At this point, the Video Music Awards are one of MTV’s few connections with its past as either a music network or a channel with any sort of identifiable characteristic. This year’s show had a handful of good spots, but they also had to contend with a heap of weird, bland or awful moments. So, let’s start digging through that heap, shall we?
Miley & Kanye: The Only Things You Will Remember About This Show
Host Miley Cyrus drilled her only two punch lines (“I sure love drugs!” and “I sure do the craziest things!”) into the ground within three minutes. It didn’t help that she delivered all of them in a tone that recalled a hacky Catskills comedian trying their darnedest to connect to “the kids.” This was especially apparent in the show’s two main sketches. The first was some Lonely Island knock-off (with guest appearance by Andy Samberg) hinged on the concept that Cyrus’ zany Instagram pictures are actually carefully constructed by public relations, which falls flat because that’s entirely within the realm of possibility. The second featured Miley taking drugs with Snoop Dogg who she hallucinates is a pig. You can guess the obvious joke they went with. Ugh. The sketches are made all the more indefensible with Chance the Rapper and others pointing out Miley’s use of a word with specific racial connotations in one of her sketches.
I’m pretty sure that Nicki Minaj’s call-out of Miley for her comments in the New York Times was real, and Miley did herself no favors with a response of, basically, “golly gee! newspapers lie! you won! I just swore!”
Her performance of “Dooo It!” was a complete and absolute mess anchored by a terrible song and a chaotic performance. Once it finally ended, with a gratuitous cameo from The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, Cyrus then threatened that there was more of this f**king stuff on her new album Miley and Her Dead Petz, which was released immediately online (thanks?). It is the end of August. We do not have a new album from Frank Ocean or Kanye West, but we have 23 tracks of Miley Cyrus feeding Wayne Coyne’s weird mid-life crisis. Gee, thanks.
By the way, you won’t be getting a review of Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz from The Young Folks because none of us can stand to listen to the thing for more than four consecutive tracks of its 92 minute(!!) run-time.
Compare and contrast to Kanye’s Video Vangaurd speech. Kanye looked ready to talk all night, but stayed playfully silent during an award presentation. When he received his Video Vanguard, he stood silent for several minutes of dead air – an incredible television moment that I guarantee freaked someone out in the MTV control room. When he finally spoke, he gave the network another reason to freak out: publicly trashing the network and the concept of award shows. He was great; the highlight of the night. I don’t know how serious that whole Presidential announcement was, but at this point, what do we have to lose?
“I still don’t understand award shows,” Kanye said. Me neither, to be honest.
The Awards (Remember Those?)
Oh yeah, this was an awards show right?
First off, let’s talk about the Moonman, which was redesigned into a Technicolor monstrosity by fashion designer Jeremy Scott. To me, it looked like it had been formed by melting a bag of gummy bears onto a regular Moonman.
As with the last few years, the actual awards presentations seemed like inconvenient chores that MTV had to get out of the way in between Miley spots and performances. There was only one award that really mattered: Video of the Year. Despite strong showings from Kendrick Lamar, Beyonce and Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars (and uh, a “way to go!” sticker to Ed Sheeran for effort?), the award went to Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood”. The video for “Bad Blood” looks as if it was designed to win this specific award with its shots of unexplained explosions and gratuitous cameos. The Joseph Kahn directed clip is so over-serious and smug that it borders on self-parody. So, it was obvious it was going to win. It would have been really funny and satisfying if Beyonce’s “7/11,” which looks like it was shot for under $100 and shows the singer actually having fun, won instead. Fetty Wap won Artist to Watch easily in the fan vote over Vance Joy’s “Riptide,” a song that is the music equivalent of drywall.
As per usual, musical performances took up the bulk of the night, but most of them weren’t anything to write home about:
- Pharrell had the unlucky position of following Kanye, and as a result his new song barely registered as a blip on the radar.
- Tori Kelly was inconsequential, but between her and Todrick Hall, the ninth season of American Idol (the Lee DeWyze year!) had a surprising amount of representation at the show.
- I don’t like Twenty One Pilots, so you can imagine how unhappy I was that they kept going forever with their over-long performance featuring ASAP Rocky.
- Iggy Azalea popped up during Demi Lovato’s performance and it’s amazing how quickly the pop world audiences have turned on her. She was so completely over when she took that stage and no one seemed excited by her presence. At the end of the performance, Lovato boarded an inflatable raft and surfed across the audience. Notably, Azalea was nowhere in sight after her brief guest turn.
— Ryan Gibbs (@RyanGibbs89) August 31, 2015
As for the good performances, The Weeknd was fine with his “first ever” live performance of “Can’t Feel My Face,” but he never seemed to smile or emote during the entire ceremony, and that included his bizarre Apple commercial as well.
I thought I would never type this sentence, but Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ performance of “Downtown” was probably the musical highlight of the night. In contrast to the unlistenable mess that was Miley’s “Dooo It”, “Downtown” is a highly listenable mess. Macklemore’s moped verses are probably the least interesting thing about it, and as with many of his songs, the guest hook is the standout. “Downtown” has two separate sets of guest hooks – a hip hop chant from genre pioneers Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee and Grandmaster Caz and a Freddie Mercury/Ellen Foley channeling freakout from ex-Foxy Shazam singer Eric Nally. They completely hijack the song from Macklemore in rapid succession to the point where when it goes back to him, it’s more underwhelming than usual even though he’s not entirely awful this time out. The performance had a pretty high energy quotient in a ceremony that was largely filled with apathy and Miley Cyrus schlocky jokes.
Overall, I thought this year’s VMAs were a huge mess. Travis Scott was announced but never seemed to show up (I still kind of have no idea who he is). Some of the spots (Rebel Wilson’s shirt, the weird stand-off thing between Taylor and Nicki) felt more like WWE promos than an MTV awards show. The VMAs needs some serious life injected into it. Even before the actual ceremony, I thought this year’s set of performers was underwhelming and that’s exactly how it went down. With rumors of Yeezy possibly hosting next year, the show actually has a chance to improve and not be a succession of punchlines and languid performances. All that depends on whether MTV wants it to improve, and from the last few ceremonies, I haven’t seen any effort to do so.
Oh right, the winners:
Video of the Year: Taylor Swift (feat. Kendrick Lamar), “Bad Blood”
Artist to Watch: Fetty Wap, “Trap Queen”
Best Male Video: Mark Ronson (feat. Bruno Mars), “Uptown Funk”
Best Female Video: Taylor Swift, “Blank Space”
Best Collaboration: Taylor Swift (feat. Kendrick Lamar), “Bad Blood”
Best Pop Video: Taylor Swift, “Blank Space”
Best Hip Hop Video: Nicki Minaj, “Anaconda”
Best Rock Video: Fall Out Boy, “Uma Thurman”
Best Video with a Social Message: Big Sean (feat. Kanye West and John Legend), “One Man Can Change the World”
Song of the Summer: 5 Seconds of Summer, “She’s Kinda Hot”
Best Direction: Colin Tilley and The Little Homies for “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar
Best Cinematography: Larkin Seiple for “Never Catch Me” by Flying Lotis (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
Best Editing: Beyoncé, Ed Burke and Jonathan Wing for “7/11” by Beyoncé
Best Art Direction: Jason Fijal for “So Many Pros” by Snoop Dogg
Best Choreography: OK Go, air:man and Mori Harano for “I Won’t Let You Down” by OK Go
Best Visual Effects: Brewer for “Where Are U Now” by Skrillex & Diplo (feat Justin Bieber)