At the 2019 Video Music Awards, airing Monday 8/26, Missy Elliott will be presented with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. The honor, first presented at the inaugural VMAs in 1984, and later renamed after the late King of Pop in 1991, is given each year to performers and directors for their contributions to music and the visual arts.
In addition to Jackson himself, past recipients include his sister, Janet Jackson, who became the first black woman to receive the award in 1990, as well as The Beatles, David Bowie, Beyoncé, LL Cool J, Kanye West, Rihanna, and George Michael.
Sprinkled within that group of honorees are black women and rappers, but not one black woman who raps. On Monday, 35 years after the inception of both the award and the ceremony itself, Missy Elliott will become the first woman rapper of any race to receive the honor. With Elliott’s inclusion comes an acknowledgement of how black women in hip-hop have elevated music videos as an artistic concept and form of expression.
With visuals for songs such as “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” and “One Minute Man,” Elliott introduced a measure auteurism to mainstream music that was previously reserved for either pop stars or white men. Whether it be through campy creative direction or abstract explorations of black womanhood, the Virginia-born visionary paved the way for ambitious and telegenic young stars such as Megan Thee Stallion and Doja Cat.
On Friday, Elliott began her VMA victory lap a few days early with the surprise release of her ICONOLOGY EP. The five-song project accompanies an appropriately boastful video for “Throw It Back,” in which the legend escorts viewers through “the Hall of Missy,” rapping “so many VMAs that I could live on the moon.”
While Elliott’s flowers are long-overdue, now feels like the perfect time to celebrate the 48-year-old artist, as 2019 has been a year filled with consistently stunning visuals from women in music. This year, even songstresses such as Teyana Taylor and Normani seem to have benefitted from the sense of boundless freedom the rapper has applied to the medium.
Below is a list of the year’s most unforgettable women-led music videos, made possible by the work and achievements of Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott.
On the nose in its execution, everything is “big” in the visual for Young M.A’s track of the same name. Unlike videos for songs such as “Stubborn Ass” and “Thotiana (Remix),” “BIG” adds direct visual references to the rapper’s lyrics, as opposed to relying on more standard performance scenes. “Big wrist, big body, big whips,” the Brooklyn native raps, with each noted object or body part digitally supersized for effect.
With as keen an eye for aesthetics as any other woman (or man) in hip-hop, Doja Cat cashed in on the attention she garnered from a 2018 meme, and delivered two critically lauded music videos while still in the spotlight the very next year. After following her cattle-clad video for “Mooo!” with an energetic and wacky visual for “Tia Tamera,” the 23-year-old somehow found a way to go bigger and bolder with “Juicy.”
Like Young M.A’s “BIG,” this visual for Doja’s “Juicy” is true to its title, invoking plump fruits to either tease or accentuate the rapper’s most ample features. One particularly left-field scene depicts the L.A. native outfitted as a sexy watermelon, split in half with her fruit on display.
Bold colors and sex appeal drip throughout every frame of Megan Thee Stallion’s visual for “Big Ole Freak.” The aesthetic of the Houston rapper’s most-viewed music video is reminiscent of Missy Elliott’s 1997 “Beep Me 911.” In addition to both videos sharing a similar pallette and tone, each artist is shown suggestively licking a lollipop during certain scenes.
If the images from “Big Ole Freak” left you wanting more from Thee Stallion, you’re in luck. The in-demand Hottie has more videos coming soon, including the highly anticipated visual for her Nicki Minaj-assisted “Hot Girl Summer.” Also on the way is “Fever: The Movie,” directed by Hype Williams, a two-time Missy Elliott collaborator.
The visual for “Tempo,” featuring Elliott herself, pays homage to the icon’s creative genius: there’s fun choreography, head-turning fashion, and absurdist imagery in the form of floating bodies bouncing off of low-riders. With this ode to body-positivity (the sort of song pioneered by the “Get Ur Freak On” rapper), Elliott and Lizzo are a match made in thick-thighed heaven.
Midway through the video, Misdemeanor makes her grand entrance by popping out from underneath the hood of a car, rocking a black track jacket vaguely reminiscent of her “Supa Dupa Fly” trash bag.
In her self-directed video for “How You Want It,” Teyana Taylor is depicted on both sides of voyeurism. The visual opens with “Spike Tee” dressed in a masculine pin-stripe blazer and top hat, gazing at a more feminine version of herself performing during a peep show.
Exploring androgynous gender expressions and sexual fantasies, Taylor is her own muse in “How You Want It.” Yet the video’s throwback aesthetic traces the work of Hype Williams, who’s collaborated with multiple 90s era artists—including, of course, the incomparable Missy Elliott.
Much like Teyana Taylor’s “How You Want It,” Normani’s “Motivation” pays homage to decades past. In her latest video, the former Fifth Harmony member pulls from a number of 90s and early 2000s influences, ranging from Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love” to Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Real (Remix).” Even BET’s iconic 106 & Park receives a nod.
To help recreate moments from her childhood, Normani tapped Dave Meyers, who directed the aforementioned Lopez video, as well as multiple Missy Elliott videos (“Work It,” “Gossip Folks,” “Pass That Dutch,” etc.).
Normani’s breakout single is steeped in the rich history of black women defying the creative limits of mainstream music—a tradition in large part pioneered by Missy Elliot’s contributions to hip-hop. As Normani and Elliott are both set to perform at the 2019 VMAs on Monday (in addition to other artists mentioned on this list, such as Lizzo and Megan Thee Stallion), Elliot’s Video Vanguard Award represents a full circle moment not only for herself, but for all of her disciples as well.
(Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images)