(Only two people in this picture really matter. Can you spot them?)
I’ve talked before about the pageant qualities of the red carpet: how every look is the product of so many people the person in the dress is just the end user of some very complicated code, and what that code means. (Actual pageants helped inspire PERSONA; its sequel features a red carpet, for reasons.) But there’s something inescapably young-adult dystopian about the MTV red carpets, where most of the attendees are too young to rent a car but are handling a personal brand and quite often some network or label expectations. And they are all so very young; actors playing high school characters trying to look older than they are, the older actors trying as much as possible to look like high school. It’s an entire runway of forced-casual cognitive dissonance.
At the same time, while the MTV Movie Awards remain laughable, at least they’re transparently so. A system based largely on Best Fight, Best Kiss, Best WTF Moment, Best Musical Moment, feels like a more honest rubric than some other arbitrary awards; their actor categories include Best Villain and Best Scared-as-Shit, which is as good an actorly accounting practice as any. (And let’s just note, for the record, that Selma’s David Oyelowo got onto the MTV Movie Awards Ballot for Breakout Performance after being snubbed at the Oscars. Given that it was MTV, Dylan O’Brien picked up the award – he picked up every award he was nominated for and several others he wasn’t – but still.)
This isn’t the usual red carpet rundown – there are no winners and losers here, merely people whose publicity team told them to attend – and that’s for the best. Let’s start on a high note:
Look of the night, through sheer accumulation of arbitrary points: Mark Ruffalo and his daughter, Bella. Mark gets points for being over 30 without looking self-conscious about it, putting effort into his outfit, and managing to seem like he’s not overtly promoting The Avengers even though he filed dutifully onstage just like everybody else to present Robert Downey Jr with his Old Man Award.
As for the rest? Well, let’s begin with Black Girls Rock.
On that red carpet, black women of all ages and from several professions beyond show business gathered. Here, just as a sampling of what happens when youth is not the primary indicator of worth:
Willow Smith, younger than many of the MTV types, in a great suit.
Ava DuVernay, continuing her red-carpet home run this year with a gorgeous modern gown.
Janelle Monae, looking polished but playful. She’s actually wearing a lot of the trends on the MTV carpet – crop top, strappy sandals, sculptural clutch – but she looks more comfortable in it than 90% of the women we’re about to see.
And speaking of comfortable, I normally don’t bother much with the men, who can vary in detail or go wide with a style statement but who usually show up in some version of evening suit or tux and get to call it a day after that (a man doesn’t have to make a definitive fashion statement unless he chooses to, which is a handy social default). However, this time, I’m going to bring it up, thanks to this dude:
Tyler Posey, whose attitude about his show has manifested in wearing jean shorts on the red carpet, because what can they do? They’re bleeding cast members at the rate of three a season! Fire him now and he’ll just show up on a Netflix Marvel series! Your move, MTV! ENJOY THE SHORTS.
Meanwhile, just for a comparative barometer, Maia Mitchell:
She’s either doing a Natalie Dormer impression or she just caught a look at Tyler Posey and thought about the three hours she spent in a hotel room as professionals did her hair and makeup and someone vacuum-sucked her into a dress to alert casting directors that she’s not just the kid from The Fosters; she’s the kid from the Fosters who’s ready to play a villainously seductive college kid in a horror movie.
Also honing her image: Brittany Snow, in a lovely colorblocked cocktail-length dress that she had to promise someone she could sell appropriately.
Somewhere, a publicist is quietly pumping her fist and whispering, “So relatable.”
Kiersey Clemons made a really smart choice in going full glam here; on a red carpet that desperately tries to avoid trying too hard, she managed to look both fun and formal, deploying the super-low waist in a setting that actually manages to look like it’s trying a lot LESS hard than several other people here, rather than say, the Emmys, at which point it would be the hardest-trying. Given the MTV red carpet vibes, this is basically the most expensive swimsuit cover-up alive, and it looks lovely.
Willow Shields. (I am disconnected enough from pop culture that my mom had to inform me she’s on Dancing with the Stars and not just here on Hunger Games pretenses.) She’s losing her neck in this pose because of her sculptural one-shoulder, but since I’m not Tyra Banks I don’t have to worry about that. I frankly loved this outfit; it’s young enough to suit the carpet, structured enough to remind you of Effie Trinket (so smart), and the makeup and hair is deliberately Veronica Lake. Eye-catching without looking like you’re trying too hard to catch the eye: the MTV ideal.
Tinashe, in an evening-length t-shirt, which is perfect for this event. The pearl studs are not my all-time favorite texturally, but I love their function so much that we’ll give it a pass. She’s also one of the few people all night who didn’t look like she was nervous about the popcorn-bike standees behind her (just plain enough not to enhance the photos, just complex enough to cast weird shadows), and who managed to make the punishingly direct sunlight work for her rather than against her – the benefits of a strong, simple silhouette.
As you can see, the sun did Arden Cho no favors. She’s lovely, and this outfit is very on-trend and trackable (you always knew where she was, the whole length of the carpet), but the sunlight and shadows against the many cutouts and abruptions of her outfit makes her look like a warm-up sketch for a Picasso. (Personal note: I suspect I want those earrings very much.)
Holland Roden. First of all, the MTV home court advantage is that someone will tell you what color the carpet is so you can shoe appropriately. Second of all, she’s always had a very modern eye about her public appearances. Third of all, she is done. She is so absolutely done with the show. That is the stare of a woman who is angry at her costars for leaving only because now the sets are closely watched and she can’t do what she hoped and sneak across the lot to the CW while somebody was oiling up Dylan O’Brien. Now she just has to tread water for another season until her character is gruesomely killed to prevent any return, and all her hope of chatting up the CW producers is gone. It’s totally gone. This pattern is literally bathroom tile. That’s how done she is.
Victoria Justice looks like a live-action Synergy from the JEM reboot in this outfit; in this outfit, I would not say no.
“Let’s draw attention to my youthful breasts and legs in a silhouette no one else will possibly be wearing!” said Halston Sage and/or her team.
“I can’t even believe this,” muttered Emily Ratajkowski, as Halston Sage quietly fired her stylist. “At least I have the comfort of knowing I have utterly won the cleavage-baring/glorious leg portion of the evening.” But farther down the carpet came a low laugh that gave Emily chills…
…because Jennifer Lopez had arrived after all.
(Only vaguely related: that is a weird position for a clutch purse, I know that and you know that, but when you’re contractually obligated to show off the clutch purse AND your outfit only works from the front, your choices are limited.)
First, there was Grunge Crow. Then, there was Camp Crow. Now comes Hana Mae Lee, Executive Crow.
Cara Delevigne; her modeling skills are the picture of attitude and ease, her actual acting skills are largely untested, and her press-tour skills are the equivalent of a young deer that’s been surgically grafted to John Green and must now praise him whenever someone points a mic at her. This dress sort of gives you the idea.
Such is the power of youth that Bella Thorne is wearing a dress that looks like a Project Runway shower-curtain-and-tub-stickers challenge and is translucent straight down the crotch, and still seems delighted with it.
“Can you make it both weirdly skimpy and oddly frumpy?” asked Greer Grammer, and the stylists certainly obliged her. It looks like she’s jumped out a window wearing only her grandmother’s duvet cover and barely escaped. Still, she escaped, that’s nice!
Rebel Wilson, cosplaying a beloved superhero: Having a Great Time Lass. (Honestly, she looks great – the plain black sets her apart on this carpet, but the pink lining makes the whole outfit. I tend to think pink pumps are Barbie shoes, and these are no different, but who cares, it’s MTV.)
Miles Teller, cosplaying as Kristen Stewart.
Bridget Regan is just one of the young people! At home here amongst the youth, that’s her! Snapchat’s so fun, isn’t it? Cocktail length! Sharp edges! Just the kinds of things those young people like. Please continue to online vote for Agent Carter, my purse is shaped like a diamond, bye!
I realized the depths my ScarJo antipathy has reached when I saw her in this poorly fitted, poorly hemmed, poorly matched-with-her-bronzer-and-color-draining-lipstick Newport News pantsuit and grinned. Someone on her stylist team had just been waiting for the right moment to throw her under the sartorial bus, and oh, that moment came.
Hailee Steinfeld is so 90s that in her heart she might well be cosplaying an Old West interpretation of the outfit from the early X-MEN issue in which Gambit takes Rogue on a date and she wears a handkerchief skirt, fishnets, and boots. “Ah run this saloon, sugah,” she whispered to the mirror, “so you might want to think twice before you draw.”
Shailene Woodley, repeat decrier of feminism and recipient of some kind of achievement award that I can only hope is not directly related to that first thing. There is something about this outfit that goes beyond careless youth – it’s trying way too hard – and becomes that girl from your high school theater department who knew she was getting the lead in the musical without having to audition because everybody knows she’s the only person who can hit Maria Von Trapp’s high notes and it was all a ringer, showing up for the first day of rehearsal pretending to be nervous about it but making sure her friend in the costume department is videoing the first number so she can try to make it ‘accidentally’ go viral in musical-theater Tumblr.
And finally, just as she wanted:
Bai Ling. It occurred to me to ask a lot of logistical questions about what happened to this rig when she stepped inside – surely someone took it from her, but who? (Who is on Bai Ling’s styling team? She seems like a do-it-yourselfer, but maybe she has six people helping her find stuff, what do I know?) Did she want this to be her Bjork swan dress and finally accepted that the MTV red carpet was as close to the Oscars as she was likely to get this year?
But honestly, there’s no point. MTV invited her hoping she’d wear something off-the-wall, and she did. Case closed. It’s a lovely dragon, and she upstaged the popcorn bike cutouts. We can ask no more from her.