After celebrating her two-decade-plus career at the MTV Video Music Awards with a performance featuring a slew of her hits, Missy Elliott knew she did a great job when the first text she received after the performance was from another musical icon and longtime friend: Janet Jackson.
“She was like, ‘You shut that [expletive] down,’” Elliott said, laughing in a phone interview, a day after the VMAs. “And just to know that Janet even said that word was amazing. And I was like, ‘OK, I must have done good for her to use that [word].’”
Elliott, who has collaborated musically with Jackson in the past, received the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award on Monday night for the eccentric and vibrant music videos that helped establish her as a trailblazer on the music scene.
The 48-year-old Grammy winner said the road to creating iconic videos was not easy. She said in the “She’s a [expletive]” clip, which includes a scene where she and others are submerged, two of the dancers “had asthma attacks just from being underwater.”
For ‘The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)’ — her 1997 debut single where she wore an inflated trash bag — she recalls walking “to the gas station to use the air pump ... in Brooklyn to pump up the suit, and then realised I was too big to fit in the car, so we had to walk ... on the main street in this outfit all the way to set, and it had deflated.”
She confirmed that the bees in the ‘Work It’ video were in fact real. And in the ‘Pass that Dutch’ clip when she was lifted up and rapping from a cornfield, “they dropped me on my knees; I thought my kneecaps had broken.”
“I was just doing these videos and ... it wasn’t like I was doing them and trying to make a point for later down the line. I was just doing it,” she said. “A lot of people say, ‘Hey you should have gotten [this award] a long time ago and I realise that I’m a spiritual person and so I always say, ‘I’m on God’s time.’ And so whenever God says it was time for me to have it is the correct time.”
Elliott’s VMA performance also included the well-known hits ‘Lose Control’ and ‘Get Ur Freak On,’ as well as ‘Throw It Back,’ the first single from her new EP ‘Iconology,’ released last week. Her performance also featured dancer and actress Alyson Stoner, who first gained fame as the young child who danced with skill in the ‘Work It’ video.
“It’s been 17 years since we shot that video,” Elliott said. “I couldn’t have done it without [Alyson]. I was like, ‘I’ve got to have Alyson in here because everywhere I went since then people have always been like, ‘What happened to that little girl that used to be in your ‘Work It’ video?’”
At the VMAs, Elliott also honoured late R’n’B singer Aaliyah when she gave her acceptance speech. Elliott and Timbaland wrote and produced a number of hits for Aaliyah, from ‘One In a Million’ to ‘4 Page Letter.’
“I always pay tribute to her. And I’m always in contact with her brother, you know, checking on them. Even though each year makes it a year longer, it always still feels like it was yesterday,” Elliott said of Aaliyah, who was killed in a plane crash 18 years ago last Sunday.
“I could still hear her laughter and I could see her smile and almost kind of could sense what she would be like today. She’s always been a risk taker and never a follower because when she chose to work with Timbaland and myself, we had style that was so different; she could have picked any other producer and writer that was already hot and popping,” she continued. “We hadn’t had anything out but she heard something in us and so I know that she would have just been setting the bar high.”