August 20, 2018
A muted ceremony saw the Havana singer win video and artist of the year while the late soul singer was remembered in a brief memorial
MTV VMAs: Camila Cabello wins big while Madonna pays tribute to Aretha Franklin
This year’s MTV Video Music Awards saw Camila Cabello taking home the night’s two biggest trophies for artist and video of the year for Havana, beating out Drake and Childish Gambino – though it was Madonna who generated headlines for what was seen by some as a misjudged tribute to Aretha Franklin.
Given the short period of time since Aretha Franklin’s death last week, the ceremony didn’t include a much-expected musical homage but instead, Madonna came onstage to share a story about how singing You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman) at an audition changed her life. “She led me to where I am today and I know she influenced so many people in this room tonight,” she said. “I want to thank you Aretha for empowering all of us.”
But the singer’s tribute to the late star proved unpopular with many. The Breakfast Club host Charlamagne Tha God tweeted: “I thought Madonna was supposed to be paying homage to Aretha but I all heard was her paying homage to herself,” while comedian Roy Wood Jr joked: “’If it wasn’t for Aretha, we wouldn’t have Madonna’ – Madonna.”
It was a much better night for Cabello, though, with the former Fifth Harmony singer giving a “shoutout to all the amazing female artists this year”.
The night was kicked off by Cardi B appearing onstage with what looked like her recently born baby but instead, she was holding a blanketed VMA, announcing herself to be “the empress” before introducing a performance by Shawn Mendes. It was a more muted start for the VMAs following on from last year’s politically charged opener from Kendrick Lamar.
Later in the evening Cardi B picked up awards for best collaboration with Jennifer Lopez and DJ Khaled, and best new artist. “A couple of months ago people were saying you were gambling your career by having a baby,” she said.
This year there was no host but instead a selection of presenters, some taking control of the stage for longer than others, such as Kevin Hart who teased that “You never know what’s gonna happen at the VMAs.” It was a message echoed by MTV’s interstitials, suggesting that big surprises were in store – but they were few and far between.
MTV VMAs: Camila Cabello wins big while Madonna pays tribute to Aretha Franklin
Major winners included Nicki Minaj picking up best hip-hop video for Chun-Li and Post Malone beating out Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars (featuring Cardi B) and Drake to take home song of the year for his hit Rockstar. Ariana Grande won best pop video for No Tears Left to Cry, thanking her fiance, SNL star Pete Davidson “for existing”. Avicii, who died in April, won best dance video for his collaboration with Rita Ora, who paid tribute to him during the ceremony.
Many of the industry’s biggest stars weren’t in attendance, with Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Childish Gambino, Drake and Ed Sheeran all steering clear. Instead, the ceremony devoted more time than usual highlighting up-and-coming artists with condensed performances from Jessie Reyez, Hayley Kiyoko, PrettyMuch and others.
Arguably the most talked about video of the year, Childish Gambino’s This is America, was named best video with a message and was honored with prizes for choreography and direction. Beyoncé and Jay-Z were denied any of the bigger awards, and instead won for art direction and cinematography.

Last year Logic performed 1-800-273-8255, named after the US suicide hotline, and tonight he returned with an equally impassioned setpiece, arriving onstage wearing a T-shirt saying Fuck the Wall, followed by children wearing T-shirts saying We Are All Human Beings. The stage, mocked up to resemble the border wall, proceeded to lift halfway through One Day, his duet with Ryan Tedder, to reunite the children with their parents.
Other performers included Travis Scott and James Blake, Ariana Grande, Panic! at the Disco, Nicki Minaj and Video Vanguard honoree Jennifer Lopez, who delivered a medley of her biggest tracks in the night’s most extravagant sequence. The star became the first Latinx artist to win the award and in her speech, she spoke of the personal importance.
“I grew up on MTV and this is really a tremendous honor for me,” she said. “It has been an incredible journey of dreaming my wildest dreams and then watching them come true ... I had to forge my own path and make my own rules.”
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