Woman with short black and blue hair, wearing circular gold earrings, and a big gold chain
Missy Elliott in 2015. Elliott made history as the first female rapper to be honored with MTV’s Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award.

There are only a handful of artists who can say they have truly revolutionized the art of the music video, and Missy Elliott is one of them. MTV recently announced Elliott as the recipient of the coveted Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award for this year’s Video Music Awards. After years of campaigns by fans on social media, the five-time Grammy award winning artist and recent inductee of the Songwriters Hall of Fame is finally getting properly acknowledged for her everlasting contributions to videos. 

Ever since Elliott burst into the scene a little over two decades ago, she’s always found a way to flawlessly expand her eclectic hip-hop sound into a completely out-of-the-box visual adventure. 1997’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” is the cornerstone of her legacy as a conceptual genius. The iconic video––directed by Hype Williams––utilized the classic ‘90s Fisheye lens and popularized the robot-esque movements seen more recently in Beyoncé’s “Sorry” video. More than the appearance of Lil’ Kim in Chanel suspenders and Timbaland taking the passenger seat of the Hummer, the part that truly steals the show is the way Elliott sports an inflatable patent leather suit like no other––ultimately expanding the creative possibilities for females in music.

Elliott’s unorthodox ideas continued with videos like “Sock It 2 Me,” which featured Elliott, DaBrat and Lil’ Kim in an outer space setting way before Britney Spears’ “Oops!…I Did It Again.” In red and white space suits reminiscent of the MegaMan video game series, Elliott’s second collaboration with Hype Williams further set the standard that outlandish settings and concepts were the way to go. 

Throughout Elliott’s videography, we’ve seen her in a plethora of other imaginative settings and taking part in surreal visual effects. “One Minute Man” shows Elliott dancing in an all-denim outfit without her head and “Pass That Dutch” imagines herself turning into a scarecrow. “Get Ur Freak On” has Elliott staged in a jungle and features her neck turning into silly putty while jolting to the front of the screen––calling for the perfect 3-D experience if there was such a thing at the time.

More than just being aesthetically fascinating to look at, Elliott’s videos have plenty of comedic themes that force you to rewind again and again. Opening with the lyrics: “This is a Missy Elliott one-time exclusive,” 2002’s “Work It” proves to be just that. From Elliott head spinning in her signature Adidas track suit and furry Kangol hat to the Halle Berry shoutout, there’s a lot to unpack. It also helps that Elliott is one of the greatest songwriters of our time and is a mastermind at creating witty lines––let us not forget her trademark way of actually flipping and reversing her lyrics.

It’s no secret that Elliott’s appreciation for the dance community runs deep. As vast as her ideas are, one thing that remains in her visuals is spotlighting a wide range of dancers –– most notably, a young pig-tailed Alyson Stoner. Even now, her music is being exposed to a new generation of dancers and is still heavily featured in all the popular YouTube choreography videos. For anyone who grew up as a hip-hop dancer or as a fan of dance in general, they would most likely put Elliott’s anthems in the soundtrack of their lives.

Looking back on all of the ways Elliott has impacted music videos can bring about a sense of disappointment in MTV on not giving her this honor years ago. Truthfully, she should’ve received the Vanguard way before many of her peers. As someone who is heavily respected, past recipients would most likely repeat those same sentiments because of the way she held onto the mindset of music videos being seen as an event.

Despite the amount of years it took for MTV to honor Elliott, we are glad she is finally getting her rightful shine because she definitely deserves it. With confirmation from Elliott herself in regards to new music arriving, there is hope that we will finally get a solo album from her after 14 years pretty soon. Either way, we cannot wait to celebrate all she has done and continues to do for pop culture.

Rylee Jackson can be reached at ryleejackson@sagebrush.unr.edu, or on Twitter @rybyjackson.