As the music industry attempts to re-open itself to the world of award shows, one of the next big names on the annual docket is the MTV Video Music Awards, currently on the calendar for August 30.
There’s a number of questions for the VMAs to answer before they go live — namely, how they plan to pull off their intended setup at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center while New York and the country at large are still struggling to navigate how to hold live events of any capacity in a post-COVID 19 world. But one question is expected to be answered next week, with the announcement of this year’s VMA nominees scheduled for July 30.
Before those are announced, Billboard wanted to break down the probable nominees for the event’s marquee honor: video of the year. Here’s how we see it, starting with the most likely picks and ending with the longshots.
Harry Styles, “Watermelon Sugar” (dir. Bradley & Pablo)
Not many 2020 videos can claim to have given their accompanying song a second life that ultimately exceeded its first, but that’s exactly what this Bradley & Pablo-filmed clip did for Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” — catapulting it back onto the Hot 100, and sparking a rise that’s now led it into the chart’s top 10. The touch-heavy visual undoubtedly struck a nerve during a socially distanced summer, and its appropriately sweet warm-weather vibes make it perhaps the video from this year most likely to end up iconic for its creator.
Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande, “Rain on Me” (dir. Robert Rodriguez)
One of the year’s most-anticipated videos (helmed by action auteur Robert Rodriguez) did not disappoint, delighting fans of both megastars with its futuristic melodrama and storm-soaked choreography. Gaga and Grande already have quite the history at the VMAs, with a combined 18 Moon Person statues, including one previous video of the year win for Gaga (“Bad Romance,” 2009) and nominations in the category for Grande in each of the last two years (“No Tears Left to Cry,” 2018 and “Thank U, Next,” 2019).
The Weeknd, “Blinding Lights” (dir. Anton Tammi)
One of the year’s biggest and best smashes — one still proving unshakeable at radio — was given a sleek and disturbing visual befitting of the left-field pop star. (It was actually part of a visual trilogy, along with fellow After Hours singles “Heartless” and “In Your Eyes,” all of which could be in consideration.) The Weeknd previously scored a video of the year nod in 2017, for the star-studded accompaniment to Starboy single “Reminder.”
Future feat. Drake, “Life Is Good” (dir. Director X)
An inspired imagining of two of the biggest rap stars in the world living (and loving) life as working stiffs, this clip from Director X played a big part in helping “Life Is Good” debut at No. 2 on the Hot 100 — where it got stuck behind Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” for eight weeks. Drake, already a three-time video of the year nominee, could also earn consideration for the home-shot video to his own chart-topping solo smash, “Toosie Slide.”
Doja Cat, “Say So” (dir. Hannah Lux Davis)
One of the year’s breakaway pop hits was given a big boost towards escape velocity by its gauzy, Hannah Lux Davis-shot video, which combined a disco-days throwback vibe with choreography taken straight from TikTok. Whether the controversy surrounding Doja Cat’s uncomfortable associations — both professionally and during her Internet downtime — end up hurting the video’s chances remain to be seen.
Taylor Swift, “The Man” (dir. Taylor Swift)
It wasn’t attached to the biggest pop hit off her Lover album by any means, but Taylor Swift still earned her fair share of headlines for her “The Man” video — which saw a heavily made-up version of the megastar trying out the titular role, riding on his yacht, doing body shots and manspreading like there was no tomorrow. Given that she was last year’s VOTY winner for “You Need to Calm Down,” another nomination this year seems highly possible for the buzzy (and self-directed) clip.
Billie Eilish, “Everything I Wanted” (dir. Billie Eilish)
Last year’s best new artist winner has only gotten bigger in the 12 months since, and the moody, dreamlike clip for Billie’s second Hot 100 top 10 hit — directed by Eilish herself — was a touching visual testament to the bond between her and brother/collaborator Finneas.
Jonas Brothers, “What a Man Gotta Do” (dir. Joseph Kahn)
It wasn’t as big as last year’s “Sucker,” but “What a Man Gotta Do” certainly captivated the man-band’s fanbase with its recreation of scenes from film classics like Grease and Risky Business. Could it make it two years in a row with video of the year nods for the JoBros?
Post Malone, “Circles” (dir. Colin Tilley)
The fantasy-themed video for Post Malone’s “Circles” wasn’t necessarily one of the year’s best videos — Post’s choice of post-Game of Thrones visual themes remains puzzling for the mid-tempo breakup song — but the song was so big that it might not matter, hitting No. 1 late last year and still hanging around the top 20 of the Hot 100 this July.
Dua Lipa, “Don’t Start Now” (dir. Nabil Elderkin)
Dua has proven herself one of the most engaging pop stars of recent years when it comes to creatively imagined and thoughtfully executed music videos. “Don’t Start Now” isn’t her best clip — visuals for fellow Future Nostalgia singles “Physical” and “Break My Heart” were much stronger, and may also be in VOTY contention — but it was her biggest hit, climbing to No. 2 on the Hot 100 and catapulting her to a new level of stardom.
Camila Cabello feat. DaBaby, “My Oh My” (dir. Dave Meyers)
The Golden Age Hollywood-set, mostly black-and-white-shot video for Camila Cabello’s “My Oh My” marked a sort of unofficial sequel to the Telenovela drama of her solo breakout clip “Havana,” a 2018 winner for video of the year. Co-star DaBaby could be in contention for his own 2020 smash, the Hot 100-conquering “Rockstar” alongside Roddy Ricch (who, in turn, could also contend with his own 11-week No. 1, “The Box”).
Travis Scott, “Highest in the Room” (dir. Dave Meyers & Travis Scott)
Nobody does casual psychedelia as successfully as Travis Scott, and his “Highest in the Room” clip was a typically trippy visual venture that helped the accompanying single become his first to debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100.
BTS, “On” (dir. YongSeok Choi)
A K-pop video has never been nominated for video of the year at the VMAs, but given the ever-growing scale of their productions and their fanbase, it wouldn’t be shocking if BTS’ latest panoramic YouTube record-breaker is the first.
Selena Gomez, “Lose You to Love Me” (dir. Sophie Muller)
It feels like it came out a pretty long time ago compared to many of these other nominees, but the intimately shot black-and-white clip for Selena Gomez’s first Hot 100 No. 1 — helmed by one of the all-time music video greats in Sophie Muller — remains a striking and beloved pop video.
Bad Bunny, “Yo Perreo Sola” (dir. Bad Bunny & Stillz)
As with K-pop, we’ve never had a Spanish-language video of the year nominee, though Ricky Martin (“Livin’ La Vida Loca,” 1999) and Shakira (“Hips Don’t Lie,” 2006) were both nominated for English-language singles. With his rising international superstardom, Bad Bunny could break the seal this year, and “Yo Perreo Sola” — featuring its star blurring gender lines to make a statement against prejudice and harassment — rightfully drew a great deal of positive attention.
Blackpink, “How You Like That” (dir. Seo Hyun-seung)
While Blackpink haven’t quite gotten the international award show looks that their fellow South Korean stars in BTS have, their videos and popularity are similarly unignorable — the barnstorming “How You Like That” also shattered multiple marks on YouTube upon its June debut.
Lil Baby, “Emotionally Scarred” (dir. Keemotion)
Lil Baby jumped to hip-hop’s A-list in 2020 with a series of hit singles and popular music videos. The best in both categories might be the traumatized “Emotionally Scarred,” whose artfully staged visual smartly puts the focus on its star — while its background broadcasts an important safety message for the year of COVID-19.
Lil Nas X, “Panini” (dir. Mike Diva)
It might not have been quite as unavoidable as last year’s VOTY-nominated, era-defining “Old Town Road,” but the fantastical sci-fi of Lil Nas X’s “Panini” still made for one the more notable clips of the last 12 months, and has racked up nearly 300 million views on YouTube.
Eminem feat. Juice WRLD, “Godzilla” (dir. Cole Bennett)
Eminem’s first collaboration with star director Cole Bennett was a memorably (and appropriately) tipsy visual, and its VOTY case might be helped by both Eminem’s legacy as a two-time winner of the award (“The Real Slim Shady,” 2000 and “Without Me,” 2002) and affection for featured singer/rapper Juice WRLD following his death late last year.
Jack Harlow, “Whats Poppin” (dir. Cole Bennett)
Another Cole Bennett clip — but rather than one pairing two established stars, this one helped make a first-time hitmaker out of Louisville MC Jack Harlow with its clever visuals showcasing the rapper’s likable personality.