Much of the Internet seemed to agree with its hypothesis, and the idea of her receiving the lifetime achievement award became a Twitter movement. The chatter around her and the video vanguard got to the point where Missy herself had to deny that she was due to receive it that year, lamenting, “I’m sorry to say I don’t think I am even on the list for the VMA’s Video Vanguard Awards.”
Indeed, in 2018, the award went to Jennifer Lopez. But this year, it appears MTV has recognized the will of the people, as on Monday (Aug. 12) the channel announced (via an upside-down-written press release, appropriately enough) that Elliott would be the 2019 Michael Jackson video vanguard recipient. It’s certainly a well-deserved honor, as the rapper’s first decade in the mainstream — collaborating with acclaimed directors like Hype Williams, Paul Hunter and Dave Meyers — resulted in some of the most innovative, captivating and brain-sticking clips of the period. Missy’s visuals helped catapult her to superstardom, and earned her two video of the year trophies at the VMAs, for the all-star “Lady Marmalade” team-up (’01) and her solo smash “Work It” (’03).
But now that MTV has done right by Missy Elliott, what other video stars still demand to be recognized? Which not-yet-acknowledged artists have been crucial to the history of the art form, with work that still resonates today? Here are our picks for the next 10 years of winners, allowing a little over a decade after an artist’s first big video before they truly start to merit consideration of this career-spanning award.
Seems hard to believe that Jay hasn’t received the honor yet, though that may have more to do with his increasing distrust of major award shows than his lack of worthiness for the distinction. Certainly his resume in the matter is bulletproof, as Jay’s found major video success doing everything from gritty NY street travelogues to widescreen international revelry to high-concept performance art to animated historical satire, working with nearly every major video director of his era and staying relevant from the TRL era to modern day.
2020: Lady Gaga
Undoubtedly on the shortest of shortlists of the most important video artists of the 21st century, Lady Gaga revitalized the medium at its late-’00s low point — essentially reintroducing the event video as a concept to the YouTube era, and using her clips as an essential building block in her stardom and mythology like few post-’80s pop artists had in the years since. By 2020 it’ll be 12 years since “Just Dance” first brought her to the small screen — 2016 recipient Rihanna only had to wait 11 years from her first big hit — which is a plenty long wait to award Mother Monster’s career at the awards show she’s all but made her own throughout the years.
Another conspicuous “Why haven’t they won yet?” candidate — maybe just bad memories of the Bruno incident? Regardless, Eminem undeniably changed the face of MTV with his inflammatory videos at the turn of the century, winning a couple video of the year trophies (“The Real Slim Shady,” 2000; “Without Me,” 2002) and selling tens of millions of albums in the process. His clips don’t always land with the same impact 20 years later, but most rappers in their 40s would still kill for his YouTube numbers; the visual for Joyner Lucas collab “Lucky You” has racked up over 115 million views since its 2018 debut.
2022: Katy Perry
Outside of Gaga and 2014 vanguard recipient Beyoncé, no pop star of the Obama era was a more reliable video draw than Katy Perry. Her clips oscillated between soapy cinematic melodrama and eye-popping candy-colored fantasia, helping to give each of her many hit singles their own distinct personalities. She’s also a VMAs fixture, not only winning video of the year in 2011 (for “Firework”), but also hosting the ceremonies in 2017.
2023: Taylor Swift
Obviously Taylor Swift’s history with the Video Music Awards needs no recounting here — without the drama she was at the center of a decade ago, and the many ways its permeated the show and the culture at large in the years since, there’s no telling how much we’d even still be talking about the VMAs in 2019. But she’s also become a vital video artist over that period, graduating from the simple-but-iconic teenage narratives of “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me” to the big-budget pop blockbusters “Blank Space” and “Bad Blood” (a video of the year winner in 2015) — and of course, the easter-egg-stuffed productions of the recent “ME!” and “You Need to Calm Down,” the latter a 2019 nominee for top honors.
Drake took a minute to find his footing as a video artist — early productions either lacked character or emphasized director style over his own personality. But starting with 2012’s “HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right),” he stumbled onto the secret sauce for 2010s virality, which has since extended to countless endlessly Twitter-recycled clips of his in the years since. In 2018, the headline-grabbing, view-racking vids for “God’s Plan,” “Nice For What,” “I’m Upset” and “In My Feelings” cemented him as the defining video star of the late decade — though despite three video of the year nominations (“Take Care” in 2012, “Hotline Bling” in 2016, “God’s Plan” In 2018), he’s yet to win the VMAs’ grand prize.
2025: Nicki Minaj
Young Aubrey’s YMCMB partner (and early-career small screen love interest) has built nearly as iconic a video resume, with cartoonishly eye-popping visuals to match her larger-than-life persona, helmed by many of the decade’s biggest names (Colin Tilley, Diane Martel, Hannah Lux Davis, the eternal Hype Williams). She’s also such a massive presence that she spent much of the early decade stealing videos from the likes of Big Sean, Kanye West and even the rest of her Young Money crew. Surprisingly, despite three nominations for best female video (including a win for “Starships” in 2012), Minaj has never even been nominated for video of the year.
2026: Ariana Grande
Ariana has been a video and VMAs mainstay since her mid-’10s debut, but arguably didn’t truly become an iconic video artist until 2018, when the gravity-defying “No Tears Left to Cry,” head-swimming “God Is a Woman” and cable-classic-recreating “Thank U, Next” clips established her vids as must-watches even for casual fans. A powerful performance of “Woman” at the ’18 awards — featuring an all-female Last Supper recreation and several of Grande’s own family members — cemented her as the night’s biggest star, and she looks primed to maintain that status this year, where she’s up for ten awards, including artist of the year and video of the year (for “Thank U, Next”).
2027: Cole Bennett
Don’t forget: The video vanguard started out as an award that went to both artists and filmmakers, with directors like Richard Lester, Julien Temple and (most recently, in 2006) Hype Williams being named as recipients. That’s changed since the award was reintroduced in 2011 — after a five-year absence — particularly since following Justin Timberlake’s accompanying greatest hits set in 2013, the vanguard has largely been used as a framing device for a major pop star to give an extended performance. But if there’s one star director from this generation who might make his claim to be recognized by 2027, it’s Cole Bennett, whose accessible but off-kilter clips for the likes of Juice WRLD, Lil Skies, Ski Mask the Slump God and Lil Tecca have essentially defined the visual aesthetic of the entire SoundCloud rap era.
2028: Kendrick Lamar
Another artist whose early videos were not nearly as cinematic as his actual music, Kendrick Lamar took a major leap with the vivid visuals for the singles off 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly — including the 2015 video of the year-nominated “Alright,” which lost to Taylor Swift’s Kendrick-featuring “Bad Blood.” He won the award on his own in 2017 for the game-changing “HUMBLE.,” and today (along with The Little Homies collaborator Dave Free) does vids as consistently big and imaginative as anyone, often with help from regular collaborator Dave Meyers.