Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece written by MTV contributor Will Brewster. It does not reflect the views of MTV or any other subsidiaries of ViacomCBS.
Sure, we might be living in the throes of a painfully persistent global pandemic, but you can't deny that we've been awfully spoilt by some killer releases across the past 12 months.
We've seen huge collaborations – think Bruno Mars & Anderson .Paak (Silk Sonic) and Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion's “WAP”, as well as iconic videos by Lil Nas X (“Montero”) and Drake (“Laugh Now Cry Later”), plus pop smashes (Ed Sheeran – “Bad Habits” and Justin Bieber ft. Daniel Caesar & Giveon – “Peaches”), hard-knocking hip-hop (Travis Scott ft. Young Thug & M.I.A – “Franchise”), K-Pop anthems, punk-pop crossovers and so much more, and this year's MTV Video Music Awards looks to celebrate them all.
Making its return to a physical setting at New York City's Barclays Center on Sunday September 12 after last year's masked-up private event, the 2021 VMAs will be one of the first fan-filled awards shows to occur in NYC since the start of the pandemic, with Lorde, Olivia Rodrigo, Lil Nas X, Camila Cabello and Machine Gun Kelly locked in to deliver performances on the night. If you want to watch the awards from Australia, here's our handy guide on how to tune in.
This year sees Justin Bieber and Megan Thee Stallion lead the nominees with seven and six respective nods, while Billie Eilish, BTS, Doja Cat, Drake, Giveon and Lil Nas X also front the pack with an impressive five nominations apiece.
However, there's no individual honour greater than the coveted Artist of the Year award, with this year seeing Ariana Grande, Doja Cat, Justin Bieber, Megan Thee Stallion, Olivia Rodrigo and Taylor Swift vying for the night's major prize.
Ahead of all the action, here's my recap of everything that this year's Artist of the Year nominees have achieved over the course of 2021.
After scooping up Song of the Year and delivering one of the ceremony's best performances alongside Lady Gaga at last year's awards, Ariana Grande looks set to add to her nine previous VMA wins with three more nominations at the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards, which sees her up for Artist of the Year, Best Pop (“Positions”) and Best Choreography (“34+35”).
While those nominations are largely off the back of last year's Positions, it'd be naff to overlook the year that Ari is currently putting together. Her appearance on The Weeknd's 'Save Your Tears' remix helped her achieve her sixth US #1 single and she's currently getting paid a cool $20 million as a coach on The Voice, and if that's quite not enough for one year, she also got hitched to luxury real estate agent Dalton Gomez in a jaw-dropping Hollywood affair. Can she put the icing on the cake by snagging another Moon Person to add to her trophy cabinet?
In my opinion, this year is Doja Cat's for the taking. Not only has she been nominated for five awards at this year's ceremony – including Artist of the Year, Video of the Year (“Kiss Me More” – Doja Cat ft. SZA), Best Collaboration (“Kiss Me More” – Doja Cat ft. SZA'), Best Art Direction ('Best Friend' – Saweetie ft. Doja Cat ), and Best Visual Effects ('You Right' – Doja Cat & The Weeknd), but she'll also be performing and hosting the Video Music Awards as well, making her a favourite to conquer the night.
It's arguable that Doja Cat is also one of the most social media savvy major label artists going today, and her amount of online clout will surely see a swathe of nominations for her in the Artist of the Year category.
However, that's not to say Doja's not deserving of such success. Recent release Planet Her – a sugar-rush of hip-hop, indie, pop and plenty of sex – is by far one of the year's best contemporary releases, and her irresistible SZA collaboration 'Kiss Me More' (also up for Video of the Year) is a bona fide slice of pop genius. She's certainly one of pop's most unique forces in recent memory, and definitely deserves the flowers while she can smell them.
Bieber’s latest full-length Justice sees the Canadian sensation in near career-best form, delivering some of his finest vocal performances and sharpening his lyricism to plate up his best full-length release since Purpose. He's had two singles chart on top of the Billboard Hot 100 courtesy of 'Peaches' ft. Daniel Caesar and Giveon and “Stay” with The Kid LAROI, while four other tracks from Justice (“Holy”, “Lonely”, “Anyone” and “Hold On”) also managed to crack the Top 20 – and that's just in the US alone.
Bieber leads this year's MTV Video Music Awards with a staggering seven nominations, including back-to-back Artist of the Year appearances and nods for Best Collaboration ("Peaches" – Justin Bieber ft. Daniel Caesar & Giveon), Best Pop (“Peaches” – Justin Bieber ft. Daniel Caesar, Giveon), Best Cinematography (“Holy” – Justin Bieber ft. Chance The Rapper) and Best Editing (“Peaches” - Justin Bieber ft. Daniel Caesar, Giveon). Adding to that, he's also scored two other nods through his appearance in the music video DJ Khaled ft. Drake – “Popstar” (starring Justin Bieber), including Video of the Year (DJ Khaled ft. Drake – “Popstar” starring Justin Bieber) and Best Direction (DJ Khaled ft. Drake – 'Popstar' starring Justin Bieber), making him a clear favourite to triumph on the night.
Megan Thee Stallion
Propelled by her monster Cardi B collab 'WAP' and running on the fumes of February's Grammy Award shakedown, Megan Thee Stallion has simply been unstoppable in 2021. This year marks the second consecutive year that Meg’s been up for VMA’s Artist of the Year award - just one of an incredible six nominations at this year's MTV Video Music Awards, including Video of the Year (“WAP” – Cardi B ft. Megan Thee Stallion), Song of the Year (“WAP” - Cardi B ft. Megan Thee Stallion), Best Collaboration (“WAP” – Cardi B ft. Megan Thee Stallion), and Best Hip-Hop (“WAP” – Cardi B ft. Megan Thee Stallion and Lil Baby ft. Megan Thee Stallion – “On Me [remix]),
Megan's debut album Good News was lauded as one of 2020's best records, and her final verse on Ariana Grande & Doja Cat “34+35” remix is the ultimate flex for her rhyming chops and wordplay. Further collabs with Maroon 5, Lil Baby and DJ Khaled have made sure that Meg has stayed hot on the charts, and if her latest Top 20 single “Thot Shit” and the hard-hitting “Tuned In Freestyle” are anything to go by, it looks like Megan Thee Stallion is far from slowing down in 2021.
If there's any single major musical moment to make note of from this year, it's surely the instantaneous chart takeover of Disney breakout Olivia Rodrigo. Rodrigo’s emphatic debut single “drivers license” only came out nine months ago, and since then, the 18-year-old star has barely stepped away from the spotlight. “Deja Vu” and “Good 4 U” have both been radio staples for the majority of the year, her debut LP SOUR is still dominating the charts thanks to tweens and thirty-somethings alike, and to top it all off, 'drivers license' is currently the most streamed track of 2021.
Olivia Rodrigo might be the freshest face at this year's VMA's, but don't doubt her potential to dominate on the night. As well as being up for Artist of the Year, she's up for Song of the Year (Olivia Rodrigo – “drivers license”), Best New Artist, Push Performance of the Year (Olivia Rodrigo – “drivers license“) and Best Pop (“Good 4 U“). Honestly, it wouldn't be a surprise if she pulled a Billie Eilish here and swept through with a win in each category, but we’ll wait and see.
Taylor Swift already has 11 MTV Music Video Awards to her name, including two gongs for Video of the Year and that infamous 2009 Best Female Video win. Despite her astounding career success, however, she's still yet to take home the coveted Artist of the Year award, which might just make 2021 the perfect year for Taylor to increase her VMA trophy tally-count.
Perhaps one of the most prolific artists over the course of the pandemic, the past 12 months has seen Taylor achieve back-to-back successes with folklore and evermore (the former of which nabbed the Grammy Award for Album of the Year this February), as well as make some serious headway on her mission to re-record her back catalogue with Fearless (Taylor's Version) and the impending release of the Red redux.
A top prize could be on the cards for her toils, but even if that doesn't come through, it's likely that Taylor will win at least one of the three other awards she's up for (Best Pop, Best Direction, Best Art Direction) on the night.
This is an opinion piece written by Will Brewster, a Melbourne-based writer and producer. Follow him on Twitter @_willbrewster.