The 5 Best And 5 Worst Things At The MTV VMA Awards

In 2019, the VMAs went to Jersey. As host Sebastian Maniscalco put it, MTV was celebrating music the way it was meant to be celebrated — in a "hockey rink in Newark." Unfortunately, compared to the VMAs of years past, 2019 was amazingly tame. That says a lot considering New Jersey is both the sacred place where Teresa Giuidice tried to flip a table and where state officials ordered a gridlock-causing lane closure out of spite. The Garden State has a reputation to uphold, and sadly, it didn't happen on this breezy August night at the Prudential Center. May we hold our Wawa hoagies at half-mast. 

That's not to say the VMAs were a total snore, and it didn't even take Kanye, a bottle of Hennessy, and a mortified Taylor Swift to liven things up. In fact, Swift shared one of the biggest honors of the night, some of the hottest stars of the moment delivered powerfully vulnerable performances, and Missy Elliot brought an iconic piece of wardrobe out of retirement to remind us all of a simpler time when performers weren't cracking jokes about ICE. 

These are the best and worst moments of the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards.

Worst: There's no safe space for Sebastian Maniscalco

If you haven't heard of Sebastian Maniscalco, you either aren't Italian-American or you don't have a Netflix subscription. While pretty much anyone who's ever been to an Italian wedding can relate to Maniscalco's brand of humor, he was a puzzling choice to host the awards show. Yes, his sold out, four-night stint at Madison Square Garden broke records, but who exactly was MTV trying to reach? Parents of adult children? Was Billy Ray Cyrus bringing in the middle aged market, too? Clearly, Maniscalco wasn't sure either because he probably would have shut his mouth if he could read his audience even the slightest bit.

Maniscalco absolutely enraged Twitter by performing the cardinal sin of poking fun at safe spaces. Even if anxiety disorders, trauma, and PTSD were funny (they're not, ever), it's unclear why the 46-year-old comedian thought this material might land well in an audience of millennials. By the end of his opening monologue, Maniscalco sounded more like a Fox News pundit than someone whose job it was to get people in a good mood and transition between awards. Not to mention, he seemed to have completely lost the crowd. Nevertheless, Maniscalco persisted and even had the audacity to bring in Lil Nas X's horse, who he claimed would double as an emotional support animal. Lil Nas X deserves better. We all deserve better. Can we pet Nas' horse, though?

Best: Taylor Swift's Lover medley

Taylor Swift has had a sordid history with the VMAs since the moment Kayne West grabbed her microphone on that infamously cruel night in 2009. She pretty much crafted a cottage industry out of the pair's feud, including the lyrical content on the majority of her album Reputation (which sold 1.216 million copies in its first week) and West's own single "Famous" (You're welcome Kanye. That b***h made you famous). In 2019, it looks like the singer is prepared to put the whole thing behind her to focus on the things that she adores. If Lover's opening track "I Forgot That You Existed" isn't enough proof, her triumphant return to the VMA's stage is.

This time around, Swift opened up the awards show with a brand new record-breaking album under her belt. No, her performance wasn't one of the moments that will go down in VMA history (see: Diana Ross jiggling Lil' Kim's nearly bare breast in 1999 or Madonna kissing both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera in 2003), but it did serve as a sort of funeral procession for a decades-long saga that has finally (hopefully) been buried. There are few things more striking than Swift wearing giant hoop earrings and standing by herself with a meticulously branded Lover guitar as she belts her lushest love song to date. Maybe calling out the White House in her acceptance speech for the top honor (which Kanye did not interrupt) was a close second.

Worst: Tana Mongeau as early 00's Britney Spears

Plenty of celebrities walked the red carpet at the 2019 Video Music Awards, but only two snakes slithered along. One arguably had a higher-end human accessory than another (ahem, H.E.R.), but we're not here to trash Tana Mongeau. The YouTube star just oozes the kind of clout thirst that's itching to be on a worst-of list. Can we talk about her insane Las Vegas wedding to Jake Paul — which turned out to be fake — or her dizzying love triangle with Bella Thorne and Mod Sun? 

Mongeau clearly channeled "Toxic"-era Britney Spears on the red carpet if "Toxic"-era Britney ever wore the type of gold snakeskin that looks like you could find it on a Mandee sale rack. Then again, Spears did once walk barefoot into a gas station bathroom, so maybe Mongeau is actually the best person to channel the pop star. They both got married in Vegas (Spears unfortunately made the mistake of legally tying the knot), and the pop star pretty much exhausted the entire surplus of early aughts' chaotic energy like it was a renewable resource. Thankfully, that stuff is like solar power or we wouldn't have gotten to the point in history where snakes on the red carpet are a thing, and Tana can annoy Twitter by wearing one to the VMAs.

Best: Lizzo performing in front of a giant inflatable butt

There's a reason Barack Obama put Lizzo on his summer playlist. The singer doesn't need a DNA test to prove she's 100% that b***h. Nailing that high note in "Good As Hell" in front of a giant, giggling inflatable butt is all the evidence that should be required. After stunning at the MTV Movie & TV Awards, the star is clearly well-versed in the art of live television, so there was no way she wasn't going to succeed at the VMAs. Still, no one could anticipate just how powerful her performance would actually be.

The singer's medley of her popular singles "Truth Hurts" and "Good As Hell" served as a fierce battle cry for self love. Flanked by a team of dancers with bodies of all shapes and sizes, the 30-something Houston-native screamed, "It's so hard trying to love yourself in a world that doesn't love you back." No moment in the entire awards show was as visceral and cathartic. Not to mention, her voice was so flawless that it was almost indistinguishable from the recorded track. In fact, it might have actually been better, which basically never happens, lest we forget the Chainsmokers' botched 2016 performance

Worst: Did John Travolta mistake a drag queen for Taylor Swift?

John Travolta must have a permanent crick in his neck from cringing so hard. First he starred in Gotti, which garnered a Rotten Tomatoes score so low it's hard to comprehend. Then there was his alleged feud with Tom Cruise over who was the bigger Scientologist. Then the VMAs happened. He just can't catch a break. At this year's awards show, the famed actor appeared to mistake the most famous pop star on the planet — and possibly the universe — with her drag queen pal.

The Grease star was tasked with presenting the award for Video of the Year with Queen Latifah. When it came time for Swift to collect the Moon Man for her LGBTQ anthem "You Need To Calm Down," the singer accepted the award alongside some of her video's stars. One of these stars was Jade Jolie, who was wearing a Swift-like blonde wig. Travolta patted her on the shoulder, and it really looked like he was going to give her the award. It's not exactly clear what Travolta was thinking, but maybe it was hard to see under all of those spotlights. Either way, the moment was brief, but even the briefest moment is not lost on Twitter, which relentlessly teased the Hollywood vet.

Best: Missy Elliot bringing back the trash bag

Missy Elliot already walked into the 2019 VMAs a winner. MTV announced the legendary rap star had won the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award before the show even happened, but that didn't stop the singer from getting her freak on anyway. As the first female emcee to receive the coveted trophy, Elliot performed a career-spanning medley that conjured up some serious nostalgia for MTV's heyday (you know, when the network actually played videos instead of Jersey Shore reruns). She even brought back Alyson Stoner, the girl who famously danced in her videos, and the iconic garbage bag outfit from the "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" music video. 

Not only is the Michelin Man-inspired outfit a hallmark of the singer's aesthetic, but it's an enduring symbol of the powerful vision that helped her sell 30 million records  since her 1997 solo debut. In an interview with Elle, Elliot admitted, "The outfit was a way to mask my shyness behind all the chaos of the look. Although I am shy, I was never afraid to be a provocative woman. The outfit was a symbol of power." 

If one thing's for sure: Missy may have dressed up as a scarecrow during "Pass That Dutch," but she's certainly not lacking courage — with or without the trash bag jumpsuit.

Worst: Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello's almost-kiss

There was nothing particularly wrong with Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello's VMAs performance. By all accounts, they were good — really good. Is Shawn Mendes ever actually bad? It's also hard not to stan Cabello after she called out body-shamers and celebrated her own cellulite. Nonetheless, Mendes and Cabello's performance fell sort of flat, if only for the tired drama that surrounds them.

The yawn-worthy quality definitely comes from the cat and mouse game the pair have been playing with the press. They're one of those low-key, maybe-couples who have been teasing the tabloids with their newfound, alleged love. But then Mendes dedicated a song to her during an August 2019 set, they made out all over Montreal, and they kissed in Miami during a beach vacation. It was a tour de l'amour akin to that time Swift dated Tom Hiddleston, except they've never, ever confirmed their relationship. Then came the 2019 VMAs, where the pair performed a rendition of "Senorita" so saucy and sensual it rivaled Lady Gaga's almost-kiss with Bradley Cooper at the Oscars. Basically, we've seen this before. Just admit you're dating or quit teasing TMZ.

Best: Miley Cyrus' Gut-Wrenching Performance

Miley Cyrus wasn't kidding when she sang that she's not the same as she was when she was 17. Her heart-wrenching VMA's performance was nothing like that time she donned a nude, latex body suit and twerked on Robin Thicke. Frankly, Miley 2.0 is a lot more relatable, and her understated black and white performance almost — just almost — pushed the image of Thicke's Beetlejuice suit out of our brain's scar tissue, and flushed it down the toilet.

Cyrus performed a brand new track called "Slide Away," which she released in a YouTube video a week prior. It was particularly poignant, not just because she nailed the notes with her Dolly Parton-like control (we'd expect nothing less from a former Disney Channel star) but because it felt like she finally took off Hannah Montana's blonde wig. She was actually vulnerable, maybe for the first time in her entire career. 

The song's lyrics obviously pointed towards her recent split with estranged husband Liam Hemsworth, who filed for divorce in the weeks prior to the awards show, according to E! News. It was the singer's first public appearance since the split hit headlines, and she certainly did what a great VMAs performance does: she provided some fuel for the tabloids but in the most genuine way. She didn't even need to stick out her tongue.

Worst: Jonas Brothers get Jersey

It's hard to categorize the Jonas Brothers' performance as one of the best or the worst moments at the VMAs. It was firmly cemented in it's own category: New Jersey. You either love it with a bizarre, unyielding pride, or you drift off onto the highways surrounding Newark Airport, smell the sewage treatment plant, and wonder why the heck anyone would ever live here. The performance was such a representation of Garden State pride, we're shocked that it didn't end in a boardwalk brawl about whether Taylor Ham should actually be called Pork Roll (it's Taylor Ham, guys. Can we finally put this to rest?). 

Before their performance, the JoBros left their multi-million dollar LA mansions to get reacquainted with their hometown roots at Asbury Park's historic Stone Pony (except for Kevin, who probably just drove 45 minutes down the parkway). Joe Jonas even wore his best Bruce Springsteen outfit, which could be considered sacrilege depending on which circles you roll in (we don't praise false gods down here in here in the Garden State and there can only be one Boss). Other than that, their performance of "Sucker" and "Only Human" was delightful. If you don't like the Jonas Brothers, get outta here!

Best: Lil Nas X's utopian future

Part of what makes Lil Nas X so likeable is that he isn't afraid to make fun of himself, but why would he be? The guy took a $30 beat and transformed it into a record-breaking, chart-topping single that has transcended genres and generations. If his remix with Mason Ramsey and Billy Ray Cyrus wasn't enough, his performance at an elementary school — where the students somehow know every single world to "Old Town Road" — pushes it over the edge. He is a true crossover success.

Nas continued in his meme-heavy trajectory with his VMAs debut. Instead of raiding Area 51 with Keanu Reeves, the star blasted off to the future in a Tron-inspired outfit. In this utopian world, Nas is President of the United States and "Old Town Road" is filtering through it's 3,162nd remix (which aptly features the Ghost of Benjamin Franklin, someone named Young Sandwich, and Old Thug, who has aged since he was dubbed Young Thug. It's good to know they're still pals). In addition to "Old Town Road," the rapper also danced around while singing his follow-up single "Panini," but let's be honest, all any of us care about are the horses in the back.