More Adele, less Jersey Shore and a little perspective: an open letter to help MTV's VMAs
(UPDATE: According to MTV: The 2011 Video Music Awards scored MTV's biggest audience in the network's history with a record-breaking 12.4 million total viewers. Among the network's target P12-34 audience, the VMAS delivered a 10.8 rating and 8.5 million P12-34 viewers, making it MTV’s most-watched telecast of all time in the demo. Versus the 2010 VMAS, the award show is +8% with P12-34 and +9% with total viewers. In addition, the VMAs is the #1 cable telecast of 2011 with P12-34 and the #1 non-sports cable telecast of 2011 with total viewers. A special encore presentation of the telecast airs tonight, Monday, August 29, at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT, followed by the premieres of all new series “Ridiculousness” at 10:00 p.m., “Death Valley” at 10:30 p.m., and “Cuff’d” at 11:00 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.)
Dear MTV: I love the way your Video Music Awards are like a crackhead's version of a major showbiz awards ceremony -- all performances and headline-grabbing moments, like the sizzle skimmed off the steak (does anybody even remember -- or know -- the guy who won Best New Artist?)
But we have a few ideas, based on Sunday's extravaganza, on how the make your event a little more, um, watchable. And only five of them involve keeping members of the Jersey Shore cast off camera.
1) You need a host. Good hosts keep an awards show on track by making the lame comic skits a bit funnier and smoothing the transitions between awkward performances. I'd like to think some of the lamest moments from Sunday's show -- Paul Rudd aiming a joke about 10 I.Q. points too high for the room; Jonah Hill ranting about his weight loss in a way that likely confused an audience mesmerized by the diorama Nicky Minaj decided to wear as an outfit -- might have gone over a bit better. There's reason former host Russell Brand had the most coherent stage presentation of the night.
2) You need stars to be stars. Lady Gaga would have been an amazing get to kick off the show -- if she hadn't shown up dressed like a guy and stayed that way all night, coming off like an odd cross between a lost castmember from Jersey Shore and Karate Kid star Ralph Macchio's less macho younger brother (how many MTV execs blew a gasket when they realized the super sexy pop star wasn't breaking character all night?) Ditto with Jay-Z and Kanye West, whose surprise performance was unintelligible and consisted mostly of two guys worth the gross national product of most developing nations strutting around each other.
No wonder Beyonce upstaged every performance of the night by showing off her baby bump -- between all the celebrity positioning and empty spectacles, the Lady B and gaffes like Gaga slipping off her piano (while Adele tried hard not to react on camera) became defacto highlights.
3) Embrace Adele. It's not just that her voice and piano performance was the highlight of the evening. It's that her low-key talent, based on brutally honest lyrics, amazing vocal abilities and simply powerful performances, overshadowed all the big celebrity collabos and auto-tuned, highly choreographed nonsense clogging most of the wards ceremony. There's a reason she's one of the biggest-selling artists of the moment, people. Honest talent and earnest showmanship -- that's the future of music, and music video, bidness.
4) Get some perspective. Britney Spears is having a nice moment, no doubt. But hailing her as an elder stateswoman of pop who showed "us all how to be fearless"? Was that during the head-shaving or the quickie marriages or the out-of-it past VMA performances? Watching Gaga-as-a-dude allude to pleasuring herself while looking at a Britney poster felt more like a corporate alliance between two pop titans (and a bit of cribbing from 90s'era, androgynous Madonna moves).
Ditto with the Amy Winehouse tribute, where you got vocal legend Tony Bennett to compare her to Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald -- two historic artists who achieved much more in life than the trouble Winehouse. Poignant as her death may be, she ain't ready to keep that kind of company in pop music history, and it just demeans the tribute and her legacy to suggest so. (And, much as I dig Bruno Mars, fellow Brit retro wonder Adele would have blown the doors off the VMAs paying tribute to Winehouse Sunday night).
Even as the news media scrambles to cover Hurricane Irene's aftermath, you'll get your headlines and buzz, so you may not care. But the VMAs often stand on the verge of raucous pop culture glory -- felled only by its own taste for commerce friendly spectacle and lack of preparation.
Can't wait to see if any of this helps for next year.
Love, your audience.