Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift are this year’s top nominees for MTV’s Video Music Awards, with 10 noms each. Billie Eilish is a beat behind with nine noms. Grande and Jonas Brothers are the only artists to be nominated in each of the three highest-profile categories: video, artist and song of the year. (Oddly, JoBros have just four noms overall, but they include the top three awards.)
Four of the six video of the year nominees are also nominated for best pop — a clear sign that pop is today’s reigning sound at MTV. They are Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” Grande’s “thank u, next,” JoBros’ “Sucker” and Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down.”
The other video of the year nominees are Lil Nas X’s chart-busting “Old Town Road (Remix)” (featuring Billy Ray Cyrus) and 21 Savage‘s “a lot” (featuring J. Cole). Both are also nominated for best hip-hop.
Rock was shut out of the video of the year finals for the seventh consecutive year, despite the popularity of Panic! at the Disco‘s “High Hopes,” which logged a record 34 weeks at No. 1 on Hot Rock Songs. The last rock song to receive a video of the year nom was Gotye‘s 2012 alternative crossover smash “Somebody That I Used to Know” (featuring Kimbra).
R&B, Latin and dance were also shut out of the video of the year finals.
This is Grande’s second consecutive nomination for video of the year. She was nominated last year for “God Is a Woman.” Grande is just the fifth female artist to land back-to-back video of the year noms, following Madonna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Beyoncé.
This is the third video of the year nom for Swift, who won the award four years ago for “Bad Blood” (featuring Kendrick Lamar) and was nominated six years ago for “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
This is the second video of the year nom for JoBros. The brothers were nominated in that 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 emanate for the first time.
The video of the year nom for “Old Town Road” helps to keep up a family tradition. Billy Ray Cyrus’ daughter Miley Cyrus won video of the year five years ago for “Wrecking Ball.” The Cyruses are now the unlikely answer to the trivia question: Who are the only parent and child to each receive video of the year noms at the VMAs?
21 Savage’s video of the year nom for “a lot” was a bit of a surprise, but maybe it shouldn’t have been. The video was nominated in the same category at the BET Awards in June.
This is the third year that MTV has had an artist of the year award. Grande is the only artist who has been nominated all three years. This year’s other nominees in that category are Cardi B (who was also nominated last year), Eilish, Halsey, JoBros and Shawn Mendes.
This is the second year that MTV has had a song of the year category. Drake is the only artist who has been nominated both years. He’s nominated this year for “In My Feelings.” He was nominated last year for “God’s Plan.” This year’s other nominees are Grande for “thank u, next,” JoBros for “Sucker,” Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper for “Shallow,” Lil Nas X and Cyrus for “Old Town Road (Remix)” and Swift for “You Need to Calm Down.”
Eilish, 17, is vying to become the youngest VMA winner for best new artist since Justin Bieber, who was 16 when he won in 2010. Four other solo artists have won in this category when they were still in their teens—Avril Lavigne (who was 17 when she won in 2002), Austin Mahone (17 when he won in 2013), Khalid (19 when he won in 2017) and Fiona Apple (19 when she won in 1997).
Artists in the unenviable position of going up against Eilish for best new artist are Ava Max, H.E.R., Lil Nas X, Lizzo and Rosalía. H.E.R. was Grammy-nominated for best new artist in February. These other artists are strong candidates for best new artist noms when the 62nd annual Grammy noms are unveiled on Nov. 20.
Rosalía, who is known for her modern interpretations of flamenco music, is the first artist who records primarily in Spanish to be nominated for a VMA as best new artist. Gerardo, who rapped in “Spanglish,” was nominated in 1991.
Another noteworthy nominee: Smokey Robinson, who landed his first smash hit (“Shop Around,” with his group The Miracles) in 1960, more than 20 years before MTV went on the air in 1981. The R&B legend is nominated for best R&B for his featured role on Anderson .Paak‘s “Make It Better.”
MTV introduced a new category this year, Best K-Pop. BTS‘ “Boy with Luv” (featuring Halsey), which was a top 10 hit on the Hot 100, is the front-runner to win the award. (Coupled with the nomination for Rosalía, this shows that the VMAs have more of a global scope than they have in the past.)
MTV also came up with yet another new name for an award it has presented in all but one year since 2011: video for good. The award was formerly called video with a message, best fight against the system and best video with a social message. (The new name is a good one, but don’t get too attached to it.) The front-runner in the category this year is Swift’s LGBTQ-friendly “You Need to Calm Down,” which is a video of the year nominee.
All 20 categories (including six technical categories) are gender-neutral, a rarity at awards shows. Female artists dominated. Of the 11 artists who received four or more noms, six are women — Grande and Swift with 10, Eilish with nine, Halsey with six, Camila Cabello and Cardi B with four.
The top male nominees are Lil Nas X with eight, Mendes with five, and J Balvin, JoBros and BTS with four.
Several artists are nominated for technical awards, a further indication of their talent. Solange is nominated for co-editing and co-choreographing “Almeda.” Swift is nominated for co-directing “You Need to Calm Down.” Eilish is nominated for editing “Bad Guy.”
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 36th annual Video Music Awards are set for Aug. 26 from Prudential Center in Newark. Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco is set to host.
Bruce Gillmer and Jesse Ignatovic, co-founder of Den of Thieves, are executive producers for the 2019 VMAs. Other key members of the creative team include Barb Bialowski, Jackie Barba, Joe Buoye, Alicia Portugal, Amani Duncan and Wendy Plaut.
MTV revealed the noms via the VMA chatbot, giving fans a sneak peek at the nominations by sending a direct message to VMAs on Facebook Messenger and Twitter.
Starting now, fans can vote for their favorites by visiting vma.mtv.com, through Thursday, Aug. 15. Voting for best new artist will remain active until the broadcast on Aug. 26. Fans on Twitter and Facebook Messenger can also slide into VMAs’ DMs to cast an additional vote. Also, fans will be able to ask Alexa to “vote for the VMAs” for “artist of the year” within the MTV skill on Alexa-enabled devices.
This year, for the first time ever, MTV is rewarding fans for voting through VMA Power Hour on vma.mtv.com, where their votes are doubled from 1-2 p.m. ET daily. Fans can come back each day within this voting window beginning Wednesday to show double the support for their favorite artists.