Missy Elliott performed a medley of famous hits at the MTV Video Music Awards on Monday. Her dazzling set included “Throw It Back,” “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” “Get Ur Freak On,” “Work It,” “Pass That Dutch,” and “Lose Control.”
Elliott opened her performance with her newest song, “Throw It Back” — a surprising choice given the numerous hits in her back-catalog. But in the context of her medley, Elliott’s latest track took on a new significance: The bass line merged smoothly with the low-end of “The Rain (Super Fly),” her debut single. After paying tribute to the song that jumpstarted her career, Elliott picked up the tempo, flying through her discography in chronological order.
As the beats got fiercer, the ensembles behind the rapper got more frenetic. Elliott opened her medley with a small cadre of silvery dancers whirling in a house of mirrors. The dancers quickly multiplied, and the outfits kept changing: rain slickers and umbrella hats, then camouflage and spiky GI helmets. The wildest moment came during “Pass That Dutch,” when Elliott was rapping while dressed as a scarecrow and a spaceship flew overhead.
Elliott is the latest in a line of Video Vanguard winners stretching back to 1984. After being a fixture in the 1980s and 1990s, the network presented the honor inconsistently during the 2000s. But it’s been a regular part of this decade’s VMAs, with recipients including Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Kanye West, Rihanna, P!nk, and Jennifer Lopez.
Elliott has been a master of music videos for over two decades: Her 1997 debut single, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” directed by Hype Williams, showed she already had a flair for eye-popping visuals. However, her achievements in the medium haven’t always been recognized. While she was nominated for Best Short Form Music Video three times at the Grammys, she didn’t win until 2006, when she took home the trophy for “Lose Control,” which featured Ciara and Fatman Scoop.
Even if award shows failed to recognize Elliott, she was a constant source of inspiration for her peers. “She changed the way so many people made music, myself included,” Justin Timberlake said during a tribute spot on Monday. “Missy was making films,” Pharrell told Elle in 2017. “… And it felt like there were no bounds to what she could do, and she continued to teach people over and over again, you can do this, you can do that.”
Elliott influenced a younger generation of musicians as well. “Missy always looked cool in her videos,” added Tyler, the Creator in 2016. “I’m not even talking about her normal dressing. Just the swag that she had in her videos. She made a fucking plastic bag look awesome.”
Elliott went on a hiatus as a solo artist in the late 2000s before reemerging in 2015 with “WTF (Where They From).” On Friday she released a new EP titled Iconology.