MTV VMAs Underwhelm Yet Again


 That shark – wearing a Britney Spears mask, no
doubt – has done been jumped, y’all. Can you spell


By Fred Mills


It’s really something when you can say with a straight face
that the Grammys have become far more relevant that the annual MTV Video Music
Awards. The former, remember, was once the repository of the ossified remains
of all the Paul Simons, James Taylors and Elton Johns of the world, not to
mention having the singular distinction of once awarding prog-folk legends
Jethro Tull “Best Heavy Metal Album” honors. No more, as this year’s big win by
Arcade Fire
and several other indie-centric heroes at the Grammys testified.


Meanwhile, last night over at the VMAs, it was clear that
with precious few exceptions, the MTV monolith has redefined “musician” as
“multi-platform entertainer.” Which means that if you can hoof it like a
motherfucker, sing (term used loosely) using a headset and without ever having
to physically grip a microphone, get your record label to pony up for the best
videographer and director money can buy, and work with a battery of equally
overpaid song doctors and dubiously-christened “producers,” you are destined to
be, as Katy Perry might put it, a music industry firework regardless of any
extant talent in manipulating a “D,” “G” or “A minor” chord on a guitar, piano
or sousaphone.


The main winners’ names (see list below) tell the story:
Perry, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears Justin Bieber, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj (who,
admittedly, had a full reserve of credibility at the outset of her ascent but
quickly drained it dry with a succession of red-carpet appearances and silly
pink wigs apparently on loan from Perry). As best as we can tell, the only
artists who could remotely be termed “musicians” in the classic sense of the
term would be rockers the Foo Fighters and hip-hop vocalist Tyler, the Creator
(who himself seems destined to follow the usual badboy/superstar arc of
rappers, so watch for him making the TMZ and OK! Rounds before too long, and… waitaminnit, are we talking about
that avowedly homophobic Tyler?…
but he’s Pitchfork-approved, so he
MUST be cool at the moment, right).


Worth noting, of course, is that the B-list awards (also
known as “the ones that don’t translate all that well to on-stage choreography
for TV”) included deserving folks like Adele and the Beastie Boys. And if you
scan through the whole list of nominees, you’ll come across some serious
artists, among them Black Keys, Mumford & Sons, Cee Lo, Rise Against and
Taylor Swift. (Foster the People was also in there, but jeez, those clowns –
without a doubt the worst band I saw at this year’s SXSW in Austin – are just
plain awful.) But they all got shut out, blinded by the fireworks-bright lights
of the multiplatinum-selling superstars, foregone conclusions, all.


And sure, you can flap your gums all day long about the
televised event’s sundry “WTF? Moment” performance surprises, left-field cameos
and gender-bending antics. (On my personal list of terms to be banned when 2012
dawns: “WTF Moments,” “gender-bending.”) Everybody loves seeing some top-shelf
rappers dancing with a posse of over-the-hill white comedians (that would be,
respectively, Odd Future and Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen and Jack Black), not to
mention Lady Gaga performing, shockingly, dressed not as a sirloin steak but as
– gasp! – a man in a “bold move” to affirm… something, no matter that it’s a bold
move that kd lang perfected nearly a quarter-century ago. But let’s face it,
any show that is still handing out awards to Britney Spears in this day and age
can’t reasonably call itself “cutting edge” any longer. That’s the equivalent
of another generation giving Paul Simon or James Taylor awards. And the bottom
line is, if it don’t rock, you can stuff
it in a sock
. Big production values notwithstanding, the VMAs haven’t
rocked in a long, long time, with spectacle having firmly replaced serendipity.


That’s not even an opinion; it’s what they have shot for all
along. So one supposes you can’t blame anyone for being true unto themselves.
It’s still bizarre, though, that a stodgy, arthritic institution like the
Grammys was able to pick up that serendipity baton and run with it this year
while the VMAs’ current trajectory seems to be in the direction of the
blue-hairs and slot machines of Vegas. Don’t take my word for any of this, of
course; head over to the MTV website for all the details, clips, original
videos and more.


Meanwhile, give me the Country Music Association Awards or any number of Nashville-centric ceremonies that
crop up during the year. At least on those you can see some real music being
performed by real people instead of processed cheese being sliced and diced by cartoon characters.


Main Awards:


Katy Perry, “Firework” 

Lady Gaga, “Born This Way” 

Tyler, the Creator 

Britney Spears

Justin Bieber, “U Smile” 

Katy Perry/Kanye West, “E.T.”

Nicki Minaj, “Super Bass” 

Foo Fighters, “Walk” 

Britney Spears, “Till the World Ends” 

Lady Gaga, “Born This Way” 


Beyonce, “Run the World (Girls)”



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