(August 27, 2019). I don’t know that many people still care about MTV as a music video channel.
It’s been so long since the cable network was relevant in the music world that there’s now a whole generation of adults who weren’t even born when it last played music videos on a regular basis.
Still, MTV has a major say each year in recognizing the music industry’s greatest achievements in video, with a sort-of permanent credibility that was sealed 35 years ago when it launched its first Video Music Awards – the annual event that was spared the unfortunate death that virtually all of the network’s other music-related programming has experienced in the last two decades.
That credibility got a major boost Monday night (August 26) when it finally recognized one of the most innovative, most creative visual artists of the past 30 years – hip-hop legend Missy Elliott – with its Moon Man trophy for lifetime achievement, the coveted Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award.
It’s a long overdue recognition for Elliott, an artist whose revolutionary sounds and groundbreaking imagery hit us right out of the gate in 1997 with her very first single and video, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” – you know the Ann Peebles-sampling, Hype Williams-directed classic featuring Missy alternately clad in ballooning black trash bags and colorful pantsuits; plus eye-popping, lip-bulging (literally) facial expressions and hella guest appearances (Lil Kim, Puff Daddy, Total, SWV, 702, Yo Yo and Da Brat all made cameos).
Missy Elliott redefined not only hip-hop in the late 1990s and early 2000s with her futuristic sounds and trippy lyrics, but the music video medium itself with her forward-thinking, often humorous visual approach.
She and her “glam-squad” also redefined what glamorous meant by making big girl swag a thing in the ‘90s long before comedienne Monique carried the torch into awards shows more than a decade later, or rising star Lizzo made us feel how “Truth Hurts” this year.
Missy’s willingness to expand the image of the black female rapper beyond the scantily-clad, punanny-obsessed variety that was (and still is) so prevalent in hip-hop isn’t acknowledged or celebrated nearly enough. (If It were, maybe there’d be more women in hip-hop willing to step away from the sex-driven image the male-dominated industry has crafted for them for decades.)
That overlooked recognition all changed during a 15-minute tribute and performance on Monday night as fellow artists from multiple generations paid homage to the living legend before she performed a career-spanning medley of her biggest hits.
First, videotaped tributes to Missy came from superstars including Janet Jackson, Lil Kim, Justin Timberlake, Ciara (in tears), Pharrell Williams and fellow Virginian/longtime collaborator Timbaland.
Current sensations Lizzo (near tears) and Cardi B were also on hand, with Cardi doing the, um, honors of presenting Elliott with the Vanguard Award.
The irony of both millennials’ involvement in this tribute to the biggest-selling female rapper in history wasn’t lost on this blogger. Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” earlier in the day had climbed to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart (even though the song is hardly rap) and Cardi is the top female rapper of the past two years.
It was almost like a giving back of the torch to the person who deserved it (but never truly got it) in the first place.
Just before being presented with the honor, Missy reminded folks just why she deserved it. She performed a seven-minute medley of her hits, including a neck-snapping rendition of the new song “Throw It Back,” plus classics like “The Rain” (complete with Missy in those black bags – and seemingly floating in air during the intro), “Hot Boy,” “Get Ur Freak On,” “Work It,” “Pass That Dutch,” and “Lose Control.”
Each song got its own special, ground-shaking treatment, with some harkening back to the videos that helped make them famous originally.
On the frenetic “Get Ur Freak On,” Elliott led her army of dancers through some hot moves reminiscent of the Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott of years past.
For her biggest hit, “Work It,” Elliott disappeared from the stage while two bright yellow-clad dancers (including a grown-up Alyson Stoner – the child prodigy from the original video plus some of Missy’s others) performed acrobatic flips, twists and hand-stands on the visually stunning stage.
For “Pass That Dutch,” Missy played the role of scarecrow in a cornfield while four young dancers – whom she later referred to as the “next generation” – danced in front of the legend.
To put it simply, Missy Elliott annihilated the VMAs.
But this has been quite the year for the 48-year-old Elliott.
Earlier in 2019 she was inducted in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, becoming the first female rapper to achieve that honor. Just this month she released a new single (“Throw It Back”) and EP titled Iconology. And Monday night she became the only female rapper to take home the Vanguard Award.
She is also ranked as the top-selling female rapper in Nielsen SoundScan history – which spans the past 29 years, or the entire era that female rappers have been in the platinum ranks.
As always, Missy was gracious and humble in her VMA acceptance speech, reminding the audience how diligently she’s been working for over two decades and thanking everyone from God and her mother, to Janet Jackson and Timbaland; and from Hype Williams and nearly all the other behind-the-scenes producers, directors and label execs, to the late singer, collaborator and close friend Aaliyah.
Missy also acknowledged artists who inspired her unusual videos, including Jackson, Busta Rhymes, Peter Gabriel and Madonna.
Finally, Elliott gave a special shout-out to an unlikely group, namely the dance community and, specifically, those who dance behind her and other artists in videos and stage performances – reminding them that they were not just props, but the “icing on the cake” and “the beat to the heart.”
Of course, dancers from multiple communities helped Missy bring the house down with a performance for the ages on this night. It’s one her fans will likely never forget, and one that – as Timberlake noted during his earlier video tribute – accompanied what was perhaps the “most overdue award ever.”
Congrats to Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, who definitely hit em wit da hee tonight!
Or as Cardi B so eloquently put it – “that was fiyah!!!”
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
You can also register for free to receive notifications of future articles by visiting the home page (scroll up!).