Kanye West will receive the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, MTV’s highest honor, at tonight’s 2015 Video Music Awards. West is no stranger to the VMAs, having performed six times already, including a show-stopping medley in 2004 with Chaka Khan. And of course, we can’t forget that stage-crashing buzzworthy moment in 2009, when he instantly villain-ized himself at the altar of Taylor Swift.
He made a triumphant redemption in 2010 with “Runaway” (while wearing a snazzy red suit!)
Over the years, West has scored thirty-two VMAs nominations for fourteen videos. In this regard, West has been a VMA mainstay: he has been nominated for at least one VMA in ten out of the last twelve years.
But is West really deserving of the Video Vanguard Award? He’s certainly been one of the most prolific and noteworthy artists of our generation. However, West is an extremely polarizing figure, and he’s more often in the news for his non-musical antics (that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” moment) than for his musical output.
Even his creative genius—the one thing everyone used to agree on—has been called into question lately as his ability to churn out envelope-pushing, radio-friendly rap music has decelerated this decade. (His last solo top 10 single was back in 2008).
Furthermore, despite having made some very memorable videos, he has only ever won two (!) VMAs: Best Male Video in 2005 for “Jesus Walks,” and Best Special Effects in 2008 for “Good Life”. To be sure, West was robbed a few times: ”Gold Digger” definitely should’ve won Best Male Video in 2006, over James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”.
But the fact remains that, despite (or more likely, because of) West’s notoriety, he hasn’t had enough long-lasting impact to deserve this award just yet.
There are a number of artists who should’ve won the Video Vanguard Award instead. Despite credentials far more impressive than West’s, for whatever reason, these artists continue to be overlooked for MTV’s ultimate accolade. Kanye being Kanye, he’ll think he’s more deserving than all of them combined, but here we’ll take an objective look at seven artists who should have won this year’s Video Vanguard Award instead:
Why they deserve it: Aerosmith revived their dormant career in the ‘80s with “Walk This Way,” a legendary collaboration with Run-DMC; the subsequent video was named one of the top 100 music videos of all time on lists by Rolling Stone, MTV and VH1.
Embracing the format, Aerosmith then hit their stride, winning VMAs for “Janie’s Got a Gun,” “The Other Side,” “Living on the Edge,” “Cryin’,” “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees),” “Pink,” and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” Especially notable were the Alicia Silverstone trilogy of videos: ”Cryin’, “Amazing,” and “Crazy.” Any teenager who came of age in the mid-’90s is very familiar with these music videos. Also, MTV even declared “Cryin’” their all time best music video, back in 1993, a year before it won Video of the Year at the 1994 VMAs.
Why they didn’t win this year: Aerosmith were awarded the now-defunct MTV Icon Award, in a ceremony separate from the Video Music Awards, back in 2002, so MTV may feel they have already sufficiently honored the band’s impact (Metallica suffer a similar fate, in 2003). Furthermore, MTV tends to honor “active” artists, and Aerosmith haven’t been nominated for a VMA since 2001. In fact, Aerosmith are essentially the Rolling Stones of the MTV era; as the channel is already afraid to acknowledge its own age, honoring a band of old-timers seems unlikely.
Why she deserves it: When Bjork released her solo debut in the early ‘90s, it was clear that she was a unique voice, both literally and metaphorically. She backed up her distinct sound with videos that were either trippy (“Human Behavior”), post-modern (”Big Time Sensuality”), or basically one big acid trip (”Army of Me”). She scored a VMA win (with help from director, Spike Jonze) with a cover of “It’s Oh So Quiet.”
She also cowrote Madonna’s “Bedtime Stories,” the video of which is part of a permanent display in the Museum of Modern Art. Bjork then won two more Moonmen for Chris Cunningham’s stunning robots-in-love treatment of her single, “All is Full of Love.” That groundbreaking video is among the all-time best on lists by Time, the NME and MTV2.
Why she didn’t win this year: While Bjork continues to release provocative and artistic music videos (check out the mesmerizing biology lesson of “Hollow”), none of them have been popular enough to enter the public consciousness. And that cuts to the quick of why she won’t win this award: even at her most radio-friendly moments, Bjork has always been on the fringes of pop music. The Video Vanguard Award goes to artists with wide-reaching appeal, which means that Bjork might have been able to win this award back in the late ‘90s or early ‘00s, but it would be virtually impossible for her to win it today.
Why they deserve it: Everybody loves Coldplay! They’re the biggest band in the world right now (at least when the Black Eyed Peas aren’t around), and their album releases are always huge media events. They’re a bit hit-and-miss with their music videos, but when they’re on (the outer space, alien robot story of “Talk,” the puppets in “Life in Technicolor II,” the dizzying paper butterfly burst in “Lovers in Japan”) they’re among the best in the world. Backwards-running sad-story “The Scientist” won the band three VMAs back in 2003.
Why they didn’t win this year: Some of their best songs have had pretty mediocre videos: the slow-motion walk-on-the-beach of “Yellow” is excruciating to sit through if you’ve already seen it. “Clocks” is just glossed-up concert footage. And “Speed of Sound” is just plain boring. Additionally, Coldplay are not as synonymous with music videos as some of the other artists in consideration here; in fact, they’ve only performed at the VMAs twice, the last time way back in 2005. Furthermore, their last album, Ghost Stories, was a relative dud. However, another big album with a string of hits will put the band back in contention.
Why he deserves it: Eminem has been a force of nature on MTV ever since he debuted with the quirky and hilarious “My Name Is” video back in 1999. That video nabbed him his first VMA; he then picked up seven more between “The Real Slim Shady,” “Without Me,” and “Lose Yourself,” including Video of the Year wins in 2000 and 2002 (making him the first artist ever to win Video of the Year twice). After a hiatus in the mid-’00s, Eminem came back and won four more VMAs for “We Made You,” “Not Afraid,” and “Rap God.” And that doesn’t even include his essential, non-VMA-winning videos, such as “Stan,” “Love the Way You Lie,” and “The Monster.”
Additionally, Eminem makes great headlines at the VMAs, whether he’s throwing down a legendary performance of “The Real Slim Shady,” doing the “we’re not worthy” bow to Madonna, taking Sacha Baron Cohen’s butt in the face, or…err…getting in a fight with Moby and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. He’s also basically Britney Spears.
Also, aside from Lady Gaga, Eminem is the winning-est artist in VMA history to have not already won the Video Vanguard Award.
Why he didn’t win this year: MTV has often been accused of being racist, and awarding yet another white artist with the Video Vanguard Award might not go over so well before Kanye West or Jay-Z get honored. However, this award is long overdue.
Why she deserves it: In just seven years, Lady Gaga has already left a legacy of epic, iconic music videos. While “Just Dance” and “Poker Face” got her name on our tongues, it wasn’t until the Jonas Akerlund-directed “Paparazzi” that Gaga really started making an artistic statement. “Bad Romance” followed, nabbing her seven VMAs, including one for Video of the Year. When the nine-and-a-half-minute, Beyonce-assisted “Telephone” won for Best Collaboration at the same ceremony, Lady Gaga became the first artist since 1987 to win eight VMAs in a single night. By the time her Born This Way album came out, she had transformed music video premieres back into an “event,” like they were back in the halycon Michael Jackson and Madonna days. Appropriately, her contribution to the music video format has been rewarded by the channel: Lady Gaga is currently tied with Peter Gabriel for the third-most wins in VMA history. And if that wasn’t enough, Lady Gaga knows how to put on a show: whether it’s bleeding to death in 2009, wearing a meat dress in 2010, or acting in drag all night long in 2011, Lady Gaga is an MTV producer’s wet dream.
Why she didn’t win this year: While MTV frequently gave out the Video Vanguard Award to relative newbies in the ‘80s and the early ‘90s, they’ve recently stuck to artists with ten-plus years under their belt. Also, Lady Gaga’s Artpop album (and its subsequent videos) were under-appreciated. However, if she has another round of huge success with her next album, she’ll most likely win this award by 2020.
Why she deserves it: When Missy Elliott first hit the scene in the mid-’90s, her Timbaland-assisted songs were a breath of fresh air in a stagnant Puff Daddy world. Elliott immediately differentiated herself by making innovative music videos that looked like nothing else around. Her video for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” where she’s wearing an inflated trash bag, was a bizarre but unforgettable image.
Likewise, the futuristic video for “She’s a Bitch” served notice that Elliott was an artist who knew how to marry eccentric imagery to brilliant songs better than anyone since Madonna. “Work It” eventually won Elliott her first Moonman trophy, taking home Video of the Year in 2003. Plus her connection to other great VMA moments (like taking part in the famous Madonna/Britney/Christina make-out performance of 2003), made Elliott an MTV star for nearly a decade.
Why she didn’t win this year: Missy Elliott hasn’t released a new album in over ten years. While she returned to the spotlight as a special guest at Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime show this year, Elliott will need to release another album with at least one great song and video before she’ll take home this much-deserved honor.
Why he deserves it: Along with Michael Jackson and Madonna, Prince was one of the first artists to really make a name for themselves on MTV. His sexually charged, purple-hued videos were all over the channel, with “When Doves Cry,” “Rasperry Beret,” and “Cream” among his most recognizable. No stranger to controversy, Prince notably performed in ass-less pants at the 1991 VMAs.
Why he didn’t win this year: I actually had to triple-check to make sure he hadn’t already won this, but indeed, Prince has still not been given the Video Vanguard Award. Strangely, he’s only won four Moonmen in his long career. Despite being nominated as recently as 2006, Prince hasn’t had a mainstream hit in years: his last top 40 hit was when “1999″ logged a week at #40, in December 1998. As the Video Vanguard Award generally goes to artists with current hits, Prince probably will not receive this award in his lifetime. But if Bon Jovi became a Video Vanguard Award winner (in 1991), then MTV needs to do something to fix this glaring oversight.
(featured image: Kanye West, “Heartless“)