Nominations for the 38th annual MTV Video Music Awards were announced on Wednesday (Aug. 11), with the awards to be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY on September 12. Justin Bieber leads the pack with seven nods, followed by Megan Thee Stallion with six, and Billie Eilish, Giveon, Olivia Rodrigo, BTS, Doja Cat, Drake and Lil Nas X with five each.
While many of the nods — particularly for the previously mentioned artists — were predictable and deserved, here are five takeaways we had from browsing the nominees about some of the more interesting, unexpected and/or controversial selections made.
Stars getting recognized for their work behind the camera
It was notable enough at the 2020 VMAs when two of the year’s biggest stars — Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift — were also nominated for best direction, for their own clips for “Xanny” and “The Man,” respectively. (Swift took home the award.) But this year, Eilish and Swift are again both nominated in the category (for “Your Power” and “Willow,” respectively”), and they’re joined by three more artist/directors: Travis Scott (for his M.I.A. and Young Thug collab “Franchise”), Lil Nas X (along with co-director Tanu Muino for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”) and Tyler, the Creator (under pseudonym Wolf Haley for “Lumberjack”). Only one video in the category this year doesn’t have an artist director or co-director: DJ Khaled’s Drake-featuring “Popstar,” helmed by longtime video fixture Director X.
Tyler, the Creator, easily one of the most interesting artists working in the music video format (as both a performer and director), got the best director nod for “Lumberjack,” but that’s his lone nomination for the year. He may have had the calendar working against him, as the videos for his June 25-released Call Me When You Get Lost LP (including Lost cuts “Lumberjack,” “WUSYANAME,” “Juggernaut” and “Corso”) just snuck in under the June 30 VMAs deadline. Other artists with fewer nods than you might expect: The Weeknd (just two, though one for video of the year with “Save Your Tears”) and Harry Styles (three for “Treat People With Kindness,” though just one outside of the technical categories).
“Bad Habits” for video of the year, really?
Few music videos this past year felt as messy as Ed Sheeran’s “Bad Habits,” a grand-scale production helmed by legendary video director Dave Meyers that aimed for Joker-style action mixed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer-style camp — but instead came off more like the recent film version of Cats. The song has been successful, charting in the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100, and the video has racked up over 100 million plays on YouTube, but its presence in the video of the year category is still confusing — particularly when several of the nominees relegated to song of the year, including Dua Lipa’s “Levitating,” BTS’ “Dynamite” and Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License,” would’ve been more deserving candidates.
Dua Lipa… but no DaBaby
One name who you will not see anywhere on the nominees is that of star rapper DaBaby, who has been the subject of much criticism (and has had many pulled festival performances) over the past couple weeks, following his homophobic comments onstage at the Rolling Loud festival in Miami on July 25. Tellingly, he is not even credited on the nomination for Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” — whose official Billboard Hot 100 chart credit has included the rapper for the duration of its run — which, as previously mentioned, is up for song of the year. (This might also explain why the video was not nominated for video of the year, or in any other category, as the official video is for the version featuring DaBaby.)
What on earth is going on with this best rock category?
The past year has been an extremely exciting one in rock, with artists from inside and outside of the traditional rock sphere — Olivia Rodrigo, Machine Gun Kelly, Willow, Måneskin, Glass Animals and so many more — having breakout chart success with rock singles. You won’t find any of those artists in MTV’s best rock category, which instead includes six artists — Evanescence, Foo Fighters, John Mayer, The Killers, Kings of Leon and Lenny Kravitz — who have all been releasing albums since at least 2004, and none of whom have even scraped the Hot 100 in the past year. Bemoaning the VMAs’ backwards-looking best rock nominees is practically an annual tradition at this point, but the sting with this group this year feels particularly sharp.
You will find a few of those timely artists — MGK, Willow and Glass Animals, along with more established rock hitmakers Imagine Dragons, Twenty One Pilots and Bleachers — in the best alternative category, which presumably aims to separate younger acts from more legacy-based acts. (It should be said that even these “alternative” artists have all been active since the early ’10s as well, though a couple only started playing rock-based music recently.) But if that’s the case, why bother having a best rock category at all? No one in MTV’s current demographic is crying out for greater Foo Fighters or Lenny Kravitz representation, and all this crop does is make rock look more fossilized than ever, at a time when it’s actually as vital it’s been in recent memory. Eliminate the category, or just change “alternative” to “rock and alternative,” and let’s stop having to get mad about this every year.