Awards

Alicia Keys Added to 2021 VMAs Lineup as MTV Confirms There Will Be No Video Vanguard Award Again

Alicia Keys
Noam Galai/FilmMagic

Alicia Keys onstage during the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards at Madison Square Garden on August 28, 2016 in New York City.

This is only the third time in VMA history that the show will go two or more years without presenting the video vanguard award.

Alicia Keys has been added to the lineup for the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards. She will perform her new single "LALA" with Swae Lee.

Keys, a New York City native, will perform backed by “spectacular city views,” according to a statement from Keys' camp. The show will be held at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Sunday, Sept. 12 and air on MTV, Paramount+, plus a number of streaming services that provide live television options, including Hulu + Live TVfuboTV and Sling TV. 

This will be Keys’ sixth VMAs performance, her fourth as part of a collaboration. She teamed with Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Wonder in 2004 for a mashup of her hit “If I Ain’t Got You” and Wonder’s 1973 smash “Higher Ground,” with Jay-Z in 2009 for their instant classic “Empire State of Mind,” and in 2014 with Nicki Minaj (and Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas) for “Girl on Fire.”

Keys first performed on the show in 2001 when she delivered her breakthrough hit “Fallin’” (with an interpolation of Beethoven’s “Für Elise”). In 2007, she performed “No One”/”Freedom.”

But there will be no video vanguard award on the VMAs for the second year in a row, MTV confirmed to Billboard on Thursday (Sept. 9). This is only the third time in VMA history that the show will go two or more years without presenting that award, which has sometimes been presented as the Michael Jackson video vanguard award or as a lifetime achievement award.

There was no video vanguard award in 2004 to 2005 and again from 2007 to 2010. But there was a seven-year streak from 2013 to 2019 in which the video vanguard award presentation was a highlight of the show. The recipients in those years were Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Kanye West, Rihanna, P!nk, Jennifer Lopez and Missy Elliott.

It’s not a case that all the A-list stars have already received it. Among the superstars who have yet to receive the vanguard award are Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Eminem, Ariana Grande, Kendrick Lamar, Jay Z, BTS, Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry.

This year’s VMAs will have a major career-capping award: As previously reported, MTV is launching the VMAs inaugural global icon award, which the show brought over from the EMAs -- the MTV European Music Awards. That award, being presented this year to Foo Fighters, “celebrates an artist/band whose unparalleled career and continued impact and influence has maintained a unique level of global success in music and beyond,” according to a statement from MTV.

The video vanguard award has not been retired. MTV says that it looks forward to presenting the award at future VMAs.

But the global icon award arguably has two advantages over the video vanguard award for MTV. It reflects the growth and evolution of the MTV brand that leverages ViacomCBS’ massive global scale. And it allows MTV to sidestep the delicate matter of whether to retain Jackson’s name as part of the video vanguard award.

MTV has revealed that, in 2020, more than 90% of the tweets about the VMAs were from outside the U.S., and that, in 2020, 65% of the tweets about the VMAs were non-English tweets, up from 48% in 2018.

As for Jackson, many felt the Emmy-winning 2019 documentary Leaving Neverland cast the late pop star in a damning light. Many others would feel that it would be caving in to public pressure to strip his name from the video vanguard award.