Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X speak onstage during the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards at Prudential Center on August 26, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for MTV)
Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for MTV
Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for MTV

MTV Video Music Awards: Taylor Swift touts equality, Lil Nas X wins first-ever award

Winners list includes Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, Cardi B

An award show that includes cameos from Lenny Kravitz, Billy Ray Cyrus and Missy Elliott can only be a certain level of snooze-worthy, right?

The MTV Video Music Awards always manage a decent blend of veteran artists and current buzzy acts (Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X) and yet somehow, the results never elevate past meh.

The 2019 incarnation of the once-vaunted awards show, held Monday night for the first time at the Prudential Center in New Jersey, plodded along for three hours with a handful of noteworthy performances, expected wins for Swift, Eilish, Cardi B and Lil Nas X and an all-too brief reunion of some favorites from “The Sopranos.”

Here are some takeaways (a full list of winners is below).

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - AUGUST 26: Sebastian Maniscalco speaks onstage during the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards at Prudential Center on August 26, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for MTV)
Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for MTV

Hey, kids, get a sense of humor: Host Sebastian Maniscalco is a sharp stand-up with a wicked sense of observational humor. I like the guy because he sounds like all of my relatives (and despite his obvious New York/New Jersey vibe, he’s actually from Chicago). Also, he had the cajones to mock millennials and their need for a “safe space” (“I would remove you from the arena, put you in your car and send you home”), reminded them that the 8,000 MTV cameras would take better photos than their glued-to-their-hands smartphones and said there would only be one trophy per category. “Not everybody is walking away with a moon person or a participation ribbon... If you don’t win tonight, next year I have a little advice for you - work harder.” Was it a little “Get off my lawn!”? Yes. And your point is…?

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - AUGUST 26: Taylor Swift performs onstage during the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards at Prudential Center on August 26, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

Taylor Swift embraces the rainbow: The biggest pop star in the world has a new squad of colorful friends (Todrick Hall, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” stars) and they were within her breathing space atalltimes during the show – her Skittles-colored opening production (“You Need to Calm Down” paired with old-school-acoustic-guitar Taylor for “Lover” and a pitch for the Equality Act), near her seat in the audience and while accepting awards for Video for Good and Video of the Year (for “You Need…”). No problem with any of that, but the faux surprise at winning is really tiresome (said with love). Taylor, you win everything. It’s not a surprise. 

In her acceptance speech for Video of the Year (“You Need to Calm Down”), Swift exhibited her newly liberated political side by noting, “In this video, several points were made. So that you voted for his video means you want a world where we’re all treated equally.” She also announced that her change.org petition supporting the Equality Act has more than five times the needed signatures to “warrant a response from the White House.” Swift tapped her wrist as if wearing a watch with the implication of, “Let’s go, time’s a ticking.”

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - AUGUST 26: <> onstage during the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards at Prudential Center on August 26, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

Missy Elliott is still “Supa Dupa Fly”: A deserving recipient of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, Elliott was, fittingly, introduced by the queen of the new rap generation, Cardi B. But when Elliott hit the stage with a cadre of rubber-limbed dancers for a medley that included “Get Ur Freak On,” “Work It” and her new “Throw it Back,” it was a joyful throwback experience. Elliott even enlisted Alyson Stoner, the break-dancing champ from the “Work It” video 17 years ago to pop and flex.

Taking the stage after the exhausting performance, Elliott, platinum braids piled atop her head that was accented with a black visor paid tribute to her home state of Virginia (“Two up, two down!”), thanked fellow video icons Janet Jackson, Peter Gabriel, Busta Rhymes and Madonna, shouted out to Aaliyah (“I love you, we miss you”) and dedicated her award to “the dance community all around the world…y’all are the icing on the cake, the beat to the heart.”

Atlanta's Lil Nas X at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2019. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for MTV

Let’s hear it for the hometown: Atlanta rapper – and recent Time magazine cover guy – Lil Nas X took his horse all the way to his first-ever award when his silly (albeit record-breaking) “Old Town Road” won Song of the Year. Billy Ray Cyrus, his partner on the first of a million remixes, joined him onstage. Lil Nas X thanked Cyrus for “helping me take my career to the next level,” while Cyrus commented, “I never dreamed I’d be standing here tonight.” Understatement of the year. 

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - AUGUST 26: Miley Cyrus performs onstage during the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards at Prudential Center on August 26, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images,)
Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images,

Speaking of Cyruses: Miley, barely three weeks from her breakup with husband Liam Hemsworth, poured her pain into the most affecting performance of the show. “Slide Away,” which she released about 10 days ago, stands as a poignant ballad; but hers was a powerful performance – augmented by strings and broadcast in black and white – wrought with emotion.

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - AUGUST 26: Lizzo performs onstage during the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards at Prudential Center on August 26, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

Runner-up for performance of the night was the boisterous Lizzo. Performing “Truth Hurts” in front of a giant inflated behind in a thong, Lizzo continued to spread her visual message of body positivity by stripping off a layer of clothing to a yellow leotard for “Good As Hell.” She downed what looked like a bottle of tequila and gave the crowd a pep talk, Lizzo-style. “I’m tired of the bull****! Feel good as hell!” she shouted while surrounded by bra-baring backup singers. 

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - AUGUST 26: Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello perform onstage during the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards at Prudential Center on August 26, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

Too cute for words: How has it taken Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello to find each other? The new couple won Best Collaboration for “Señorita,” but prior to taking the stage to accept their Moon Man, the pair teased the crowd with their budding romance with a PG-13 rendition of the song that was filled with Cabello rubbing against Mendes’ back, front and sides. He, ever the gentleman, titled her chin toward him for a kiss that never materialized. Tune in next year…

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MICHAEL JACKSON VIDEO VANGUARD AWARD

Missy Elliott

VIDEO OF THE YEAR

Taylor Swift – “You Need to Calm Down” – Republic Records

ARTIST OF THE YEAR

Ariana Grande – Republic Records

SONG OF THE YEAR

Lil Nas X ft. Billy Ray Cyrus – “Old Town Road (Remix)” – Columbia Records

BEST NEW ARTIST, presented by Taco Bell ®

Billie Eilish – Darkroom/Interscope Records

BEST COLLABORATION

Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello – “Señorita” – Island Records

PUSH ARTIST OF THE YEAR

Billie Eilish – Darkroom/Interscope Records

BEST POP

Jonas Brothers – “Sucker” – Republic Records

BEST HIP HOP

Cardi B – “Money” – Atlantic Records

BEST R&B

Normani ft. 6lack – “Waves” – Keep Cool/RCA Records

BEST K-POP

BTS ft. Halsey – “Boy With Luv” – Columbia Records

BEST LATIN

ROSALÍA & J Balvin ft. El Guincho – “Con Altura” – Columbia Records

BEST DANCE

The Chainsmokers, Bebe Rexha – “Call You Mine” – Disruptor/Columbia Records

BEST ROCK

Panic! At The Disco – “High Hopes” – Elektra Music Group

VIDEO FOR GOOD

Taylor Swift – “You Need to Calm Down” – Republic Records

BEST DIRECTION

Lil Nas X ft. Billy Ray Cyrus – “Old Town Road (Remix)” – Columbia Records – Directed by Calmatic

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Taylor Swift ft. Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco – “ME!” – Republic Records – Visual Effects by Loris Paillier & Lucas Salton for BUF VFX

BEST EDITING

Billie Eilish – “bad guy” – Darkroom/Interscope Records – Editing by Billie Eilish

BEST ART DIRECTION

Ariana Grande – “7 Rings” – Republic Records – Art Direction by John Richoux

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY

ROSALÍA & J Balvin ft. El Guincho – “Con Altura” – Columbia Records – Choreography by Charm La’Donna

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello – “Señorita” – Island Records – Cinematography by Scott Cunningham

BEST GROUP

BTS

BEST POWER ANTHEM

Megan Thee Stallion ft. Nicki Minaj & Ty Dolla $ign “Hot Girl Summer”

SONG OF THE SUMMER, presented by Samsung

Ariana Grande & Social House – “boyfriend”

About the Author

Melissa Ruggieri
Melissa Ruggieri
Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers music and entertainment news for the AJC. She remembers when MTV was awesome.  
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