MTV’s 2014 Video Music Awards aired live on August 24th (and aired as a repeat immediately after the first-run show). The program was an example of how difficult a job it is to make something out of nothing, in this case the “nothing” being a somewhat meaningless late-summer awards show.
Let’s step back. Past MTV VMAs have featured spontaneous (or well-scripted) moments of energy, drama, controversy and creativity. From Miley Cyrus twerking last year to Britney Spears performing in a “nude” outfit in 2000 to Howard Stern appearing as Fartman at the 1992 VMAs, the history of the show is riddled with memorable moments.
And do you remember this little incident? It was only five years ago.
Flash forward to 2014. We are in the midst of a string of dull awards shows. From the Grammys to the Academy Awards to the Billboard Music Awards, nothing has happened. The shows have been, or felt, long. The presenters have shown a reluctance to offer much in the way of personality (Jimmy Fallon last night bucked that trend). The performers have performed in uninspiring fashion. Even the numbers that were purposely intended to appear controversial missed, like the opening of the 2014 VMAs, featuring a slithering Nicki Minaj whose performance was overshadowed by a wardrobe malfunction.
It’s not easy to put on an awards show and expect something special to take place. As a producer, you have to work with the talent given to you. Jay Pharoah may be funny on Saturday Night Live. Last night, he bombed. The audience offered some polite laughter, but even MTV criticized the comedian’s skits on their blog:
— Music Biz 101 at WP (@MusicBiz101WP) August 25, 2014
Think back a bit to this past season’s American Idol. Ratings were down, their lowest in the history of the show. Was it because of the hosts? The format? Or was it because of this year’s “cast”? Like an NFL coach or a baseball manager, you can only do so much. It’s the players that have to perform on the field. This year’s American Idol contestants weren’t memorable enough or interesting enough to get people to watch. We haven’t seen the ratings yet for the 2014 VMAs, so we don’t know if the show was a hit among their demographic, a flop, or somewhere in the middle.
The show offered few highlights, at least to the fella writing this (who’s 46 years old and watched the first VMA show back in 1984). Trying desperately to not criticize with a “back in my day” flair, I wonder if awards shows overall are just in a slump.
MTV tried to incorporate a few different elements. Their live cams showed 8 different views of the proceedings, from an audience view to a backstage view, but that was for those watching the show while simultaneously holding another device (I watched a TV while Tweeting from my phone and fooling with my laptop).
You could see MTV was also trying to offer their advertisers something new, airing commercials for sponsors that were recorded minutes before the final cut was aired (in one, you could see presenters Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, who had just earnestly tried to be funny minutes before, in the background). A problem with a few of these commercials, however, was the sound. At least on the TV I was watching, a number of these spots required the volume to be increased, unless you were a good lip-reader. We should give MTV some credit, or Madison Avenue should, for the creativity there.
The show ended with a performance by Beyoncé that the NY Times wrote was 16-minutes long. If you were following Twitter while Beyoncé sang and shimmied and wriggled, it was difficult to find anyone who was tweeting anything negative about the Queen Bey. Then, there was this:
— Music Biz 101 at WP (@MusicBiz101WP) August 25, 2014
Here’s my question: Besides Beyoncé, did anyone sing along? Seriously. Her performance was visually interesting. It was completely professional. But it wasn’t Pop music. It wasn’t Rock music (aside from Maroon 5, which isn’t really a Rock band anymore, there was no Rock music at the 2014 VMAs – and no, I don’t consider 5 Seconds Of Summer a Rock band just yet). It wasn’t Hip-Hop. It really was an avant-garde performance.
You couldn’t dance to Beyoncé’s music unless you were one of her professional albino backup dancers. No air guitar was needed. Even the audience was unsure what to do. Proof that the producers of the show knew they had a tough job ahead of them was the fact that the only cuts to the audience were quick shots of Jay-Z, Beyoncé’s husband, holding their daughter, Blue Ivy, on his lap.
Beyoncé is 32-years old now. At her age, she was one of the oldest to grace the stage last night. 45-year old Jennifer Lopez came out to introduce 24-year old Iggy Azaela and, knowing that 45 years is ancient to the home and in-person audience, pumped up the fact that J-Lo and the Igg-ster had just recorded together. Relevance. We all need to stay relevant.
Two sour notes of the night:
#1 – The Robin Williams montage of still photographs. Nice, but he wasn’t a singer. It was a sweet tribute kind of tucked into the show lacking anything other than superficial inhumanity. But it didn’t really fit. Save it for the MTV Movie Awards.
#2 – Common, the rapper/Hip-Hop artist/actor, took to the stage and led an awkward tribute to the racial divide currently going on in Ferguson, Missouri. What was sour about it? First, it’s always difficult to wedge a downer-note into what’s supposed to be a happy, energetic show. MTV was correct for including a message about the Ferguson unrest. Where it really, badly went wrong was segueing directly into Best Hip-Hop Video.
If you want to make an impact, show a short clip of the violence in Ferguson, then come back with the moment of silence and have an artist perform. If you had inserted Sam Smith’s “Stay” here, it would have been fitting. The tragedy of Ferguson is that it pits black against white. MTV’s aim was to bring everyone together. If you have Common, an African-American, introduce Smith, a Caucasian, and that particular song is played (a ballad that builds), now you have something powerful.
Going directly into an award cheapens the message. The best intention of the evening was possibly the night’s worst moment.
You can watch the full show on demand if you wish. Just click HERE and the MTV website will illustrate everything you just read here.
The big question is this: How wrong am I? Did you watch the show? Did you love it? Did you hate it? Did you make it through to the end? Comment and let us know how you feel.