From the AliExpress fashions to Johnny Depp’s disconcerting cameos, the 2022 edition of the MTV Video Music Awards was a sad little party

That the organisers of this year’s MTV Video Music Awards decided to line the entrance of the Yankee Stadium with a black carpet turned out to be a prophetic choice. A colour often linked to evil, darkness, and despair, the 2022 edition of the event was a potent example of pop culture’s downward spiral. In this case, black didn’t suggest vampish sexuality and mystery, but mourning instead. At some point, everybody loses what they once loved: like Madonna shapeshifting into Marie Antoinette for a “Vogue” ball, Britney Spears in a dangerous liason with a Burmese Python during “Slave 4 U”, or a bloodied Lady Gaga dangling from a rope at the climax of “Paparazzi”. But this year’s VMAs – particularly the part when Eminem and Snoop Dogg performed as their Bored Apes – rang the death knell. 

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Black was for an evening almost devoid of style. Where the VMAs were once infamous for their wild fashion and OTT looks, Sunday’s ceremony saw famous people slip into fake Glenn Martens courtesy of Fashion Nova and bodysuits sourced from AliExpress – emboldened by Lana Del Rey’s penchant for $18 Shein dresses, probably. There were some good moments in there, namely Lizzo in Jean Paul Gaultier couture, Måneskin in Gucci, and BLACKPINK, who were appropriately dressed as funeral goers, but where we might usually do a round-up on the best dressed attendees, there were just not enough examples to eke out an article. Best dressed is, of course, subjective – until it’s not. One of the few award shows where celebrities can ditch the prom gowns and wave their freak flag high, most people just looked… fine. 

But black was more than anything representative of the VMAs’ scorched soul. At various points in the ceremony, Johnny Depp made strange and disconcerting cameos as the audience whooped and cheered for the abuser. He emerged as the face of MTV’s moon man mascot, delivering one-liners between commercial breaks. “I needed the work,” a projection of his talking head said. “Birthdays, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, weddings, wakes, anything you need… anything.” As his ghoulish bit continued, the actor quipped that he was “Also a dentist.” But the institution clearly didn’t want to ruin the IRL vibe of the event by positioning Depp – who has had numerous cases of battery and domestic violence levelled against him – as a loveable buffoon, and so decided to splice his segments via post-production, using canned applause and stock laughter. Perhaps the grim reaper would have made a more appropriate mascot?