Ahead Of Her Time: Examining Missy Elliott’s Genius Music Videos
The coveted Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award is given to an artist at the MTV Video Music Awards, and it highlights the recipient’s achievement in music and film. In this decade alone, superstars Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Kanye West, Rihanna and Pink were given the coveted honor, and this year’s Vanguard Award recipient is multi-hyphenate Jennifer Lopez.
There is one musician whose eye-popping visuals and catalogue of hits are one in the same, however, she is seemingly overlooked by major corporations and big name award shows despite setting the blueprint for many artists. We hate to sound like a broken record, but if anyone truly deserves the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, it’s Melissa Arnette Elliott.
For decades, Missy Elliott has written for some of the biggest names in the game, cranked out massive hits of her own, and of course, changed the landscape for music videos as we know it. It’s a crying shame that the person who fits the honor’s description to a T has not been recognized.
After careful observations of Missy’s iconic videos and the videos of the last few Vanguard winners, we’ve concluded Missy is overwhelmingly overqualified for the award, due to the fact that she’s light years ahead of the game. From costumes and makeup, choreography, visual effects and futuristic, forward thinking, Missy showed us time and time again that there are no bounds when it comes to her creativity.
If these artists can win MTV’s honor by utilizing these tactics, there’s absolutely no reason why Missy shouldn’t have won this years ago. Take a look at some of the hallmarks of Missy’s videos that Vanguard winners of yore have also implemented below.
When you watch a Missy Elliott video, you know you’re going to get standout looks. She has continued to wow us with over-the-top, yet always en vogue style and makeup. Her metallic eyelid makeup in the “Sock It To Me” video? Vanguard winners Beyonce, Britney Spears and J. Lo have featured a similarly striking eye look in their videos as well (“Haunted,” “Toxic,” and “Get Right,” respectively).
Rihanna and Lopez received Vanguard Awards off of their memorable visuals such as “Where Have You Been” and “Waiting For Tonight.” In those videos, the beauties are adorned in facial and body rhinestones, a look that Misdemeanor rocks in the afrofuturistic “She’s A B***h” video, released in mid-1999.
Next, there’s the fashion. Who could forget the moment when she made trash bags chic in the iconic visual for “I Can’t Stand The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)?” Then, there’s the straight jacket-themed look from her 2005 video for “Teary Eyed.” Bad Gal Rihanna also capitalized on the asylum look and motif for the “Disturbia” video, off of her Good Girl Gone Bad album.
We’re not sayin’, but…
No one sets the bar for performance quite like Missy. Thanks to her choreographers through the years such as Hi-Hat and Sean Bankhead, and her own personal admiration for dancers, Miss E.’s moves have always been ‘so addictive,’ and clearly, so ahead of many other artists.
While MJ pretty much set the blueprint for dancing in suits thanks to “Smooth Criminal,” Missy’s “Hit Em Wit Da Hee” visual did much to preserve the look and the sharp choreography, while also giving it a modern-day flair. Justin Timberlake’s “Like I Love You” and “Suit And Tie,” as well as Britney Spears’ “Me Against The Music,” and J. Lo’s “Get Right” and “Hold It, Don’t Drop It” also feature suit and fedora-clad dancers getting in formation.
In “She’s A B***h,” Missy and her dancers perform intricate choreo on a platform submerged in water. Other videos featuring dancers battling the elements while shakin’ a tailfeather include Beyonce’s “Baby Boy” and Britney’s “Work B***h.”
Dancing majorettes were a huge part of Beyonce’s iconic Coachella performance this past spring. However, Missy Elliott highlighted a bevy of stand dancers (in gold lamé leotards nonetheless) years ago in her video for “We Run This.”
It also must be pointed out that we haven’t seen any Irish-step/Riverdancing in a hip-hop music video since Missy’s “Pass That Dutch.”
“She loves having a dance element, so we always find new ways to do innovative things around dance,” Dave Meyers, her frequent music video director, said about the inclusion of the Riverdance sequence. “When she said Riverdance, in my mind I went to the country and I said, ‘What about cornstalks?’ because I was reading a script at the time called Scarecrow.”
We’re not sayin’, but…
Thanks to direction from frequent collaborators Dave Meyers and Hype Williams, Missy’s videos continued to raise the bar in terms of wacky, innovative camera effects.
The timeless fish-eye effect in “I Can’t Stand The Rain” has been seen in Rihanna’s “S&M,” Beyonce’s “7/11” and Pink’s “Get The Party Started.” Dave Meyers actually shot the latter video, which is likely why the effect was used.
There were also some massive explosions in the “Teary Eyed” video, an effect also utilized in Bey’s “Diva,” Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around…Comes Around,” and Pink’s “Funhouse.” Additionally, JT uses a ninja-style flying and flipping SFX in his “Cry Me A River” visual, which was seen in his “Bounce” collaborator Missy’s 1998 video, “Hit Em Wit Da Hee.”
“4 My People” features an effect where words are highlighted and written on screen as Missy spits them. Vanguard winners Kanye West and Rihanna have used a similar effect in their visuals for “All Of The Lights,” “Good Life” (West), “You Da One” and “Rude Boy” (Rih).
It’s also worth addressing that Missy’s video for “Ching-A-Ling” was the first 3D music video created by a woman (Nas’ 3D “Nastradamus” video was released 10 years earlier, making it the first video to ever use the effect).
We’re not sayin’, but…
Missy lives in the year 3008, and her mind and vision for her videos make her eons ahead of her contemporaries. Missy’s “Lady Marmalade” collaborator Pink may possess the athletic ability to perform upside-down, however, we’ve got to point out that “Teary Eyed” featured upside-down choreography… in straight jackets nonetheless.
Despite Missy’s thinking-outside-of-the-box approach to her career, the ‘99s and the 2000’s were all about the box aesthetic in music videos. In “She’s A B***h,” the asymmetrical, brightly colored room that Missy raps in is one of the vibrant video’s hallmarks. Justin Timberlake is also no stranger to dancing in neon-tinged rooms, as displayed in “Let Me Talk To You/My Love” and “Rock Your Body.” Pink’s “Most Girls” and Lopez’s “Play” also feature a similar box setting for their dancing and singing sections.
Then, we can’t discuss Missy being a forward-thinking gal without noting her “Sock It To Me” costume, which looks seemingly like the current G-Mail logo.
Three thousand. And. Eight.
Whether Missy Elliott was a direct influence for these music videos or otherwise, the proof is in the pudding. All in all, we need to give our legends the respect they deserve while they’re still here to thank us, and MTV will hopefully salute Missy with a Video Vanguard honor in the near future, because her acceptance performance would surely shake the stage. Raising the bar, pushing the envelope and being at the forefront of the game is exactly what Missy has done her entire career, and it’s exactly what someone who is classified as a “vanguard” is known to do.