Few things make me feel older than watching a VMAs red carpet. That’s less because the carpet is full of young people than because I have minimal sense of what the young pop star world wants from this spotlight. “Attention” is an honest but flippant answer; every red carpet exists for attention, and dinging everybody for it doesn’t get us anywhere. Given the sheer number of women who showed up on the carpet with one leg aggressively propped outside the confines of her dress, there are trends at play here that escape my understanding. (And you can’t even say it’s to flaunt youth, because Angelina Jolie’s leg dress blew all of these out of the water. Goddammit, young people, what’s going on with you??) It’s especially hard when one contingent of the awards is actively trying to make cogent social points about systemic inequality and the other half is trying to make fun of it, but that is the reason not to watch awards shows except for Nicki Minaj Vines. There’s a lot going on, and it can be hard to separate that from the sparkle.
On the other hand, some people make it easy! Take Miley Cyrus, who managed to dress in a dismal imitation of 60s-sci-fi camp that attempted at every turn to incur an FCC nudity violation and STILL couldn’t distract from her contractually-mandated tongue, AND managed to remind everyone of her regularly-scheduled cultural appropriation with fake dreads, which she was still wearing when she made fun of Nicki Minaj for calling the VMAs out on their racism. It’s almost too perfect; this outfit is doing the work it needs to do, even if none of it is the work Miley and company intended.
For some people, though, their outfits did exactly what they were supposed to.
Like Nicki Minaj, who is dressed somewhere between a 1927 Erté Vogue illustration and the introduction of a particularly noteworthy comic-book villain, in a pose so precisely calculated that when I saw it I actually shook my head like a grizzled police captain whose rookie cops have pulled out a win. Nicki Minaj wants to have an effect, and unlike many of the other attendees, she is a master at controlling what it is.
Halsey, who dressed like a minimalist editorial photo in a magazine doing a Blade Runner fashion spread, which in this crowd is positively groundbreaking.
Vanessa Hudgens, who at least went for a whole look that she seems to be enjoying and that feels recognizably “her” in terms of the hippie-feminine personal style brand she’s presented in the past.
FKA Twigs, who got the memo about the VMA dress code being Maximum Skin, but decided to stealth cosplay as a really fancy spider, which was an excellent call.
Britney Spears, who is always cosplaying as Britney Spears, and even when she seems to be cosplaying as a wax figure of Britney Spears, she’s damn good at it.
Amber Rose, literally wearing insults people have given her, and if you’re going to do that where it will have impact, might as well do it on the VMA red carpet to promote your Slutwalk, because at least in a bodysuit you won’t have to do the leg pop.
Like Rita Ora and Emily Ratajkowski, who together actually look like a team-up for an “edgy” Vegas magic show (titled a double entendre, probably, because that’s how Vegas works) that might be marginally more interesting than either of them are apart, which would not be difficult!
Someone made Greer Grammer come to this event in this dress, and they should not have. That is the face of an incipient panic attack.
Rachel Smith, former Miss USA and current “television personality” (I am too old for the VMAs), will never look uncomfortable. She has trained too hard for this. Rachel Smith is a goddamn pro who is going to look like she’s having a pleasantly appropriate time until the Earth suffers heat death.
Whatever MTV is paying Holland Roden, it is now and has always been just enough to get her to show up and never enough to care.
See also, Kat Graham. They’re never going to let Bonnie make out with Damon no matter how many times they’re stranded together, and so she is done even pretending she cares. She will wear her baroque-punk saloon-owner dress and there is nothing you can do to stop her.
It’s no surprise that Martha Hunt, professional wearer of clothes, makes this dress look great, but this is also a legitimately cute dress – that sort of carelessly-formal, youthful-expensive thing that positively screams I May Be On a VMAs Red Carpet But I Am a Model And Usually Better Than This.
And this attitude was a fairly impressive percentage of last night thanks to Taylor Swift, who got more models per capita onto the VMAs red carpet than ever before, thanks to her formalized squad, which I like to imagine operates according to a series of contracted Instagram quotas. (I am only partly snarking on this; I wrote Persona, I am clearly genuinely interested in the logistics behind performative interpersonal dynamics.)
What a fascinating photo. This is a well-rehearsed lineup of the Bad Blood cast with a couple of rogue elements, and I looked at it like it was the photo from Blade Runner because there is so much going on.
LEFT: Gigi Hadid, who makes that obligatory leg-pop look effortless; Martha Hunt, who looks suddenly less confident about her dress in a way that makes me want to reassure her she looks fine; Hailee Steinfeld, who is leaning ito the late-60s thing about a thousand times better than Miley Cyrus and is also throwing a rogue eyeline at the photographers to make sure she doesn’t get lost in the lineup (genius move); Cara Delevigne, who is staring past the opening weekend of Paper Towns and will not even let herself get distracted until then; the VMAs are small potatoes.
CENTER: Selena Gomez cannot fucking believe that after a decade in the industry she’s been folded into the B-position of someone else’s squad. Taylor Swift, who usually wears clothes that end up wearing her but are objectively lovely, is wearing an outfit that requires a lot more cool to pull off than she has.
RIGHT: Serayah is completely done being here – whoever suggested the fringe outfit, especially with those booties, was not her friend, and she has realized it, and she is going to have words with whoever that is; Mariska Hargitay looks adorably like she is in the middle of telling each of these young women to follow their dreams; Lily Aldridge, who has made only a momentary appearance before going to a James Bond Casino Night that is way cooler than this; and Karlie Kloss, who had her pick of pretty much any garment in the world and opted for this one, which is the clothing version of a before-and-after tutorial on how to update a 90s occasional chair.
And finally, Mariska Hargitay, who looks like she feels the same way I do about the VMAs. (That look is, Stabler is Coming Undone and Only Her Tough Love Can Pull Him Out of This, which is a weird way for me to feel about the VMAs, but I’m sticking to it.)