Heading into pretty much any awards show, you have to prepare yourself to come away feeling that the voting block messed up somewhere. As they showed once again in 2017, the MTV VMAs are no less frustrating in that respect than the Oscars, Grammys, Golden Globes, or the Emmys. While there were many areas where it seemed that critical consensus, cultural impact and populist spirit collided to produce winners in a number of different categories that we we could all agree on, there were more than a few head-scratchers littered throughout the three-hour program as well. Here are the list of all the biggest upsets and most blatant robberies from this year’s ceremony.
Ed Sheeran Takes Home The Artist Of The Year Prize
This one just did not make sense on any level. Heading into the evening, while I’d hesitate to call this a full-on Kendrick Lamar coronation ceremony, there was a whiff of destiny that seemed to trail the rapper as he ended the Forum. He was up for the more prizes than any one else, with eight total. His latest work DAMN has already been certified multi-platinum and currently sits atop many critic’s list as the best full-length musical work of 2017. Artist Of The Year seemed like his for the taking, especially considering that he hadn’t even been nominated in that category before.
Then, Millie Bobby Brown, aka Eleven from Stranger Things, opened the envelope, pronounced Ed Sheeran the winner and suddenly it felt like we were all transported to the Upside Down. Look, I’m not going to denigrate Sheeran here. He seems like a nice person. His new album ÷ sold millions of copies, and people really seem to like the song “Shape Of You.” That. Being. Said. In what world does ÷ carry the same kind of cultural, political or artistic heft as DAMN?
I have nothing against shiny pop songs, but the VMA voters had the chance to reward an artist who consistently puts themselves out on a limb; who stretches his voice to its absolute limits and creates music that soundtrack movements. They had a chance to align themselves with history. They chose to go in another direction. Kendrick has been spurned one too many times at award shows through the years. With the added baggage of Macklemore text messages weighing him down, this one felt especially egregious.
Rock and Roll Fades Away
Oh, are you waiting to hear who took home the prize for the Best Rock Video? Join the club. Not only did the VMAs not award the prize during the regular show, they skipped it on the pre-show as well, and as of now, have yet to reveal a winner. I wrote several days back about how MTV has spurned the chance to shine a light on this diverse and vital next generation of rock artists in order to reel in viewers with the likes of bigger names like Foo Fighters and Green Day. The upset is that they didn’t even care to do that this year. The robbed are the young fans who continue to see their favorite genre marginalized by the powers-that-be.
Khalid Wins Best New Artist
This is more of an upset than a robbery. Khalid is a 19-year-old singer from El Paso, Texas, a veritable unknown who only began making music two years back. He has one record to his name, his incredible debut American Teen. While he lacks not for talent, he pales in name recognition against the likes of his fellow nominees: Kodak Black, SZA, Young MA and Noah Cyrus. Shout to the VMA voting block who swung for the fences and gave the moon man (excuse me, person) to an artist who almost certainly has a lot left to say in the years to come.
Zayn And Taylor Swift Win Best Collaboration For “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)”
It’s difficult to envision a world where Taylor Swift doesn’t win an award, no matter what category it is that she’s been nominated, so I’d hesitate to call this a strict upset, but it definitely would have been nice to see a better song take home this prize. Name recognition is everything in a category like this, but c’mon, have you heard DJ Khaled’s single “Wild Thoughts” with Rihanna? Try making it through that lithe Santana guitar solo in the chorus to that track without swiveling your hips. Can’t be done. And actually, while we’re at it…
Lil Uzi Vert Wins Song Of The Summer For “XO Tour Llif3″
This has already been hashed out to death over the past few months, but how many lists did you see “XO Tour Llif3″ top off? Not ours, that’s for sure. Of the tracks nominated in this category, it felt like “Wild Thoughts” was the closest thing out there to a sure bet. Then, during the pre-show, boom, Uzi swoops in and takes the prize home. “XO Tour Llif3″ is a great song, but it’s not quite the breezy, vibe-filled juggernaut that “Wild Thoughts” is. “XO Tour Llif3″ vibrant, but in a chilly, cloistered way. Uzi raps about death multiple times. Not exactly beach music if you know what I mean?
Fifth Harmony And Gucci Mane Win Best Pop Video For “Down”
This has less to do with Fifth Harmony and Guwop and way more to do with the murderers-row of pop behemoths that they took down to claim their prize. Ed Sheeran lost for “Shape Of You” — which makes his win for Artist Of The Year that more egregious. Miley Cyrus went down. So did Shawn Mendes, the evening’s host Katy Perry and Harry freaking Styles. They took down one of the biggest heartthrobs in the world for his high-flying bid at solo-superstardom. Nothing but respect.