The MTV Video Music Awards are famously billed as a showcase for what is new, hip, and now—at least in the world of Top 40. That being the case, electronic music and the VMAs have had a tenuous relationship over the years with big name artists like Calvin Harris and deadmau5 being able to occasionally break the glass ceiling of the typical spread of pop and hip-hop with performances and award wins every other year or so. However, as the signature sound of EDM creeps slowly, but surely, into the realm of mainstream pop and hip-hop, so too has the road to a Moonman for electronic music has been nicely paved by crossover artists who have transitioned into Top 40.
This year was a landmark for EDM at the VMAs, the most prominent demonstration of the genre’s growing popularity being the headlining performance by The Chainsmokers and Halsey of the hit “Closer.” Initially it may seem like this one example of an already popular electronic group still leaves much to be desired in the way of a real and lasting presence for the genre at popular award shows. Despite the seemingly scant presence of electronic artists at the VMAs and although no other electronic artists besides the “#Selfie” takers graced the stage this year, in reality–EDM demonstrated its ever-increasing pop culture prowess as its underlying influence appeared in several of the chart-toppers and award winners featured.
Rihanna was the biggest champions of electronic music at this year’s VMAs, embracing the genre in her own on-stage performances (of which there were several), as well as in her collaborative videos. Songs from the chart-topping artist like “Only Girl in the World” and “We Found Love” that already give a not-so-subtle nod to the sound of EDM opened up the award show as RiRi performed a remixed mash-up of her biggest hits retrospective from the past few years. An even bigger win for electronic artists at the VMAs came when the club hit from Calvin Harris featuring Rihanna, “This Is What You Came For,” stole the Moonman for Best Male Video.
These nods to electronic music even outside of the performance by the Chainsmokers and Halsey at the Video Music Awards come as no surprise when you consider the continued presence of electronic artists like Calvin Harris, Skrillex, Diplo, and Zedd within the portfolios of chart topping mainstream artists, as well as the continued referencing of electronic sound in Top 40 songs, videos, and even entire albums.
While the meat and potatoes of last week’s VMA show was, as expected, focused on chart-topping artists like Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj, Drake, Kanye West, and Beyoncé, among others, the brief yet bold appearances of electronic artists in the overwhelmingly pop and hip-hop dominated mix serves as yet another indication of EDM’s burgeoning mainstream popularity. Although only a select and limited few have made it home with a Moonman, this year’s VMAs signifies one giant leap for EDM-kind.