylish and studly, the reunited trio started off by performing their big comeback hit “Sucker” before going outside to greet squealing fans and do their new, reggae-fied single “Only Human. The whole thing capped off with fireworks, but the JoBros had already supplied plenty of sparks of their own.
WORST: Big Sean goes ‘Bezerk’ with new track
It’s not that Big Sean’s performance of his just-dropped single “Bezerk” was good or bad — it’s more like, why was the rapper even given such a high-profile stage to perform a song that nobody knows yet in the first place? But, somehow, Ariana Grande’s ex got a primo spot to rock his collaboration with A$AP Ferg at the VMAs. Sorry, dude, but you gotta be on Drake or Kanye level to get that kind of treatment.
BEST: Spotlight shines on Latin artists
It was great to see Latin artists get their due on a major awards show that was not just for Latin music. First Spanish sensation Rosalía, joined by Puerto Rico’s Ozuna, performed “Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi” and “Aute Cuture.” Then Bad Bunny and J. Balvin teamed up to rock the single “Qué Pretendes” from their new collaborative album, “Oasis.” Si to more of this.
BEST: New Jersey hip-hop finale
From the Jonas Brothers performing in Asbury Park, NJ, to “Sopranos” actors showing up as presenters, MTV definitely made a point of honoring New Jersey at the Prudential Center in the first VMAs held in the Garden State. They saved the most Jersey love for last. New Jersey native Ice-T introduced the finale featuring hip-hop stars from the state, including Redman, Wyclef Jean and Queen Latifah, who arrived on a motorcycle to do her Grammy-winning rap anthem “U.N.I.T.Y.” When Naughty by Nature closed things with their hit “Hip Hop Hooray,” they had everybody cheering.
Author: Chuck Arnold
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