Say what you want about the late Michael Jackson, but you can’t deny that the late entertainer knew how to transform his artistry into a great music video experience.
In fact, I’m actually doing the “King of Pop” a great disservice by referring to his visual work as “music videos.” Jackson chose to infamously refer to them as “short films,” and truth be told, they were definitely worthy of such a title. Clips for songs such as “Thriller,” “Bad,” “Black or White,” and my personal favorite, “Remember The Time” were unlike anything anyone had witnessed before on MTV — back when they used to play music videos, that is — or any other musically-themed channel. There’s a reason why his beloved fans treated each offering as a major event, and there will never another recording artist who will be able to emulate such a fervor over their video releases.
MTV seems to think differently, however.
Beginning at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, the network renamed their highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award, the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. The move made sense at the time considering anyone eligible for a Moon Man was more or less trying, and failing, to best Michael’s expertise of the promotional asset. Only two have come close in my opinion: Madonna, who won it back in 1986, before its renaming, and Michael’s sister, Janet, in 1990.
Since that time, the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award has sporadically popped up at the ceremony, with the longest break being between 2006 and 2011, and it has occasionally even reverted back to its Lifetime Achievement title (such as in 1994, when Tom Petty and The Rolling Stones were dual recipients). It has also continuously been given to artists who are far less deserving of what the channel itself defined as being worthy of such a coveted accolade.
Breathe Heavy writes, “The [Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award] is presented to musicians who have made a profound effect on the MTV culture and honors their body of work. Past recipients of the Vanguard Award include Michael and Janet Jackson, Madonna, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, and most recently, Kanye West.”
Now, one could easily argue that just as with popular music, the scope of MTV has never been stagnant, therefore, the artists that they honor will occasionally be far less influential or monumental than Jackson was. And yes, there is a point there. However, there are other artists who are extremely worthy of receiving the honor than the ones who do ultimately get their hands on one.
One such person would be rapper Missy Elliott, an artist who has always brought a great deal of originality to her music videos. Her most recent offering, 2015’s “WTF (Where They From),” directed by Hype Williams — another past Vanguard recipient — was proof positive that despite the fact that she had not released one for nearly seven years at that time, she was still just as ahead of the loop as she was in classic clips such as “Work It” and “Get Ur Freak On.”
The fact that Elliott has yet to even be thought of as a recipient of the Michael Jackson Vanguard Award is beyond ridiculous, especially as she would have definitely had the blessing of not just Michael, who had hoped to work with her before his passing, but repeated collaborator, past honoree, and close friend Janet, too.
So, who is picking up the accolade this year? Well, according to Billboard, it’s Rihanna, and that’s even more ridiculous, if I’m being honest. Albeit talented in her own right, the collection of the “Work” entertainer’s music videos have never been really remarkable. There have been flashes of greatness, sure, such as with the dark “We Found Love” and the Eminem-led “Love The Way You Lie” (which, technically, isn’t her song), but let’s not forget about the banality of “Rude Boy” or the simplistic “Stay,” where she just sat in a bathtub and cried for four minutes.
It’s not just her I have a problem with, though. To expand my point, think about this: Where does someone see Kanye West simulating sex with Kim Kardashian on a motorcycle (“Bound 2“) and think “This is right up there with Michael’s two videos for ‘They Don’t Care About Us'”? Also, as much as I am a fan of Britney Spears, not one of the videos she released after 2007 could hold an ember to something like Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone,” and all he did in that one was sing on a stage and lay half-naked next to Lisa Marie Presley! It was still groundbreaking, though.
And please, don’t get me started on Justin Timberlake’s win in 2013. You don’t want me going down that road, trust me.
The point is, we remember Michael Jackson’s short films as a piece of his legacy that still live on to this day, more than seven years after his death. When it comes to everyone else who has picked up the achievement, however, there’s nothing about those videos that anyone outside of their respective fan bases will recall years down the line, and it’s unfair to have those kind of lackluster mentions attached to a man who put his heart and soul into every frame of film that was recorded of him. MTV, put some respect on his name and legacy and remove it from the Video Vanguard Award. None of these newer artists are deserving of such an association.
[Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images]