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H.E.R. is cutting through the noise, literally. To end her captivating “Anti” performance at the 2019 VMAs on Monday night (August 26), she wailed on her guitar, shredding a solo that commanded the entire Prudential Center in downtown Newark, New Jersey (and beyond, thanks to TV). And while that was a nice bit of punctuation, everything that preceded it was just as essential.
The 22-year-old R&B singer, songwriter, and guitar hero racked up three noms this year, including for Best New Artist, PUSH Artist of the Year, and Best R&B. But when she hit the stage for “Anti,” she stood alone, delivering the song’s soft introductory bars in front of a big screen. A magazine cover line passed behind her on a screen, and from the title alone, this was all about the Real Me. Quickly, it became clear that the Real H.E.R. is one who tells bullies, haters, racists, and pesky self-doubt to fuck off.
After she’d rolled alone onstage and walked into a sea of outstretched audience arms, she eventually joined her band and a crew of backup singers bedecked in anti-bullying, anti-racism, and other T-shirts—a nod to the song’s title. She stood on a large riser, towering over all insecurity in a particularly empowering and moving moment.
By the end, H.E.R. (real name: Gabi Wilson) began making her translucent Stratocaster—the same one she made an absolutely delightful spectacle of at the Grammys in February — absolutely sing nearly as commandingly as she herself can. It was tasteful shredding, and it was a glorious counterpart to the sparking R&B track that preceded it.
“In 2019, a lot of real music is coming back,” she told MTV earlier this year. “And by real music I mean, like, real instruments are being used, and a lot of real stories. People are saying a lot of things with substance.” For H.E.R., that substance was a loud anti-bullying message, boosted by her magnetic stage presence, the message on the shirts around her, and her six-string prowess.
The 2019 MTV Video Music Awards have touched down at The Prudential Center in New Jersey, airing live on MTV. See the full list of winners and keep up with all of the night’s biggest VMA moments!