When the MTV Video Music Awards are handed out Sunday night, there's a good chance that a female artist will walk off with the award for Video of the Year for the fifth straight year. Katy Perry's "Firework" and Adele's "Rolling In The Deep" are both nominated, along with Bruno Mars' "Grenade," Beastie Boys' "Make Some Noise" and Tyler, the Creator's "Yonkers."
Female artists have had a lock on this award since 2007, when Rihanna won for "Umbrella," her collabo with Jay-Z. Since then, it has gone, in turn, to Britney Spears for "Piece Of Me," Beyoncé for "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" and Lady Gaga for "Bad Romance."
Looking closer at this year's finalists, "Firework," "Rolling In The Deep" and "Grenade" were #1 hits on Billboard's Hot 100; "Make Some Noise" and "Yonkers" "bubbled under" the chart. Beastie Boys were nominated in this category in 1994 with "Sabotage." The other four finalists are first-time nominees in this category.
I'm going to recap all of the winners for Video of the Year, but first, here's a quick Pop Quiz to see how much you know about the winners and nominees in this category.
• Who is the only artist to win Video of the Year twice?
• What are the only two winning videos shot entirely in black-and-white?
• Who was the first African American artist to win? (And what was the special significance of this?)
• Only one title has won both a VMA for Video of the Year and a Grammy for Record of the Year. Name it.
• Only one country artist has ever been nominated in this category. Name that artist.
• Extra Credit: Did Michael Jackson ever win Video of the Year?
I answer most of these questions in the year-by-year recap. I also show the answers at-a-glance after the recap.
1984: The Cars, "You Might Think." This clever concept video depicted the band performing on a bar of soap and in a medicine cabinet. Lead singer Ric Ocasek wrote the spunky song, which reached #7 on the Hot 100.
1985: Don Henley, "The Boys Of Summer." This brilliant song and video represented the peak of Henley's solo career. The video, shot in black-and-white, uses the repeated image of lovers running on the beach as a metaphor for lost youth. Henley co-wrote the song with Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. The single reached #5. Henley was nominated again for "The End Of The Innocence" in 1990.
1986: Dire Straits, "Money For Nothing." The hook in this song and video was MTV's famous ad slogan "I want my MTV." How could it lose? The video effectively blends computer-generated imagery and performance footage of the band. It depicts blue-collar appliance store workers mocking overpaid, pretty-boy rock stars. Mark Knopfler and Sting co-wrote the song, which was #1 for three weeks. An unseen Sting also contributes a back-up vocal.
1987: Peter Gabriel, "Sledgehammer." This elaborate video shows what you can do with enormous imagination, months of production time and a seemingly limitless budget. The video makes extensive use of Claymation, with dancing headless chickens and enough fruit to stock a grocery store. Gabriel wrote the R&B-influenced song, which hit #1. He was nominated again for "Digging In The Dirt" in 1993.
1988: INXS, "Need You Tonight"/"Mediate." Lead singer Michael Hutchence comes off like a young Jim Morrison or Robert Plant in this sexy, stylish video. "Need You Tonight," which Hutchence co-wrote with band-mate Andy Farriss, hit #1. It segues into "Mediate," in which band members flip through word-bearing cards in homage to Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Sadly, Hutchence took his own life in 1997.
1989: Neil Young, "This Note's For You." This acerbic video spoofs Madison Avenue and the commercialism of pop culture. The video skewers Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, who had signed sponsorship deals with Pepsi and Coke, respectively. It also spoofs those pretentious ads for Calvin Klein perfume. Young wrote the song, which never charted. This was the first of two winners in this category that didn't chart.
1990: Sinead O'Connor, "Nothing Compares 2 U." This was the first video by a female artist to win this award. The stark video consists largely of close-up shots of O'Connor's face. It also includes somber imagery of statues and winter scenes. Prince wrote the haunting song, which logged four weeks at #1.
1991: R.E.M., "Losing My Religion." The alternative band's master-work spawned a striking video. The video focuses on Michael Stipe, whose heartfelt vocal gives the song its emotional power. R.E.M. wrote the song, which reached #4. The band was nominated again for "Man On The Moon" in 1993 and "Everybody Hurts" in 1994.
1992: Van Halen, "Right Now." This outstanding video shows the power of good writing. Dozens of one-line messages pass by, including such thought-provoking lines as "Right now your parents miss you" and "Right now she is going on with her life." Van Halen wrote the song, which peaked at #55.
1993: Pearl Jam, "Jeremy." This was the second consecutive Video of the Year winner with a socially conscious message. The song and video show the pressures building on the sensitive and troubled Jeremy. The video ends with Jeremy shooting himself in front of a classroom. Lead singer Eddie Vedder co-wrote the song with band-mate Jeff Ament. It reached #70 and charted again (at #79) two years later.
1994: Aerosmith, "Cryin'." The third time was the charm for this veteran band, which had been nominated for "Janie's Got A Gun" in 1990 and "Livin' On The Edge" in 1993. A 16-year old Alicia Silverstone starred in the video as a resourceful girl who got even with her unfaithful boyfriend. Band leaders Steven Tyler and Joe Perry co-wrote the rock ballad with Taylor Rhodes. It reached #12.
1995: TLC, "Waterfalls." TLC was the first African American act to win this award. Considering that MTV didn't air videos by black artists in its first 18 months on the air, this was a major breakthrough. This was the second winning video (following "Right Now") to cite HIV/AIDS. The video captured the moody feeling of the song, which logged seven weeks at #1. TLC's Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes co-wrote the song.
1996: Smashing Pumpkins, "Tonight, Tonight." The turn-of-the-century style of this video was inspired by director Georges Melies' 1902 silent movie A Trip To The Moon. Lead singer Billy Corgan stars in the video. He also wrote the song, which reached #36.
1997: Jamiroquai, "Virtual Insanity." Jason "Jay" Kay sings and dances in this simple but effective video. Kay co-wrote the pop-soul song with Toby Smith, who has since left the group. The song inexplicably didn't crack the Hot 100. This was the second winner in this category that didn't chart.
1998: Madonna, "Ray Of Light." The third time was also the charm for Madonna, who had been nominated for "Like A Prayer" in 1989 and "Vogue" in 1990. The video reflected the frenetic pace of song, in which Madonna embraced electronica. Madonna co-wrote the song, which reached #5. Madonna was nominated for a fourth time in this category (a record for a female artist) in 2006 with "Hung Up."
1999: Lauryn Hill, "Doo Wop (That Thing)." This video cleverly uses split screen to depict a block party in New York City in both 1967 and in 1998. That reflected the song's balance between old-school R&B and contemporary hip-hop values. Hill wrote the song, which debuted at #1.
2000: Eminem, "The Real Slim Shady." This was the first out-and-out rap song to win. ("Waterfalls" and "Doo Wop (That Thing)" blended hip-hop with pop and R&B.) The song and video showcase Eminem's witty wordplay and brash style. He takes potshots at Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and the Grammys, among other targets. Eminem co-wrote the song, which reached #4.
2001: Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya and P!nk, "Lady Marmalade." This was the first collaboration to win this award. The video is a virtual ad for the movie Moulin Rouge, in which the song was featured. The song, a remake of LaBelle's 1975 classic, was #1 for five weeks. Missy Elliott, who produced the hit and makes a cameo in the video, had a competing video in the running. Aguilera was nominated again in this category in 2006 with "Ain't No Other Man."
2002: Eminem, "Without Me." This made Eminem the only artist in the history of the VMAs to win this award twice. The video marks the return of his Slim Shady character. The song is again studded with pop culture references. This time, the barbs are directed at Elvis Presley, Moby and Dick Cheney. Eminem co-wrote the song, which logged five weeks at #2.
2003: Missy Elliott, "Work It." This funky smash was the second rap song in a row to win this award. The video featured a Prince lookalike and "in loving memory" nods to Aaliyah and Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, who had died in 2001 and 2002, respectively. Elliott had been nominated in this category once before, for "Get Ur Freak On" in 2001. Elliott co-wrote "Work It," which logged 10 weeks at #2.
2004: OutKast, "Hey Ya!" That exclamation point at the end of the title is well-earned. This video is as fun and exuberant as the song itself. The video has OutKast performing on an old-time variety show, which carries echoes of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. The duo's Andre Benjamin co-wrote the song, which logged nine weeks at #1.
2005: Green Day, "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams." This power ballad is the only title to win both Video of the Year at the VMAs and Record of the Year at the Grammys. That's quite an achievement, since the voters in these two awards shows have such different sensibilities. This was the trio's second nomination in this category, following "Basket Case" in 1995. Green Day wrote "Boulevard," which logged five weeks at #2.
2006: Panic! At The Disco, "I Write Sins Not Tragedies." This marked the second year in a row that an alternative band took the award. But where Green Day won for a poignant power ballad, Panic! won for a fun and quirky pop song. The theatrical video brought out the humor in the lyrics, such as the oft-repeated line, "Haven't you people ever heard of closing a god-damned door?" Panic! wrote the song, which hit #7.
2007: Rihanna featuring Jay-Z, "Umbrella." This was the second collaboration to win in this category, following "Lady Marmalade." The dance sequence may be the most memorable involving an umbrella since Gene Kelly's "Singin' In The Rain" 55 years before. Jay-Z had been nominated in this category once before, for "99 Problems" in 2004. He co-wrote "Umbrella," which logged seven weeks at #1.
2008: Britney Spears, "Piece Of Me." Just one year after a widely-panned performance on the VMAs, Spears walked off with the top award. Like Michael Jackson's "Leave Me Alone," a finalist for this award in 1989, "Piece Of Me" commented on life as a tabloid mainstay. This was Spears' second of three nominations in this category. She had been nominated in 2004 for "Toxic" and would be again in 2009 for "Womanizer." "Piece Of Me" reached #18.
2009: Beyoncé, "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It). This was the second black-and-white video to win in this category, following "The Boys Of Summer." The concept (three women dancing in leotards) proves that sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. This was Beyonce's second of three nominations in this category. She had been nominated for "Irreplaceable" and would be again for "Telephone." Beyonce co-wrote "Single Ladies," which logged four weeks at #1.
2010: Lady Gaga, "Bad Romance." This over-the-top video was a showcase for Gaga's wild imagination. Gaga won even though she had a second video in the running ("Telephone," featuring Beyoncé). No one in VMA history had ever won in this category when they were competing against themselves. In addition, Gaga was nominated the year before for "Poker Face." Gaga co-wrote "Bad Romance," which logged seven weeks at #2.
Here are the "at a glance" answers to today's quiz.
• Eminem is the only artist to win Video of the Year twice (2000 and 2002). In addition, he's the only artist to be nominated six times. He was also a finalist with "Stan" (featuring Dido) in 2001, "Lose Yourself" in 2003, "We Made You" in 2009 and "Not Afraid" in 2010. (And he was part of D12, which was nominated in 2004 with "My Band.")
• Don Henley's "The Boys Of Summer" and Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It") are the only two videos shot entirely in black-and-white to win.
• TLC was the first African American artist to win. The special significance of this: MTV didn't air videos by black artists in its first 18 months on the air. TLC is also the only female group to win. (I'm discounting the "Lady Marmalade" collabo).
• Green Day's "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" is the only entry to win both Video of the Year at the VMAs and Record of the Year at the Grammys.
• Michael Jackson never won Video of the Year. (That doesn't seem right, does it?) He was nominated three times: for "Thriller" in 1984, "Leave Me Alone" in 1989 and "Scream" (with sister Janet Jackson) in 1995.