This year’s Video Of The Year VMA nominees are all outstanding in their owns ways. You’ve got Taylor Swift’s star-packed, bombastic “Bad Blood” and Beyoncé’s comparatively lo-fi (but amazingly candid and celebratory) “7/11″ competing against Ed Sheeran’s romantic, highly choreographed “Thinking Out Loud,” Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ throwback, stylized “Uptown Funk” and Kendrick Lamar’s dizzyingly jarring “Alright.” It’s a good crop.
Every year when the winner is announced, there are always fans who claim their favorite artist’s video should have taken the top spot instead. We understand. It’s hard watching your faves walk away empty-handed. Sometimes it’s just fan-rage. But other times, it’s legitimately because you think someone else made an all-around better video than the winner did. We understand that, too.
In fact, we kind of agree. That’s why we plundered the VMA archives to find a handful of worthwhile runner-up videos that were nominated for VotY but didn’t win — and that deserve a second look. It’s not just wishful thinking or revisionist history. It’s about what particular videos say about the times they come out of. And don’t get us wrong: We love the winners! But here’s a list of others that might have made great winners, too.
2006: Christina Aguilera – “Ain’t No Other Man”
What Won Instead: Panic! At The Disco – “I Write Sins Not Tragedies”
Why It’s Worth Another Look: For all the cool, vintage, throwback-y vibes in Panic!’s video, Xtina’s has more. Director Bryan Barber helped craft a thrilling, glitzy vid that captures every bit of Xtina’s natural glamorous charm as well as the brassy fun of the song. Old Hollywood Xtina is the one personality that always flawlessly worked for her, so to have it immortalized here — with nightclub scenes and pool-table dance numbers — is pretty great. Sure, emo had a foothold on the music world in ’06, and not many emo bands soared higher than Panic! But if these two were pitted against each other today, “Ain’t No Other Man” would topple it, guaranteed.
2014: Sia – “Chandelier”
What Won Instead: Miley Cyrus – “Wrecking Ball”
Why It’s Worth Another Look: Look, no one is saying “Chandelier” is a better video than “Wrecking Ball.” “Wrecking Ball” is iconic, and this year’s VMAs host took a massive leap with it, effectively reintroducing herself to the world via an emotional, striking and immediate video. But “Chandelier” is awesome. It’s also mysterious, gorgeous to look at and uber easy to parody (though hard to parody successfully). It’s worth digging into again and again. “Wrecking Ball,” powerful as it is, is just so heavy. We love it still, just not all the time.
1994: Beastie Boys – “Sabotage”
What Won Instead: Aerosmith – “Cryin’”
Why It’s Worth Another Look: “Sabotage” has become one of the most celebrated music videos in the history of the medium, and luckily, it’s gotten its due as the years have passed. But back in ’94, it lost in every category it was nominated in — for the record, that was Video Of The Year, Best Group Video, Breakthrough Video, Best Direction In A Video and Viewer’s Choice. Thankfully, the ’09 VMAs set things right by presenting the Beasties and director Spike Jonze with the “Best Video (That Should Have Won A Moonman)” award. Better late than never.
2002: NSYNC – “Gone”
What Won Instead: Eminem – “Without Me”
Why It’s Worth Another Look: “Without Me” is absolutely peak Eminem: a silly, sharply funny and acerbic take on the notion of celebrity and how we as fans take it in. The problem is that Em already made that video two years before — and won the 2000 Video Of The Year award for it. “The Real Slim Shady” roasted late-’90s MTV culture so perfectly that by 2002, it was frankly too soon for another one. NSYNC’s “Gone,” on the other hand, plays like a breakup song not between Justin Timberlake and a gal, but between JT and the rest of his group. Indeed, his debut solo album, Justified, would drop just two months after the ’02 VMAs — and the masterful minimalism of “Gone” is a fitting send-off.
2005: Kanye West – “Jesus Walks”
What Won Instead: Green Day – “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams”
Why It’s Worth Another Look: Having Green Day take home the top Moonman in ’05 seems a bit like having Panic! win the following year: At the time, they were the obvious choices, but looking back, they seem like long-shot nominees given who they went up against. And in 2015, nothing would be a bigger long-shot than Green Day topping Kanye, but hey, 2005 was a different time. ’Ye wasn’t the Video Vanguard Award-winner he is now, and Green Day’s American Idiot was literally everywhere. As an arrival video, “Jesus Walks” is a spectacle and a force to be reckoned with — and it deserves a second look now, just like it will in 2020, then 2025, then forever.