The Video Vanguard Award has existed for as long as the MTV Video Music Awards have been around. At the first VMAs ceremony in 1984, David Bowie, Richard Lester and the Beatles were honored for their early, pioneering work in the pre-MTV days of the art form. The rest of the Eighties saw various pop heavyweights get their due, including Madonna, David Byrne and Michael Jackson, whose name was attached to the award the year after his sister Janet won it in 1990.
Video Vanguard presentations were much less frequent during the Nineties, becoming an off-and-on component during the VMAs’ wildest and most excessive years. Since 2013, these segments have returned as a featured part of the broadcasts, paying tribute primarily to the stars of the 21st century who have kept music-video fans on their toes. On Monday’s show, Jennifer Lopez will become the latest to join the roster, a well-deserved accolade for a star whose dancing skills and ability to toy with her own celebrity have made her videos an important part of the new millennium’s pop canon.
There are still many music-video heroes to pay homage to, especially from the 2000s. Here’s a shortlist of potential future recipients of the coveted Video Vanguard moonman.
Missy is the most obvious candidate to be a future recipient of this special VMA trophy. Her contributions to the Total Request Live generation of MTV were some of the era’s most surreal, inventive and widely imitated pieces of pop-video art, a perfect match for the eclectic and daring music she was making at the time. From the garbage-bag fisheye in “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” to the Beetlejuice-esque haunted mansion dancing of “Lose Control” or letting teen and tween dance stars show off their skills in clips like “Gossip Folks” and “Work It,” the products of her singular vision have become some of the most enduring moments in music-video history.
The VMAs haven’t recognized a video director as a Video Vanguard recipient in more than a decade, and Joseph Kahn is one of the most ideal contenders for the award. He’s been directing music videos for nearly 30 years and his range of collaborators is unmatched. He’s the man behind the vampire fantasy in Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” the Brandy vs. Monica face-off in “The Boy Is Mine” and the vengeful secret-agent epic portrayed by Britney Spears in “Toxic.” Having worked with everyone from Korn to Taylor Swift, Kahn is certainly one of the most prolific and versatile video visionaries of the 21st century.
Shifting erratically from the gravely serious to the completely wacky, Eminem has been a master of groundbreaking music videos. His best work has come from his collaborations with Phillip Atwell, leading to goofy and provocative clips in which the rapper has portrayed various celebrities (like Bill Clinton and Johnny Carson in “My Name Is”), psych ward patients (“The Real Slim Shady”) and dramatized versions of himself (“Stan”). Whether skewering pop culture’s biggest stars or tackling toxic relationships and domestic violence, Eminem’s videos have always made an undeniable impact.
More recently, Lady Gaga has been responsible for making music videos into events again. She made her debut just as the age of TRL was being replaced with YouTube consumption, but that didn’t stop Gaga from making lengthy, plot-heavy, fashion-forward visual components to match the arty pop she was churning out from album to album. Following the couture futurism of “LoveGame” and “Poker Face” came the noir glamor of “Paparazzi” — in which a conniving but handsome Alexander Skarsgard pushes an It Girl Gaga off a balcony, only to be poisoned by her later — and the Thelma & Louise–inspired vengeful road trip epic of “Telephone,” which co-stars Beyonce in one of her most unique and out-of-character roles yet.
Another excellent Video Vanguard contender is Marc Webb, the director of some of the great alternative-rock videos of the 2000s. Working with artists like Green Day, the Used and Evanescence, Webb helped keep a lot of great rock acts of the new millennium on par with the pop and rap artists dominating the MTV universe of the time. His most notable contribution was the dramatic, emo-goth funeral of My Chemical Romance’s “Helena” video.