At the very top of the 2018 Video Music Awards, movie star Kevin Hart threw out a joke. “There’s no old white men that could stop you [here],” he promised while setting up the nonexistent guidelines for the evening (Kneeling? Totally fine, unlike on the NFL field). It was a joke Hart likely expected would garner uncomfortable-but-genuine laughs, and that’s where it would end. But, instead, Hart’s small slice of comedy proved to be a prophecy for the spectacle that would follow.
No old white men could stop the 2018 VMAs, and that’s because the night truly belonged to the ladies.
Yes, of course men appeared at the annual event. In fact, all-male performances bookended the entire event: In her first appearance since the birth of her baby, Cardi B appeared to introduced the first performer of the night, Canadian heartthrob Shawn Mendes, and the VMAs closed with a rock-rap collaboration between Aerosmith and Post Malone.
But, Mendes’ soaking- wet, tank-topped showing is destined to be GIFed and Tumbled so much, we will soon forget any context around his “In My Blood” performance. And, a “Walk This Way”-type mashup involving aging rock stars doesn’t exactly feel like the right vibe for youth-obsessed MTV.
On the other hand, the appearances and wins from women are exactly what the VMAs needed. Even Cardi B’s short pop-up intro intro is something we’ll remember for a long time to come. Years from now, some viewer will ask a loved one, “Hey, remember when we all thought Cardi was going to introduce Baby Kulture at the VMAs… and then it was just a moon person award in a baby blanket? Oh that Cardi sure knows how to play, okurrrr!”
Following the “I Like It” rapper’s blessing, the women-led performances anchored a lengthy show filled with ups and down. In the first memorable one, Queen rapper Nicki Minaj ruled over a five-minute, pre-taped medley culled from her brand new album. It was royal, it was fierce, and, for some inexplicable reason, it was in the World Trade Center-adjacent Oculus building.
A few minutes later, Video Vanguard award winner Jennifer Lopez took the stage live for her own medley, which celebrated her lifetime achievement honor. The performance was exhilarating. While it was impossible to take your eyes off of J.Lo's golden tour de force, the Latinx multi-hyphenate’s acceptance speech touched on the reason she is so special: she creates paths for women like herself where there were none before.
As Lopez said, “When people said, ‘You know, you’re doing too much you can only do one thing,’ I always had it in my mind I was always a person who was like, ‘Why not?’ So I kind of had to forge my own path and make my own rules.”
After the Shades Of Blue star’s big moment, Ariana Grande took the stage for the most high-concept performance of the evening. While Lopez’s appearance reminded viewers she’s an undeniable powerhouse, Grande announced herself as a budding visionary with her “God Is A Woman” tableau. The 25-year-old recreated the biblical Last Supper painting, but with an all-woman, racially inclusive cast of 50 dancers. As multiple Twitter used pointed out, it seems like Grande put a dark-skinned Black woman in the role of Jesus Christ. After all, the dancer to her right throughout the performance, a dark-skinned Black woman, wore a Christ-like crown of thorns a red cape around her shoulders – just as Christ himself does in Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper.
Ariana Grande made Jesus a Dark skinned Black woman while performing "God Is A Woman."— Ernest Owens (@MrErnestOwens) August 21, 2018
Notice the thorn crown on the woman's head.
She did the same by making a Black woman God in her video.
She is trying to tell y'all something. #VMAS pic.twitter.com/MQZ7ZvtqKi
Women also took home the most significant awards of the night. Camila Cabello won both Video Of The Year for “Havana,” which stars the internet’s new boyfriend Noah Centineo, and Artist Of The Year. In retrospect, the biggest problem with the 2018 awards show is that its surprise queen, Cabello, didn’t perform. (We’re going to gloss over the cringe-inducing appearance of all-time MTV VIP Madonna. Wearing a bizarre Berber-inspired costume, the pop legend was on hand to present a starstruck Cabello with her top prize – but not before, for some reason, she paid “tribute” to the late Aretha Franklin with a long, rambling story about...herself. Unlike her earlier VMAs turns over the past 30-plus years, this moment was . . . not great.)
Meanwhile, Lopez won Best Collaboration for “Dinero” with DJ Khaled and fellow Bronx native Cardi B, who also won Best New Artist. During Cardi's Best New Artist acceptance speech, she called out her pregnancy naysayers, explaining, “A couple of months ago, a lot of people were saying, ‘You[‘re] gambling your career. You’re about to have a baby. What are you doing?’ And, you know, I had a baby, I carried the bay, and now I’m still winning awards.”
Following in the woman-winning trend, Nicki Minaj picked up Best Hip Hop Video gold, and was helped to the stage by pal and collaborator Ariana Grande. The Sweetener singer held the “Chun-Li” rapper’s train as she walked; talk about girls helping girls. Later in the evening, Grande won Best Pop Video. Even “This Is America” choreographer Sherrie Silver, a stunning 24-year-old dancer from Rwanda, took the stage to accept the Childish Gambino track’s Video With A Message award. Plus, before the show started, rising pop star Hayley Kiyoko gleefully won the Push Artist Of The Year award during the VMAs pre-show; the woman known to her fans as "Lesbian Jesus" (another Christ figure!) declared this year "two thousand gay-teen!."
Damn, Ariana Grande was right — God is a woman, and we should take the 2018 VMAs' word for it.