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Predicting the unpredictable in MTV's VMAs

VMAs critiqued by a Texas A&M student

Published: Monday, August 29, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 22:07

Dedicated to discussing and promoting both local and regional musicians, venues, and festivals, this culture blog is updated every Monday.  Readers can look forward to music reviews, concert updates, and commentary on the best in the music world.

Since its inception in 1984, MTV's Video Music Awards have progressively become more synonymous with controversy than the actual celebration of art, attracting increasingly massive hoards of drama-hungry Americans year after year. Last year's VMA ceremony alone attracted 11.4 million viewers, more than any year since 2002. MTV has reached this incredible level of success by coming down with a terrible case of intentional amnesia, dismissing its original mission (hint: Music Television) for the sake of pumping out high grossing reality-based programming that possesses but one selling point: unpredictability. Last night's VMAs held true to this tradition, sporting massive production values and over-the-top theatrics, while depending on live performers, like Lady Gaga, for that vital display of erratic behavior.

As the VMAs began, I planted myself on my couch with a half-empty bag of Cheetos and an open mind, preparing myself for what I expected to be a night full of face palming and awkward grimacing at the current state of mainstream music. I would love to tell you about how black and blue my forehead had become by the end of the program, but let's first talk about the expected, yet "unexpected," drama of the night. When it came time for Momma Monster, Lady Gaga, to take the stage, I couldn't help but notice that she adopted a male gendered, alter-ego named, "Joe Calderone." After giving an impassioned speech in which "Joe" openly discussed his most intimate moments with Gaga, he then sang his heart out in a performance featuring Brian May, guitarist for Queen. Say what you will about Gaga, but the woman has guts (and more recently, sideburns).

After Gaga's interesting exhibition, and at the end of her stellar performance, Beyoncé suddenly opened her blindingly reflective tuxedo jacket, proceeded to rub her belly, telling the world of her pregnancy with Jay Z, who also put on a great performance with Kanye West. These two spectacles alone surely provided enough gossip and tabloid material for the rest of the year.

The program was jam packed full of performances by some of the biggest names in mainstream pop and dance, but the best performance of the night by far belonged to British singer, Adele. Her emotional performance of, "Someone Like You," was void of the flashing lights, fire, lasers, and explosions that far too often serve as nothing more than distractions for artists much less talented.  Instead, Adele took to a sparsely lit stage that gave the audience a chance to concentrate on what was happening musically, something that rarely happens these days. Adele's video for "Someone Like You" went on to win best direction, art direction, cinematography, and editing. 

Indie-rockers, Young the Giant, put on the second best performance of the night, apparently adjusting well to their new found fame.

Let's not forget to mention and pay tribute to Amy Winehouse as Bruno Mars performed a rendition of "Valerie." It was good, don't get me wrong, I'm just not a fan of Bruno even though he's a great singer.  I'm just tired of musicians rehashing musical styles that have already been beaten to death. It was very classy and a good tribute, but artistically there was very little originality present. It was mainly sad with regard to Amy.

Arguably the most important award of the night, the MTV Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Britney Spears by Lady Gaga (sporting her new alter-ego). It quickly became apparent that Gaga was trying to plant a sensual smooch on Britney who, after teasing the idea of another controversial kiss, declared, "No. I've done that already."

In the realm of VMA categories, there were significant upsets in the Video of the Year, Best New Artist, and Best Rock Video. I was actually expecting Tyler, the Creator to win Video of the Year thanks to his extremely unique, slightly disturbing, insect-eating music video, but sadly VMA winners are usually chosen on the basis of popularity, not necessarily skill. Because of this, Katy Perry took home the prize. 

In Best New Artist, I was really pulling for indie-dance band Foster the People to take home the Moonman for their infectiously catchy song, "Pumped Up Kicks," but lo and behold, my earlier pick, Tyler, the Creator, beat them out. 

The last noticeable upset was in the extremely popular category of Best Rock Video. I had strongly believed that hard rocking indie-blues duo, The Black Keys, would take the win for their western, campy themed video for "Howlin' for You" but, to my frustration, veteran alt-rockers, the Foo Fighters, won the nomination, to my complete surprise.

Aside from Adele and Young the Giant, the 2011 VMAs were jock full of over-produced performances by artists who — in a just world — would reside at the bottom (rather than the top) of the charts. It does however give me hope to see that artists as talented as Adele and Young the Giant can reach their current level of fame on talent alone. Contrast these two with currently trending artists like Katy Perry and Justin Bieber, who are destroying everything that is good and pure about music, and you have a recipe for an award show with conflicted intentions. Long ago, MTV was dedicated to promoting truly talented musicians, but now it seems that the network has fallen prey to the allure of profit. I can only hope that fans of MTV will notice the increasing normality of sub-par musicians and absence of art, which is currently being supplemented by explosions (and sideburns). It doesn't appear that MTV will be returning to the good ole' days of promoting artists who deserve recognition anytime soon, but then again, MTV has a habit by doing the unexpected.

Steve Wells is a senior marketing major at Texas A&M University's Mays Business School. In addition to being a student, he is also a local musician and promoter.

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