I feel I need to make a few comments on the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs). But before I get started, let me share the one opinion that many, many long-time music fans share, as told on Twitter by Adam Levine, front man for pop group Maroon 5:
As I said, at this point MTV hosting the VMA show is much more a matter of tradition than one of them being at the vanguard of music videos … or even very much involved in them at all! There was an early moment of self-irony when they had the case of Jersey Shore sitting and acting like idiots (as opposed to their normal state, this was clearly played up) and looking over the nominees. But unfortunately even trying to have a joke at their own expense only further revealed their cluelessness.
If you have heard anything about the evening it is likely that Lady Gaga came out dressed as
Bowser from ShaNaNa …er… Andrew Dice Clay …um… “Jo Calderone”, which is her supposed ‘drag king’ persona. Here is what she looked like:
There are two reasons this is what you’re hearing about – first because the rest of the night was either dreadfully boring or just dreadful; and because they allocated way too much time for her spectacle.
I don’t mean to take away from her abilities: once her song started she kicked into gear, demonstrating solid showmanship as she sang and played piano more in tune than just about anyone else all night. She also danced and pranced and climbed the piano and sprayed beer around and slipped and fell on the beer as she jumped off the piano. But during the monologue before the song, it was clear she was trying to be ‘performance art’, funny but not in a way only Andy Kaufman ever truly achieved.
However, as performance art, as male persona, in just about any way possible she was a total failure. She was no more a guy than Patrick Swayze was a girl in To Wong Foo. She wasn’t funny or insightful or entertaining or controversial – she was a girl dressed unconvincingly as a man. Sadly I think the attention paid to this as spectacle is a poor reflection on our cultural state and collective memory … it has all been done before, but better.
One thing I won’t even touch is the ‘awards’ … because they were obviously doled out based on payoffs from record companies and other special interests and to distribute things in a way that kept everyone feeling well represented. An award is supposed to mean something, so when it is blatantly obvious that these were decided in a room with execs saying ‘well, if we give HIM this one and HER that one, then we can …’ – it makes the whole process a sham. Which it always was until the Spike Video Game Awards emerged and made the VMAs look totally legit by contrast.
For some reason, last night was dedicated to giving Britney Spears the equivalent of a lifetime award … perhaps for not having ended up getting a tribute like Amy Winehouse. Britney shows signs of hard living … and loads of ‘tweaks’ to try to make her look like she is NOT showing signs of hard living – which makes me think about:
If you are interested in the fashion aspects, I’m sure that all of the various sites have you covered. But in case you want the summary, here goes for the men: rappers – some in their 40’s – still haven’t got the memo that they look like idiots wearing their pants half-way down their thighs. Everyone else was generic and forgettable.
As for the women, let me just contrast Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus. Both young women were born in 1992, making them more or less 19 – yet while Gomez looked like a cute young woman dressed very appropriately for her age, Cyrus looked like a mish-mosh old twenty-something and matronly 40-ish trying to look young. And it just wasn’t working. Then you have the typical set of outfits from Katy Perry (except the atypical one that looked like she borrowed it from Miley Cyrus), Nicki Minaj, and so on. Nothing particularly memorable – well, except watching Katy Perry trying to walk with the outfit that had her wearing what looked like a giant block of cheese on her head!
And finally, in case you held out any pretense that every single action associated with the name Kardashian was calculated and about money and exposure … Kim was NOT with her new husband, but instead parading around the VMAs and showing that she can barely handle a solo teleprompted hosting line or two. Apparently people are fascinated with her butt. I have no clue.
So … what about the MUSIC?!?! Oh, well – I just KNEW you’d make me get around to that!
You know how I say that pop music has devolved into a factory system so dependent on performance and studio manipulation that it is dominated by marginally talented individuals who can barely manage to sing songs written by others and often have ‘helper’ tracks even during live performances? Yeah, that.
What? More details?
As I mentioned, Lady Gaga was almost the most in-tune thing I heard all night – but her song was bland and dreadfully boring unmemorable garbage. It might be on her awful new album, but I can’t bring myself to listen again to see.
Kanye West and Jay-Z did what rappers do – they stole someone else’s ideas, put it in as a ‘sample’ so they can claim both tribute and creativity, then jumped around the stage spouting nonsense that is irrelevant to the original idea and is generally just self-aggrandizing puffery. That is typical, and can be highly entertaining … but this was terrible. Either there was something wrong with their in-ear monitors, or they have no intrinsic sense of timing when pulled out of their cushy studios.
There were plenty of other performances – Pitbull, who is having issues with Lindsay Lohan for using her name in a song, still used the line ‘locked up like Lindsay Lohan’. It was just one of several forgettable performances, including some stunts like ‘future Beastie Boys’ with Will Ferrell, Jack Black, and Seth Rogan.
So who WAS the most in-tune of the evening? Adele? Nope … Beyoncé. I might have gotten eye strain rolling my eyes at the ‘epic legend’ treatment she got at whatever awards show happened a month or two ago, and her new record might be over-promoted mediocre garbage that will only get heard because the label wants to recoup their diva millions, but one thing is sure – she can sing very, very well. I was out of the room when it started, and I thought she sounded like the Jackson Five … but in a good way.
The other reason I think the monitors might have been having problems was Adele. The strong singer did what should have been a gorgeous song, but was consistently out of tune in the chorus to the point of distraction. Either she couldn’t hear correctly or she isn’t as good as we all think.
One thing that was consistent was the amount of ‘bleeping’ going on. I read that MTV bleeped 103 times during the night, but I would have estimated that many for the closing song by Lil Wayne alone! Either they need to get their performers in line or just accept that anyone watching MTV at 11:30PM has heard the word ‘f**k’ before. I say that because it completely ruined Lil Wayne’s otherwise high-energy performance and definitely neutered much of the evening for the home audience.
And did I mention that it is both pathetic and absurd that a burnt out pop star constantly looking for a comeback after flaming out was given a ‘lifetime achievement’ award? Oh, I did? Yeah …