Sure, the Jonas Brothers performed. Lil Nas X won song of the year with Billy Ray Cyrus. But at MTV’s 2019 Video Music Awards on Monday night, the standout moments came from the women in the room.
Missy Elliott finally got her due, being honored with MTV’s Video Vanguard Award and delivering an energetic medley of “Get Ur Freak On,” “Lose Control” and more. A retrospective by famous fans included Lizzo, Justin Timberlake, Timbaland and Pharrell, among others, and Elliott gave a raucously received acceptance speech in which she thanked seemingly everyone.
“Lastly,” she said, “I want to dedicate this award to the dance community all around the world, because when y’all get on stage with these artists, y’all are not just props. Y’all are the icing on the cake. Y’all are the beat to the heart.”
Setting a completely different vibe, Miley Cyrus took it down a notch without losing any intensity when she performed “Slide Away,” which many people have interpreted as a goodbye song to estranged husband Liam Hemsworth. Solo on stage except for women playing stringed instruments in the shadows, she belted out her heart in black and white — and a super-short mini dress.
Lizzo knocked out “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell” backed up by women who didn’t match those tiny-dancer stereotypes, then finished with a giant rump behind her onstage.
Normani, who won for R&B video, re-created key bits from the “Motivation” music video in her live performance, which moved the action in off the street and turned the costumes purple.
And then there was Taylor Swift.
Swift opened the show with a colorful equal-rights statement — punctuated with glam drag queens and sherbet-colored costumes — during her performance of “You Need to Calm Down” and “Lover.” She then called out the president during one of her acceptance speeches.
Arguing for the Equality Act, Swift noted that a petition for the act’s passage had a half-million signatures, “five times the amount that it would need to warrant a response from the White House.”
Then she mimed looking down at a wristwatch. The crowd went wild.