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MTV VMAs did not live up to expectations

Chloe Bailey performs at the VMAs. Picture: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Chloe Bailey performs at the VMAs. Picture: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Published Sep 17, 2021


The MTV Video Music Awards returned on Sunday, as one of the first awards shows to have a full live studio audience.

And while it was great to have performances from some of the biggest names in music – it left viewers with a resounding “Meh”.

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Unlike many other award shows, the VMAs has built a reputation for not only being at the epicentre of youth culture, but also for pushing boundaries.

From iconic performances to legendary red carpet moments, it has been the talk of the town for years.

You have Madonna’s “Vogue” performance, Michael Jackson setting the stage on fire with a medley of hits in 1995, Britney Spears bringing out an albino Burmese python for “I’m A Slave 4 U” to name a few.

This is accompanied by iconic moments, such as Beyoncé announcing her first pregnancy in 2011, the infamous kiss Madonna had with Britney and Christina Aguilera, and Lady Gaga announcing the “Born This Way” album in a meat dress.

The 2009 VMAs will most likely go down in the history books as one of the most chaotic and entertaining nights in history.

That night, Janet Jackson opened the show, with a tribute to her late brother, with a jaw-dropping performance of “Scream”.

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Lady Gaga made her VMAs debut with “Paparazzi”, where she ended up hanging from a ceiling, with fake blood gushing out, in what has been hailed as one of her most iconic performances.

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Beyoncé performed “Single Ladies” flawlessly, with a fleet of background dancers. Lil Mama decided to insert herself into Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ performance of “Empire State of Mind”. And Kanye West jumped on stage during Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for Video of the Year Award, with his infamous “Imma let you finish” speech, where he said Beyoncé had the best videos of all time.

Which also had ripple effects for both Taylor and Kanye’s careers, and pop culture as a whole.

And more recently, in 2013, we had Lady Gaga opening the show with “Applause” in a 3-minute song, served with looks from each of her presiding eras.

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The night also provided a lot of fandom discourse, since Katy Perry performed “Roar” and, at that stage, the Katy Cats and Little Monsters were at war, as both songs dropped at the same time.

Taylor Swift threw shade at Harry Styles, while he was sitting in the audience. And let’s not forget about Miley Cyrus’ infamous performance, where she was grinding on Robin Thicke during “Blurred Lines”.

The last memorable VMAs night happened in 2016, when Beyoncé performed a medley of “Lemonade”, Rihanna split her Vanguard award performance up into four segments, and the funny moment where Drake was singing her praises and went in for a kiss and she dabbed on him.

However, many of the women who dominated pop music have gone into other ventures and, for the most part, either don't perform or attend the VMAs anymore, which has created a vacuum.

And it seems the new generation of music artists are struggling to fill it.

Between 2017 and 2020, while there were good performances from the likes of Lizzo, Ariana Grande and Normani, we haven’t had these pop culture moments that reverberate in the general consciousness.

Lady Gaga returned the to VMAs stage in 2020 but, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, herChromatica” medley didn’t have the same punch, due to the safety restrictions.

This year, since we had the return of full live audiences and a line-up of new artists who have been making waves in music, our expectations were sky-high.

Chloe finally debuted “Have Mercy”, which she had been teasing for months.

After an online campaign, Normani gave the first live performance of “Wild Side, Lil Nas X brought “Industry Baby” to the VMAs stage, and Doja Cat was finally freed from the shackles ofSay So”.

However, while collectively the performances were good – there was not a single stand-out moment from the show.

It felt very “paint by numbers”, and lacklustre.

Now one could say the problem is that this new age of artists and consumers have become so accustomed to these microwave songs, that are only meant for streaming numbers and climbing the charts, but the art of performances and captivating an audience seems to have been lost.

The biggest argument against those of us, see millennials, who were teens during the height of the VMAs' cultural impact, is that we’re just old and out of touch.

However, because there is no digital divide between Gen Z and Millennials, I beg to differ.

Many of my age mates and I listen and enjoy these new artists, and are a very much part of pop culture when it comes to slang, TikTok trends, and Gen Z stars of the time.

We knew the complete back story of Olivia Rodrigo’s hit single, “drivers licence”. We know who the D'Amelio and Lopez siblings are.

It just seems that the era of the superstar is behind us, with the only one of the new crop of music artists rising to the occasion being Doja.

Where’s the fire? Where are the performances that make us want argue online, as to who slayed the hardest?

We can’t keep relying on Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, etc, to be the only people who come to the VMAs and not only obliterate the red carpet, but the performances too.

Hopefully, the new crop of pop stars look back at this night and do the work to level up, and be the superstars we need them to be.