This 2018 MTV Video Music Awards went down last night and it was meh at best. Nothing was spectacular and a lot of it was downright trash, with Madonna’s non-tribute to Aretha Franklin taking first place.
Madge, who was there to present the award for Video of the Year, gave a long speech about the early days of career, which included an anecdote about how she supposedly sang Aretha’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at an audition, which is a goddamn lie. Other than that and maybe one other sentence, the entire thing was about Madonna, and the internet was not happy. I think the speech was probably supposed to mark her 60th birthday (which coincided with Aretha’s passing), and the VMA producers thought to merge the two — a terrible idea that could have very easily been avoided if there were any black people in decision-making positions.
Anyway, Camila Cabello took home the awards for Video of the Year (for “Havana”) and Artist of the Year, and I was ready to run up on MTV headquarters until I remembered that VMA winners are now chosen by online voters. Cardi B won for Best New Artist and Best Collaboration (with Jennifer Lopez and DJ Khaled), and Nicki Minaj won for Best Hip-Hop. For a full list of winners, click here.
My pick for performance of the night is a tie between Lauv and Jessie Reyez, who both got the sideshow treatment because neither have broken through quite yet. Watch their performances below.
Whenever I think of iconic VMA performances, this one comes to mind first. Still a fledgling solo artist at the time, the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards was the first time Beyoncé got to show the world what she was working with; there had been great performances before this one, but this was the first time she had done something of this scale and with this large of an audience. It was her declaration of being one of the greats, and for me, my official induction into her fan base. Watch this piece of popular music history below.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m never in a hurry to do album reviews, but I like what I had heard so far and the album is only 48 minutes long, so I said, “what the heck,” and did a review for Ariana Grande’s fourth album, Sweetener.
The album opens with a “Raindrops (an Angel Cried),” a 37-second interlude sung in acapella. The message is clear: “I’ve got pipes and don’t you ever get it twisted.”
The first full song is “Blazed,” which was written and produced by Pharrell Williams, who is also featured on the track. It’s a vibey mid-tempo that kinda sounds like something off Justin Timberlake’s solo debut, Justified. It’s not a bad song by any means, but it feels a little incomplete — almost like a demo they never got around to tweaking.
The next two tracks are the Nicki-Minaj-assisted “The Light Is Coming,” which I am still not sold on, and “R.E.M,” a song that had originally recorded been by Beyoncé for her self-titled fifth album (but didn’t make the final cut). Ariana’s take on the song is really good, but I think Bey’s version is a little punchier. The track has a bouncy quality that will make you think it’s a Jermaine Dupri creation, but it’s actually another Williams production.
“R.E.M” is followed by “God Is a Woman” (a song that I’ve grown to love) and the album’s title track, which is part-ballad, part-trap; and somehow, it works. The song could probably do without Pharrell’s ad libs in the background, but overall, I like it.
“Successful” is yet another Pharrell Williams production and I cannot be convinced that this track wasn’t made from a demo from the Justified sessions — it has that classic Neptunes sound. The track has Ariana rubbing her beauty, youth, money and fame in our raggedy faces. I had to pause for a second to think about my life. Smh…anyway, decent song but nothing special.
Ariana sings about returning to the same guy on “Everytime.” Produced by Ilya and Max Martin, the track was the first to really jump at me on the first listen. I’ll be surprised if this isn’t one of the album’s singles.
Ariana keeps the momentum on “Breathin,” another Ilya production that sounds more “pop” than most of the album. If you like a song with big vocals and lots of melody, this is your track; also, if you like the beat on Drake’s “Hold on, We’re Going Home,” you’ll like the beat on “Breathin” because they are almost identical.
“Breathin” is followed by the album’s first single, “No Tears Left to Cry,” which is another one that took a while to grow on me. “Cry” is followed by Williams-produced “Borderline,” which features Missy Elliott. I had high hopes, but the song just doesn’t curl all the way over.
Ariana slows it down on the Hit-Boy-produced “Better Off,” where sings about fucking on the roof and doing a host of other freaky shit. There’s more sex on “Goodnight n Go,” which has this electro R&B sound that’ll remind you of Rihanna’s Loud album.
The next track is “Pete Davidson.” Let me start by saying that Ariana’s engagement with Pete Davidson feels like a disaster waiting to happen, but in any case, her dedication to her man is decent. At only 1 minute 14 seconds, I would classify it as an interlude.
The album ends with “Get Well Soon,” which would probably take more than one listen to get into. The track is about Ariana getting better after suffering PTSD as a result of the bombing at her concert in Manchester last year; it is also dedicated to the victims of the tragic incident. While I love the message of the song, I’m not sure why it is sung over “baby-making” instrumentals, but I guess a more sober ballad would’ve been too obvious.
Sweetener is a solid body of work and Ariana’s most adult project yet — she was definitely going for grown and sexy vibes throughout. There are no real duds on the album, but half of it can be classified as lukewarm. The album would’ve benefited from a ballad or two (and perhaps one club banger).
Album rating: 7.5 out of 10.
Cardi B just dropped the video for “Ring” (featuring Kehlani) and I think I like it. I have to give it to her for the quality of her music videos; you can always tell that they were made with the good cameras, so shout out to her and her record label. Watch the clip below.
The teacher and the student came together to give us an amazing performance of “Chain of Fools” at the 1998 VH1 Divas Live. I will be showing love to the Queen of Soul all day today, so expect more videos.