The 2022 MTV VMAs Were a Nightmare Packed with Johnny Depp, Nicki Minaj, and Bored Apes

Theo Wargo/Getty
Theo Wargo/Getty

The annual nightmare known at the MTV Video Music Awards have come and gone, but the repercussions are still being felt the world over. What we all just endured was darker than any of us could’ve imagined. But fearless, intrepid journalism is all about wading through that darkness to uncover whatever small spots of light may be enshrouded therein. That’s why The Daily Beast took on the daunting task of watching all 50—sorry, all three—hours of the 2022 VMAs: to hopefully find something worth raving about.

The lead-up to this year’s Video Music Awards was already paved with tumult. There were rumors of a Johnny Depp appearance (evil!), a confirmed joint performance by Eminem and Snoop Dogg (why!), and the show’s highest honor—the Video Vanguard award—going to Nicki Minaj (someone with arguably only one good video!). For an awards show that has already been flailing in the deep waters of mediocrity for almost a decade, it looked as though this might be the year it finally drowned. What actually transpired was somewhere between boring and bleak, the final proof that a once-great staple of entertainment is long past serving any purpose.

Kyndall Cunningham: Let’s start from the top. Because the night (shockingly) started out on a high note with Jack Harlow’s performance of “First Class,” despite being a pretty sleep-inducing song, in my opinion.

Coleman Spilde: That song really is so boring, but Jack and his little goatee are cute enough to interest me. I’ve been screaming to the void all weekend that he needed to bring Fergie out for his performance of this song, and lo and behold, he really did it! Manifestation does work.

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Kyndall: I very much appreciated Fergie decidedly shouting the chorus rather than singing it. That national anthem performance at the NBA Finals has clearly traumatized her. I also love the idea that this aircraft-themed performance was probably very triggering for Taylor Swift.

Coleman: You’re so wrong for that, but also, you definitely aren’t. On the plus side, Fergie really is electric, one of the most magnetic pop stars we’ve ever had. Jack Harlow owes the success of that song entirely to her, and that performance really continued his trend of having other, stronger performers carry him.

Kyndall: Lizzo technically opened as well. And while the set-up was pretty bland, like most of the performances, she really energized the crowd. She also looked amazing in that jumpsuit and her other looks throughout the night.

Coleman: Agreed, Lizzo’s performance was very cute! She’s such an energetic and fun performer and “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)” really is a hit in the making. Max Martin never misses!

Kyndall: The rest of the night’s performances oscillated between extremely odd and completely unmemorable. It felt like artists were reaching for striking moments that just didn’t land. J. Balvin tried his best with that giant hologram of a woman twerking. But in a post-Miley Cyrus-and-Robin Thicke world, I was pretty unamused. Then there was the Sno0p Dogg and Eminem performance from the Metaverse that should’ve gotten them both arrested on the spot!

Coleman: I did appreciate J. Balvin’s Tony the Tiger couture, but the hologram had me convinced the expired Advil I took earlier was giving me trippy paranoid delusions. The Blackpink performance was surprisingly low-energy too. I think “Pink Venom” is, unfortunately, a terrible song. And I’m a Blink! They flew those girls from South Korea to New Jersey… for that? And I agree, that Metaverse performance was a nightmare. Rapping together as Bored Ape NFT-lookalikes underscores just how unserious and ridiculously unnecessary this entire show’s existence still is.

Kyndall: Also, how deeply unserious and unnecessary Eminem is in our current music landscape. Any semblance of talent and gravitas is completely gone! But let’s get into the biggest performance of the night.

Coleman: One that wasn’t live from the Extended Play stage presented by Doritos.

Kyndall: There was an entirely separate (and more exciting) awards show happening in Doritos Land with Flo Milli! But no, I’m unfortunately referring to Nicki Minaj’s medley of greatest hits that was both illustrative of her massive talent and how fun rap was in the early 2010s while also being oddly underwhelming in terms of visuals and choreography. Her bedazzled tutu costume looked like it was sewn together by my mom!

Coleman: I’ve made no secret how I feel about the current state of Nicki’s career, but as a former Barb, I can admit I still know every word to each of the songs she performed. It was a great way to showcase all of her massive, incredible hits and also an unfortunate reminder that the hits have dropped off since 2018. It didn’t help that her outfit was genuinely one of the worst things she’s ever worn. An unfortunate aesthetic nadir during a moment that’s supposed to be a celebration of all things Minaj? That’s pretty bleak. Not even a single wardrobe change? A Rue 21 skirt and colored contacts? Even Fergie changed her outfit before she resumed seat-filler duties.

Kyndall: Not Rue 21! In addition to the poor costuming though, MTV giving Nicki this year’s Video Vanguard Award was particularly loaded. Obviously, there’s a huge scandal involving sexual assault and harassment that’s cast a shadow over her career recently. But there’s also the fact that Nicki’s videography is not up to par with the past winners of this award. I think her most notable music video to date is “Anaconda,” but that obviously wasn’t breaking any mold. “Feeling Myself” was notable simply for being cute.

Coleman: I spent all day trying to nail down what Nicki Minaj video feels truly iconic. She’s got the hits, but the videos tend to feel like superfluous additions rather than exciting, artistic extensions of the songs. You could even tell the producers of her performance felt the same, because instead of any sort of nod toward the videos in her medley, it was just her performing the songs. It was wild to hear her say, “I wish people took mental health seriously” in her acceptance speech when she’s allegedly been engaged in that targeted harassment you mentioned. And even more jarring to hear her say it dressed like a Monster High doll.

Kyndall: It felt purposeful and honestly manipulative that her demeanor while she accepted multiple awards throughout the night was so overly sincere and humble. We usually get the funny, hubristic, “Miley, what’s good?” version of Nicki at awards shows. But you could sense her trying to combat the current narrative that she’s a very evil woman. Unfortunately, the entire night was filled with awful people who made me feel slightly nauseous, which brings us to the Johnny Depp of it all.

Coleman: To see that rumor come true in real time was pretty sickening. It’s very clear that MTV executives are happy to throw their integrity out the window if it means driving ratings by drawing in the absolute dregs of the internet who were vocal in their support of Depp this summer. His appearances were microscopic, but they were clear statements that survivors of abuse are expendable and platforming alleged abusers is worth it if it means they can get a little bit of chatter on Twitter. Disgusting stuff!

Kyndall: It was especially cowardly of MTV because they clearly wanted to generate controversy by including him in the show but were also too scared to give him a substantial role in the night. There’s no way Depp wouldn’t have shown up to present an award if offered. On the topic of controversial people, I’d also be remiss not to also mention the Red Hot Chili Peppers being honored with the Global Icons award—which doesn’t really need to exist—despite the band’s history of sexual misconduct.

Coleman: Collectively, I think the RHCP had as much time as Nicki, maybe even more. The amount of time amplifying these people when they could’ve, oh, I don’t know, brought in some performers and acts with a little more star power, definitely speaks to this show’s plummeting quality. Beyoncé, who actually had the biggest record of the year, wouldn’t be caught dead in this place anymore.

Kyndall: The lack of star power made RHCP’s place in the show feel especially odd, given that they’re certified rockstars. What does being honored at this particular ceremony overrun with influencers and C-list celebs even mean to them? On that note, I think a good get for the show would’ve been Britney Spears. I have no idea what she’s up for at this point in her career, but I would’ve loved to see her and Elton John perform “Hold Me Closer.” It seems like the ideal platform to promote that song given her history with the VMAs. She deserved Depp’s “comeback” moment!

Coleman: This is why they need to get both of us on the production team! Honestly, I don’t think Dua Lipa was busy tonight. Couldn’t she have flown to the Garden State for a quick “Cold Heart”/“Hold Me Closer” medley with Elton and Britney? Boom, viral moment that doesn’t rely on giving fat paychecks to creeps. But I would believe Depp did this for $90 and a can of soup. Luckily, the night was capped with a much-needed jolt of A-list celeb excitement when Taylor Swift won Video of the Year for “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version) [10 Minute Version].”

Kyndall: Dua, Britney and Elton would’ve been amazing. Let’s start this campaign for next year’s Grammys! But onto Miss Taylor. She was really holding down the fort for the certified pop divas. I’m glad she was present even though her acceptance speeches were a little dull. I was hoping for a dig at Jake Gyllenhaal to add some spice, but she announced a new album instead, which I’ll take! It’s also funny that you brought up other awards being given out because the actual awards, including Video of the Year, seemed like the least important part of the night. I blame it on young musicians being notoriously bad at speeches!

Coleman: It also feels dull because, let’s be honest, the “All Too Well” video was not nearly the event it was made out to be, by both herself and her fans. I think it gives credence to the long-standing suspicion that MTV will alter who the awards go to—regardless of fan votes—if an artist is going to be present and/or announce something.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t waiting with bated breath for her to announce Midnights 50 minutes after accepting the biggest award of the night. We needed that little kernel of something new and exciting to end things on a good note. I’d theorize this is a little more hyped than when Miley ended her 2015 hosting gig by announcing Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz was available for free online. But when the hell we’re finally going to get 1989 (Taylor’s Version) is now anyone’s guess.

Kyndall: That was definitely the only newsworthy part of the night outside of That Man. I’ll give some honorary mentions to Lizzo telling her haters to fuck off and Bad Bunny looking hot from his performance at Yankee Stadium. I also snorted watching Billy Eichner tell America to stick it to the Supreme Court by seeing the movie Bros.

Coleman: That definitely was a great moment. Sometimes you really do just have to give the mic to a loud gay man and tell him to wake everyone up a little bit. As a mouthy homosexual myself, I could relate! It was nice seeing someone take back the reins from MTV, as they seem to have forgotten that you can make a genuinely exciting show by amplifying good things instead of digging a deeper hole for an already-flatlining awards show. I guess the only question that remains is: Do we think the VMAs can recapture that spark they once had? Or have they squandered that good faith once and for all?

Kyndall: I’d like to think it’s as easy as the MTV execs just deciding they’re going to put on the greatest show ever by inviting all these A-listers and replicating the golden years. However, I think MTV would have to play a critical role in the music industry again, as it did in the ‘80, ‘90s and 2000s, in order for the VMAs to get its mojo back. There are all these other channels where up-and-coming artists can achieve fame. Artists would have to need MTV again, not the other way around.

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Coleman: That’s so true and so insightful. And I don’t know that we can ever get that dynamic back! I think they could manage to pull it off if they just stopped trying to pander to Gen X and tiny sects of different genres—we don’t need country or rock performances, and we certainly don’t need a 15-minute Red Hot Chili Peppers interlude. Save that for the Grammys and bring the big stars out for one all-out, top-to-bottom night of chaos and just see what happens. We want to see the heavy hitters, let Måneskin do their thing over on the Doritos stage.

Kyndall: Hot anti-rock take! Well, the Grammys are slowly getting better and representing the sort of younger artists one would usually see on MTV, so maybe we should just put our faith in that!

Coleman: It may be the only way to avoid getting our hearts broken year after year. But who are we kidding? As millennials who watched Beyoncé perform the “Love On Top” key changes with Blue Ivy kicking the whole time, we’re doomed to tune in forever to see if—by some divine intervention—we might ever get anything that good again.

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