The Day the Music (Video) Died
When I was a kid, a music video was a big deal. When a new Michael Jackson video was "debuting", it was prime time, we-now-interrupt-your-regularly-scheduled-program kind of stuff! At school, my classmates and I would anxiously anticipate the new video premiering on MTV that night. For weeks we'd see actual television commercials promoting the launch of the new music video. We'd tune in, eagerly awaiting the new dance moves and theatrical feats of the King of Pop and get even more excited about talking about it with friends the next day at school. Michael Jackson and other artists in the late 80s and early 90s put time, effort, money and thought into making them and it didn't take long for music videos to become another way to gain a fans and every artist tried to one-up the next artist with the most buzz-worthy video.
Oh how far the music video excitement has fallen. I'd go as far to say that it would seem music videos themselves are now irrelevant. Let me explain.
The first music videos...well, it was the '80s, so their quality was sub-par at best. But for the time, they were brilliant! Your favorite artist came off of your cassette tape or CD cover and became alive right in front of you. Hearing their voice on the radio couldn't hold a candle to seeing their video on television. It wasn't a concert, but it was the next best thing. Thanks to MTV (and Vh1 and BET), we were able to see music videos all the time. As time went on, videos were garnering higher budgets and therefore becoming more high quality every day. No longer did you have to watch your favorite band just standing around playing instruments while the camera panned in and out and lights flashed around - music videos started having plots, story lines and special guest appearances. Musicians began to tie songs together on albums, allowing them to end a music video with a much coveted "To Be Continued" - creating anticipation for their next video. From phenomenon to art form, music videos were changing the way artists and fans thought of music.
Music videos became so popular that just three years after MTV began, they launched the Video Music Awards (VMAs) to honor all of the best videos throughout the year. The VMAs quickly became the most anticipated awards show, especially amongst teens and young adults. Other awards shows were stuffy in comparison to the wild, flashy and boundary-pushing VMAs. Like prom for celebrities, the VMAs were all about who was there, what they wore and who they were with. And, just like prom, what happened on the night of the VMAs was going to be all people talked about for a while. No one wanted to catch the re-run, watching the show live was vital for any self-respecting teenager that planned on being able to participate in any conversations the next day at school.
However, over the past 10 years, the music video hype has fizzled. Much like the baggy jeans and midriff-bearing shirts of the 90s, music videos are a dying style. With the advancement of technology, you would think right now would be the optimal time for artists to bring their creativity to the music video realm. For several reasons, though, the music video just isn't what it used to be. Even MTV wanted to distance itself from being the music television station by officially changing it's name to it's acronym MTV, last year, and managing to show as few music videos as possible throughout the year on its main channel. With music videos on life support, the VMAs had no other choice but to become a circus. Sit tight and I'll give you a rundown on the insane asylum it's become:
One of the major selling points for MTV were the VJs and Correspondents for music news and shows. They were the people we associated with being the face and the name of all things MTV. They were young, trendy, well-spoken and great at interviewing artists and bands...even the unruly ones. From the small bit of VMA insanity that I could stomach this year, I realized that I have absolutely no clue who the people introducing celebrities were, aside from Sway (who is like a grandfather correspondent in MTV years). Now, to be honest, I hardly ever watch MTV anymore and probably wouldn't know these individuals anyway. But can we just reflect on what I saw at the 2011 VMAs? It was chaos! The correspondents running around with microphones came off as completely inexperienced. They were tripping over their words, out of breath just standing around and gushing over the celebs like hormonal teens. They seemed unprofessional, completely out of place and made me want to turn off the TV - even before the award show began! Isn't it their job on the pre-show to generate hype and a desire to continue watching? Am I the only one here who thinks they failed miserably?
Staged for Disappointment
I remember when I first started my career as a planner. The ultimate planning experience for me was (and maybe still is a little) to be able to plan an awards show. Can you imagine how challenging that has to be? I love the idea of every single intricate piece that goes into planning something of that scale. I'd want to be heavily involved in coming up with the theme and set design. This is what everyone back at home watching on the TV will notice in a big way and as the person who set it up, I'd want the design to be flawless. MTV used to take pride in the design, functionality and set of the awards show. In the promo for the awards show, they'd show you a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the stage in order to get viewers more excited about tuning in. Now, it seems little thought goes into the actual functional design anymore. Having celebrities walk down an absurdly long and awkward set of steps for pre-show interviews just wasn't well thought out. The theme or general design scheme was lost on me and the whole production seems to be less stellar and impressive as the years go on. But, you know, we're all dealing with a down-turned economy these days - so maybe MTV is suffering too. I mean, they can't even afford to show music videos anymore. We probably shouldn't mention how they somehow manage to pay a bunch of kids from New Jersey six or more figures to be videotaped doing absolutely nothing at all, but it's all about priorities!
What really set the VMAs apart from other awards shows was how much more entertaining the hosts, the presenters and the performances were. Of course some jokes fell flat and some performances failed to impress, but most of the night was entertaining enough to stay glued to the channel. At this year's show, I vaguely remember seeing a skit between Will Ferrel, Jack Black and Seth Rogan as the "Beastie Boys of the Future." Um...aren't the Beastie Boys in 2011 the Beastie Boys of the future? That whole skit was pointless and I felt sorry for the comedians involved. Jack Black gets to be much funnier at Nickelodian's Kids Choice Awards. Also, did anyone else feel a little uncomfortable watching an obviously angry Jonah Hill exchange when he presented with Nikki Minaj? Maybe Jonah was so pissed off that he was paired with Nikki. I guess her Punky Brewster meets Child's Play ensemble might set anyone off.
Moments from VMAs of the past were noteworthy and memorable, unlike what I've witnessed recently. I remember watching (and probably cringing) as Michael Jackson locked lips with Lisa Marie Prestley back in 1994. Fortunately, I recovered after getting to see him perform "Thriller" on stage, in honor of the late Kurt Cobain (which was Kurt's favorite MJ song). And of course, we'll never forget Diana Ross fondling Lil Kim's exposed boob, Britney Spears dancing with her snake and the infamous Madonna and Britney kiss. For weeks leading up to the show, buzz generated around who was hosting and who was performing. Nowadays, the only news that comes out of the VMAs is whose outfit was more ridiculous, will Britney be sober and sane at this show and who Kanye interrupted (but I'm going to let you get back to reading this post). I'm not even exaggerating when I say that the VMAs have managed to be incredibly boring for at least five years now. When the only thing people are talking about after the show for years to come is a meat dress and not the show-stopping performances or amazing stage or the hilarious host, you've failed tremendously in hosting an award show, MTV. I ended up just watching the football game instead of enduring the rest of the show. I could catch all the highlights online the day after anyway.
Lost in the Shuffle
This post might seem a little bitter and I will be honest that I'm a little sad over the end of the music video era. I grew up in the midst of the VMA glory days and the award show used to be an annual event that I anticipated. Younger generations aren't as interested in videos as a whole and would rather see Justin Bieber kiss Selena Gomez on the cheek than watch a 4 minute well-crafted, well-acted, well-designed music video. Times change and I get that. Artists still make videos, but who knows how long they'll keep it up. I just wish MTV would quit lying to themselves and finally pull the plug on the VMAs. Why continue to subject us to the side show? MTV is putting minimal effort into the VMAs now and just depending on the presenters or performers to do something mildly entertaining enough to keep viewers tuned in. It's a Jonah Hill-esque joke (you know...the unfunny kind). If you're not even promoting videos on your main channel, why still put on an award show specifically devoted to them? The Grammys can hold down the fort for recognizing musical talent and will probably do a better job at giving artists and viewers the respect they deserve. We can tune into E! or TMZ to see celebrities all day - we don't need a whole awards show for that. If MTV doesn't figure out a way to resurrect the VMAs, then I just ask...plead...beg...that they lay the Moonman to rest.
FYI - I know I take jabs at him in this post, but I mean Jonah Hill no disrespect.