Why Missy Elliott Is Still Processing Her MTV VMA Triumph

Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty ImagesMissy Elliott poses in the press room with ‘The Video Vanguard Award’ during the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. on Aug. 26, 2019. 

The day after torching the MTV Video Music Awards with her fierce performance and equally passionate speech after receiving the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, Missy Elliott is still trying to process the moment.

“I was taken straight from the stage to the dressing room and told I had to change for my after party,” recalls Elliott with a laugh. “By the time the party was over, I’d ordered food that I never ate. I had to sleep because I had to get up and start doing press. But I’ve gotten a lot of calls from my peers so it’s starting to sink in—especially hearing from Janet [Jackson].”

Describing her new Iconology EP as an “appetizer” for more projects coming down the road, Elliott chats further about reuniting with dancer Alyson Stoner some 17 years after “Work It,” casting Teyana Taylor as the “hood fairy godmother” in “Throw It Back” and why videos “will always be a big deal” for her.

“Work It” dancer Alyson Stoner was a big surprise. Have you two stayed in touch all this time?

No, we hadn’t. I knew we had seven minutes and maybe 15 seconds and I was like, “How am I going to fit in all of these records?” I knew I wanted to do outfit changes so I thought I probably wouldn’t be able to fit in “Work It.” But it’s been 17 years since we’ve done “Work It” and people always ask what happened to the little white girl that was in the video? So I told my choreographer, “I need you to find Alyson.” When we got in touch with her, I said, “I can’t do this performance without you being in it.” When Alyson got into rehearsal, my choreographer said, “Alyson, just go for it. Just do you.” We were all in amazement. She’s still sauced out, still has the swag.

Your “Throw it Back” video also reunites you with Teyana Taylor in a cameo role. Are you two cooking up something more?

I’ve known Teyana from way back when she and Pharrell were featured with me on [the 2009 track] “Put It on Ya.” So we’d been saying for a minute that we were going to work together again. I just admire Teyana’s creativity, and she most definitely appreciates that ‘90s music. With “Throw It Back,” I was like, “Yo, it would be crazy and cool to have her as like a hood fairy godmother.” Teyana was so kind to come to the set and stay for as long as she needed to … I love her. As for the two of us doing something else? Most definitely, yes.

What was the inspiration for another Iconology standout, “Why I Still Love You”?

My father was really heavy into R&B and my mother was heavy into gospel. In the house on Sundays, they’d have both turned up loud … it was like the best of both worlds. I’d listen to R&B for the content. Then as far as the harmonies and how to construct them, that came from the gospel side. James Brown and Little Richard give me that same kind of R&B and gospel influence. With “Why,” I was just playing around with a ratchet song when I decided I wanted to put some harmonies on it and make it like a quartet song. I recorded it with no music. Then I went to Miami to ask Timbaland to put some music underneath it.

So is the EP the appetizer for a full-length album coming soon? 

It most definitely is an appetizer but I won’t give you any dates for an album. I will tell you that there are a couple of things coming out before the end of the year. And a tour is definitely on the agenda.

Now versus 20 years ago, how important are videos in promoting music?

It’s different now. I remember when people would say, “Hey, I ain’t going to work today because I want to make sure I see this new video.” It was an event. Now people are like, “Oh, I’ll catch that later on YouTube.” But for me, visuals are the puzzle to my lyrics. Whenever I do my lyrics, I always think of what I could do visually. That’s only because I come from a place of just watching videos and being intrigued. I might not like a song and then I’ll see the video and like the song. Or it could be vice-versa: I like a song, see the video and I don’t like it. But I always like to see them together because that matters to me. I don’t know if videos are big deal, a make or break for the new generation of kids. But they will always be a big deal for me.

Is there a video from your catalog that you’d like to re-make with a millennial spin?

My favorite video in my catalog is “She’s A Bitch” because when you look at it, you can sense that we were ahead of our time. Even when I look at it to this day—knowing that it came out over a decade and a half ago—it’s like, “Yo, what were we thinking?” I think about Hype [director Williams] saying, “Hey, I want you to have a bald head.” I’m laughing and he’s like, “No, I’m for real.” Then I’m like, “OK, let’s do it.” It’s so crazy how you get older and you start overthinking. But when you’re younger, it’s simply let’s do it. That’s my favorite video because it most definitely was next-level. People hadn’t seen anything like it in hip-hop. It had the millennial spin on it before the millennial [generation] happened.

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