The MTV Video Music Awards were worth watching this year. Sort of.
I mean, if you’ve got taste in music, if you take the art form seriously, it was a vapid shitshow of pure pantomiming and derivation, with the possible exceptions of inspired performances by Muse and Lady Gaga.
However if, like wrestling fans that don’t mind that wrestling is fake, you find yourself tickled by choreographed dance numbers and can shrug away the fact that Beyoncé’s lips weren’t even moving during her “amazing performance” of Single Ladies, then you were surely blown away by Janet Jackson’s surgical dance tribute to Michael Jackson, Taylor Swift’s massively overproduced and post-processed paradoxical staged subway performance, as well as Pink’s ridiculously overwrought trapeze act, in which she couldn’t have possibly actually voiced a single note, and avoided a wardrobe malfunction only through divine intervention. Seriously, she had nothing but a sticker on her left tit.
I suppose we find ourselves somewhere in the middle, trying to stay objective and fair about the efforts put in, but thoroughly aware of their ultimate meaninglessness, and extremely limited relevance. Tomorrow, no one will care about any of it. But today, the biggest story on the internet is (once again) Kanye West’s latest pinnacle achievement of professional-grade douchebaggery.
Let it not be said that I can’t appreciate good old fashioned immature rock star grandstanding; most of my favorite artists delight me by being supreme pricks and exactly the type anti-role models the laws of nature demands that they be. But there’s a time and a place for it, Goddammit.
Taylor Swift won a moonman for best female video for You Belong With Me; a significant crossover achievement for the young country singer. Halfway through her acceptance speech, Kanye West, hollywood’s answer to Joe Wilson, came up from behind, snatched the microphone from her hands, and proclaimed that Beyoncé had “one of the best videos of all time!” The broadcast completely trainwrecked as Kanye repeated his claim, shrugged his shoulders and walked off, and MTV abruptly cut to a pre-taped skit featuring Tracy Morgan and Eminem.
His diabolical stunt was so disgusting, Puff Daddy was later booed for simply mentioning Kanye’s name.
I’ve always defended Kanye West’s egomania. I usually say if you got a problem with it, go listen to Will Smith. But ‘Ye is on his own on this one for several reasons, not least of which being the fact that he’s dead wrong.
The Single Ladies video was inferior not only to You Belong With Me, but to every other video nominated, and even Beyoncé’s other videos. The song itself may have been ubiquitous and year-defining, but this was an award for best video, and the Single Ladies video had no business being in the running. It’s nothing more than a single sequence of three dancers shot against a plain background, shamelessly ripped off of a Gwen Verdon performance. One of the best videos of all time? Not by a longshot. It wasn’t even Beyoncé’s own best in ’08. The video for If I Were A Boy was filmed at the same time, and the latter got the lion’s share of the budget and artistic attention shared between the two.
Kanye later apologized, in all capital letters of course, on the internet. But saying “no disrespect” in a blog post after some shit like that is kinda like Michael Vick slipping PETA a sawbuck.
The irony is that Single Ladies wound up winning the even more “prestigious” award for video of the year, making Kanye’s outburst completely unnecessary in addition to being completely inappropriate.
Nineteen year old Taylor Swift was visibly astonished and emotionally derailed by Kanye’s actions. When the cameras panned to Beyoncé sitting in the audience, even she seemed uncomfortable and offended. When B took the award for video of the year, she graciously brought Swift onstage to complete her speech.
Given the ultimately happy ending, MTV’s fondness for staged controversy, and the obviousness of the idea of the go-to party crasher taking down the most shocking target imaginable, many are suggesting that everyone was simply in on the bit, as usual.
We’re not sure we’re buying that. We know Taylor’s a good sport, but the always-poised slice of ass was still shaking like a leaf when Beyoncé brought her back out. It’s hard to believe she was playing along. And anyway, it doesn’t change the verdict for Kanye; if he agreed to parody himself for attention or cash at the expense of everyone involved, that means he showed disrespect not only to everyone present, but also to the one person on the planet he hadn’t previously: Kanye West.
Besides, MTV didn’t need a big gag this year; They had a golden goose named Michael Jackson, with the full support of his family, of course. And they were exclusively premiering not only the trailer for the forthcoming Jackson performance film This Is It, but also the brand-new extended trailer for the new Twilight movie, New Moon. In terms of bill and production value, this year’s VMAs made last year’s look like bingo night down at the Elks’ Lodge.
This Is It actually looks pretty damn cool by the way, despite kinda being necrophilism.
And hey, speaking of necrophilia, fucking Madonna made an appearance. She delivered a speech, a sort of eulogy for Michael. There were a couple sincere moments that hit the nail right on the head; particularly her closing remark, and her assertion that in being robbed of his childhood, Jackson was dealt the most severe handicap you can possibly start life with. However, it was nothing that Oprah, Elizabeth Taylor, and Brooke Shields haven’t already said better, and every damn moment in between was excruciatingly awkward, creepy, and self-indulgent. Where the fuck was Kanye West then? That’s when we needed an interruption. I would have loved to have watched Kanye steal the mic from Madge and shout some crazy shit out of his fish stick loving mouth, before a panicked cut to commercial.
So by the end of the night, Kanye had emerged as the villain, and Michael Jackson had provided the backstory. But while Taylor and Beyoncé had key supporting roles, it was Lady Gaga that came out as the night’s star.
The 23 year old screwball was nominated for nine awards, and won two, including best new artist. Right from the start, she was consistently a center of attention. She arrived in a limo with Kermit The Frog, so absurdly overdressed she could barely hobble, and hardly move her head. In fact, the sight immediately brought to mind a classic moment in 2000 where Johnny and I witnessed Little Richard being escorted by two huge handlers out of the Palladium in Hollywood, an inch an hour, across the sidewalk towards an SUV, propped up in what seemed to be some sort of post-stroke state of paralysis.
Gaga continued to deliver the crazy throughout the night- each time the camera hit her, she had some new, completely ridiculous and jaw-droppingly unweildy get-up on. For her live performance, she was dressed up like the bride of Old Gregg, covered in blood. Later she made appearances dressed as what appeared to be a member of The Emperor’s Royal Guard with his helmet on backwards, as well as some sort of eskimo scarecrow.
For the second consecutive year, Russell Brand was a completely inappropriate host, and I mean that several different ways. The crowd in attendance wasn’t very into his trouser-centric routine, and I can’t imagine the viewers at home being any more comfortable. He had some zingers, but his delivery was once again an odd compromise between understated British sarcasm, and the breathless, screaming American hyperbole he was assigned to. When you mix those two together, the sarcasm comes off as plain insincerity, and the enthusiasm comes off as mockery. Brand is probably laughing on his way down to the bank, but he’s a terrible choice on MTV’s part.
Green Day’s hyped-up performance was underwhelming, as was Jay-Z’s duet with Alicia Keys on Empire State Of Mind; while Hov has still got what it takes to blaze a stage, it’s been a long time since Keys has done much to maintain the benefit of the doubt we all granted to her in 2001, just for knowing how to play an instrument.
I experienced a bit of bittersweet déjà vu watching Kid Cudi and Wale’s possibly enjoyable tribute to DJ AM cut short by incoming commercials, as DJ AM & Travis Barker’s performance with Lupe Fiasco got the exact same treatment last year, despite being a highlight performance.
Last and least, we know Joe Perry doesn’t have anything better to do since Steven Tyler broke his hip and got cataracts or whatever, but watching him back Katy Perry’s godawful performance of Queen’s We Will Rock You kinda felt like watching the legendary guitarist of Aerosmith play second fiddle to a talentless pop fad that’s about to be yesterday’s old news.