When MTV launched back in 1981, it kicked off a cultural revolution of sorts. It had officially created an avenue for a new art form – the visual element of music. The concept was absolutely brilliant. It gave people the freedom to create visual representations of the music that artists had toiled over for months at a stretch in their recording studios. I believe that visuals stick in our minds more easily than auditory stimuli do. That might explain why some of the artists of the MTV generation have practically been “immortalized” by the music videos they created for their hit singles. The visual impact that they created over and above the music ensured that they were never forgotten. The fact that EVERYONE(and not just youngsters) across the world watched more or less the same videos contributed to a new and universal layer to contemporary pop culture. Artists spent generously on these music videos. The creativity in this medium knew no boundaries – something Michael Jackson reminded many people of with his 1991 video for “Black or white”. The dream of stardom for aspiring musicians began with the music videos they watched. The MTV Video Music Awards were created to celebrate this new art form and recognize those that had pushed its boundaries. These awards were distinct from other music award shows such as the Grammys and AMAs in that they celebrated a very specific slice of the music industry.
Unfortunately, the mid-90s happened and MTV chose to retire their 24-hour music video format in favor of self-produced shows – most of which fell into the mindless category of reality television. Music videos constituted an almost insignificant portion of the channel’s programming. Not only did this spell the death of an institution, but it practically killed the viability of this fantastic new art form that was born 15 years earlier. Music videos have turned into a very low ROI (return on investment) activity – especially for musicians over the age of 30 or 35. In this world where most videos are watched via Youtube or other video streaming sites on-demand, it is very likey that most of us will not watch the same music videos. It is also very unlikely that many of us would discuss a music video. Given that the incentive for this creativity has practically been killed, what exactly are the MTV VMAs celebrating? More importantly, what have they been celebrating for the last 15 years?
I tuned out of this joke a show over a decade ago. It had lost its shine and was turning into an unflattering shadow of what it used to be. More importantly, it was getting progressively worse over the years. This year, interestingly enough, elements of the show stimulated conversation. The elements were as follows:
– Lady Gaga‘s dramatic performance of her new single “Applause” featuring myriad wardrobe changes as part of the choreography (which admittedly was very creative).
– British boyband One Direction‘s receipt of an award that appears to have been created just to “accomodate” these guys
– The “momentary” reunion of Justin Timberlake and his former bandmates from N Sync
– Miley Cyrus’ concentrated effort at coming across as a “certified skank” in her performance with Robin Thicke.
Lady Gaga‘s creativity on stage has to be acknowledged even thought she was performing a tragically average song on stage. The idea that One Direction is the British boyband that truly “cracked” America is a travesty on many levels. Nostalgia is a powerful drug and many people forget that while they remember N Sync as being defining elements of their childhood or adolescence, not many people can remember the songs that the band released. It was not very clear what type of image Miley Cyrus was seeking to portray. She definitely seems to be in the midst of a “positioning” crisis.
I watched the highlights since I did not believe I had it in me to sit through the entire trainwreck of a show – wherein I only truly have respect for two or three of the artists (i.e. Ellie Goulding, Ed Sheeran etc.) that had anything at all to do with this show. A comment on youtube aimed at the Miley Cyrus performance captures the thoughts that any discerning consumer of music would have after watching this show. The comment is below:
This show has grown into a celebration of the mindless trash that has dominated our radio waves thanks to consolidation in the radio industry. It is a celebration of the inability of people to discern art from manufactured garbage. It is also a celebration of a narrow segment of artists. The idea of diversity and discovery is an alien concept to the creators of these awards. The idea that awards are being doled out to videos that are watched by a very small percentage of people is laughable. It is not so much the number of viewers of these videos that make this show a joke. It is that these videos are of no significance from a creativity standpoint. It is not the fault of the creators. They do not aspire for greatness through these videos since the reward from the videos is limited at best.The VMA show (the 30th anniversary) broadcasted live on Sunday (August 25) is an absolute “fall from grace” for MTV and a “cry for help” for pop culture. We could not summarize our thoughts on it nearly as well as Samantha James (a dance pop star whose music is a fairly regular staple on our radio station). Here is her post on her facebook fanpage:
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