When MTV announces the nominations for the 36th annual VMAs next week, Jonas Brothers, Billie Eilish, Lizzo and Panic! at the Disco are among the artists that are likely to be in the running for the marquee prize at the Aug. 26 telecast: video of the year.
But no one has more riding on the show than MTV itself. The show’s ratings and general buzzworthiness have been declining in recent years. Last year, the show’s ratings (counting only viewers who watched it on MTV) tumbled to 2.25 million viewers — a quarter of what it was as recently as 2013. Counting viewers of all of Viacom Media Network channels, the audience was a healthier 4.47 million viewers, but even that represents a drop-off from past years. As recently as 2014, the show attracted 10.3 million viewers across all Viacom networks.
The show needs to get just the right mix of nominees and performers to reverse the audience erosion that it, like many other awards shows, is experiencing. Fortunately for MTV, there are a number of exciting possibilities that may help it do just that.
Here are some of the leading candidates for 2019 video of the year.
Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker”
JoBros were nominated in this category 11 years ago, when they were in their first flush of success, with “Burnin’ Up.” Their comeback this year with a No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit and a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 exceeded all expectations. The brothers hail from New Jersey, from which the VMAs will broadcast for the first time. Talk about perfect timing.
Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy”
Eilish is expected to be a front-runner in numerous Grammy categories, including best new artist. This smash, which has climbed as high as No. 2 on the Hot 100, is a big reason why. MTV would love to spotlight her before the Grammys have a chance to do so. Four past newcomers have landed VMA noms for video of the year on their way to Grammy wins for best new artist. They are Cyndi Lauper (1984), Amy Winehouse (2007), Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (2013) and Alessia Cara (2017).
Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts”
Lizzo’s lighthearted hip-hop smash has climbed as high as No. 6 on the Hot 100. Lizzo performed the song on the BET Awards in June. The smash may also be headed for a Grammy nom for record of the year. The Academy has ruled it eligible, even though it was first released prior to the start of this eligibility year. Everything seems to be going Lizzo’s way.
Panic! at the Disco’s “High Hopes”
Panic! performed the then-new song on last year’s VMAs. The song topped Billboard‘s Hot Rock Songs chart for a record 34 weeks. It would be the first rock song to be nominated in this category in seven years — since Gotye‘s alternative crossover smash “Somebody That I Used to Know” (featuring Kimbra) in 2012. Panic! won video of the year 13 years ago for “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.” Amazingly, that’s the last time an act even remotely connected to rock has won in this category.
Travis Scott‘s “Sicko Mode”
This video was released on Oct. 19, about two months after last year’s VMAs. So it’s eligible, even though the single was in last year’s Grammy process. (It was nominated for best rap song and best rap performance.)
Ariana Grande for… something
Grande, who was nominated for video of the year last year for “God Is a Woman,” will probably make it back to the finals with one of her trio of 2019 hits: “Thank U, Next,” “7 Rings” or “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored.” She would be just the fourth female artist to land back-to-back video of the year noms, following Madonna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Beyoncé.
Other top contenders
Mendes has two strong contenders: “If I Can’t Have You” and “Señorita,” his collabo with Camila Cabello. Mendes opened last year’s VMAs with a performance of “In My Blood.” Cabello won in this category last year for “Havana,” her collabo with Young Thug. If “Señorita” is nominated, Cabello will be the first artist to return to the finals the year after winning since Perry, who was nominated for “Wide Awake” in 2012 a year after winning for “Firework.”
Halsey has “Without Me” and “Nightmare.” Post Malone has “Sunflower (Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse)” and “Wow.” Khalid’s best bet is “Talk.”
Taylor Swift, who won video of the year four years ago for “Bad Blood” (featuring Kendrick Lamar), has two possible contenders: “ME!” (featuring Panic!’s Brendon Urie) and the LGBTQ-friendly “You Need to Calm Down.” Swift was first nominated in the category in 2013 for “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
Bruno Mars and Cardi B are in the mix with “Please Me.” The two stars were nominated for video of the year last year for “Finesse.” They are vying to become just the second collaboration to receive multiple noms in this category. The first was Beyoncé and Jay-Z, who were nominated for “Drunk in Love” (2014) and “Apeshit” (2018).
This year’s big question mark is Lil Nas X’s genre-blurring “Old Town Road” (featuring Billy Ray Cyrus), which has set up permanent residency at the top of the Hot 100 even as it has stirred industry debate over where it belongs. VMA trivia: Cyrus’ daughter, Miley Cyrus, won video of the year five years ago for “Wrecking Ball.”
The number of nominees for video of the year has fluctuated between four and six. (There were six last year.)
The VMAs have added two more top awards in recent years in an effort to send more artists home happy. Two years ago, they added artist of the year (the first two winners: Sheeran and Cabello). Last year, they added song of the year (the first winner: Post Malone’s “Rockstar,” featuring 21 Savage).
The 36th annual Video Music Awards are set for Aug. 26 from Prudential Center in Newark. Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco is set to host.