While much remains up in the air about the upcoming 2020 MTV Video Music Awards — from the event’s host to how many guests (if any) will be allowed in attendance for the Barclays Center-staged ceremonies — we at least now know who will be competing, with the nominations for MTV’s marquee award show being announced this afternoon.
The nominations are led by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande with nine nods each, followed by Billie Eilish and The Weeknd with six each. You can see the full list here — but in the meantime, here are the seven biggest takeaways from this year’s crop of VMAs nominations.
1. Ten years after reigning at the VMAs for the first time, Gaga rules again.
The 2010 VMAs were a coronation for Lady Gaga, who not only won eight of her record 13 nominations (including video of the year for the classic “Bad Romance”), but also stole the show with one of the most buzzed-about outfits in award show history, with her quickly iconic meat dress. That night further cemented Gaga as the biggest pop star on the planet — and it appears that a full decade later, she’s still atop the MTV pile. Her nine nominations tie her with “Rain on Me” co-star Ariana Grande as the night’s most recognized artist, and she’s the only artist nominated for each of the event’s three biggest awards: video of the year, song of the year (both for “Rain”) and artist of the year.
2. Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish, nominated both as artists and directors.
It’s certainly no surprise to see Swift and Eilish — two of the biggest artists in mainstream music right now, and both nominees for 2019’s video of the year honors — both up for video of the year, for “The Man” and “Everything I Wanted,” respectively. More interesting, though, is that both are also up for best direction: Swift again for “The Man,” and Eilish for “Xanny.” No artist has been nominated for best direction without a non-artist co-director since 1997, when Beck won for his “The New Pollution” clip. (George Michael and Erykah Badu have both won the award with co-directors — Michael with Andy Monahan for “Father Figure” in 1988, and Badu with Mr. Roboto for “Honey” in 2008.)
3. No K-pop or Latin videos in video of the year — but a couple nominations in outside categories
Though there was some hope from fans of artists like BTS, Blackpink and Bad Bunny that this could finally be the year that a foreign-language video was nominated for video of the year, it was not to be for 2020, where all six VOTY nominees are again English-language. However, K-pop and Latin were both recognized this year outside of the categories specifically created for them (introduced in 2018 and 2019, respectively), which return once again in 2020. BTS’ “On” is nominated for best pop — the group’s first time being recognized in the category — while Karol G is up for best collaboration for “Tusa,” along with co-star Nicki Minaj.
4. Snubbed: Harry Styles, Dua Lipa and Selena Gomez
You have to wonder if Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” ended up being too new for this year’s VMAs — since despite it being one of the year’s most popular and captivating videos, it was completely shut out of the 2020 nominations. (Styles’ “Adore You” is up for three technical awards: best direction, best art direction and best visual effects). Dua Lipa is also technical-only this year — with her “Don’t Start Now” snaring a best direction nod and “Physical” nominated for best art direction, best visual effects and best choreography — while Selena Gomez’s clips scored a lone nod for best art direction (“Boyfriend”). All three had some of the biggest and best-loved top 40 hits of the past year, so to see none even make a best pop cameo comes as a surprise.
5. Your surprise nominee: Tate McRae
The Push best new artist category — an apparent merging of MTV’s best new artist and Push artist of the year awards — mostly features the names behind some of the past year’s biggest breakout chart hits: Doja Cat, Jack Harlow, Lewis Capaldi, Roddy Ricch. (YUNGBLUD, a recent alternative fixture, is also nominated.) But the sixth artist up for the award might not be as widely familiar: 17-year-old Tate McRae, a So You Think You Can Dance alum and rising alt-pop artist, dubbed by Elle to be Canada’s answer to Billie Eilish. The Calgary native is already a streaming sensation — with her 2020 EP All the Things I Never Said having racked up 150 million combined plays on Spotify between its five tracks — but her VMA nomination undoubtedly marks her biggest mainstream look to date.
6. The reintroduction of “best alternative,” not to be confused with “best rock”
For the first time since 1998, the VMAs will award a best alternative video, along with their returning best rock category. The difference between the two would appear to be one of age: All six nominees for best rock are from bands who released their debut album at least 15 years ago, while the majority of the best alternative nominees are from artists who debuted in the last ten years — including The 1975 (“If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”) and Twenty One Pilots (“Level of Concern”), both nominees for best rock in 2019.
7. The debut of two pandemic-necessitated categories
The art of the music video has certainly been altered this year by the COVID-19 crisis, whose necessitated social distancing resulted in an influx of both live performances and music videos being shot from their respective artists’ homes. The shift is being recognized at this year’s VMAs with two brand new categories: best music video from home and best quarantine performance. (We can only hope that both of these categories seem wildly out of date by the time of the 2021 nominations.)