First, let me say to the scores of people posting “music is dead” sentiments because of the VMAs let me reassure you that music – specifically rock music – is just fine. Sure, it has its issues. But there have always been issues. Our beloved genre – barely 75 years old – has survived disco, EDM, whatever the weird banjo/coveralls/washboard thing is … and come out the other side just as loud and just as poignant as ever.
Yes, shady labels, soul crushing revenue sharing plans, rampant pirating and genital warts are all still issues but the VMAs are not the barometer. In fact, rock fans, the VMAs aren’t for you and haven’t been since the Nirvana era. This poorly produced, badly directed award show is a 3 hour clothing commercial designed to sell downloads of throwaway songs that you won’t remember in a year, much less in 10. It’s a vehicle for the same five or so stars to sit in the same room and test the boundaries of their passive/aggressive relationships with one another. It doesn’t create art, or even shape it, rather it celebrates the allmighty consumer “now” and panders to a demographic still too naïve to let their choices develop into actual taste.
Need proof? Look at where the real money is: tours. The top grossing tours so far in 2016 are Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay and The Rolling Stones. Love or hate the music they are still live bands, playing live shows and outselling everyone else where it matters: on the road.
With that said, I do watch the VMAs – as well as the Grammys and Billboard Music Awards. Why? Well, I’ve chosen to make music my business and to truly know your business you have to see it from 30,000 feet. That includes watching the good, bad and the awful.
With that said, and in no particular order, here are 10 things I learned while watching the 2016 VMAs:
- MTV thinks that the talent pool is so thin these days that Rhianna has to perform 4 times. We got four medleys throughout the show – lip synched, whether your “Umbrella” loving heart wants to believe it or not – and each one seemed more and more like a car commercial and a perfume commercial had drunken sex at Michael Bay’s house. No one else could be bothered to perform? Say, someone with a guitar or a piano? Was everyone stuck in traffic with Drake? Pretty sad when your silly little show is too low brow even for Adele.
- P-Diddy, or Puff Daddy, or Puffdidiliumptious, or whatever we are supposed to call him these days can’t read from a teleprompter. It was hard to watch as Diddy fumbled over his admittedly poorly written lines. Maybe the words written for him were so banal that his brain tried to fight back and head them off at the pass. He did manage to get out a surprisingly mumble free plug for his upcoming “20 years of the same ol’ shit” tour but as for introducing the actual award? Not sure if he was dumbfounded at having to present a hip hop award to Drake or had simply taken the saltine challenge before walking on stage. Keep in mind that, being a rap superstar, he TALKS for a living.
- Speaking of Hip Hop … it’s fucked. Drake wins best hip hop for “Hotline Bling?” Where the VMAs are not a barometer for rock music they most certainly are for R&B and Hip Hop and wow, it ain’t looking good. “Hotline Bling” is hip hop in the same way that fishsticks are fish. To make it worse, a few minutes later Future came out and apparently rapped the alphabet during “Commas” … a song so inane that Chuck D is probably planning a folk album to disassociate himself from the genre he helped create.
- Lip synching is now perfectly fine … if you can dance in a group. There was a time when artistic merit was based on your ability to back up your recordings with your live show. This was before technology made it easy to cheat, but even after that, people were keeping a watchful eye to see if you did – or didn’t – actually perform. The buying public ran Ashlee Simpson out of town on a rail for her slip up on SNL and drove the guy from Milli Vanilli to suicide for his charade. But somewhere along the lines faking your live performance went from deplorable to skeptical to “that’s just the way it is.” I attended the Billboard Music Awards this year and didn’t see a single note come from the mouths of one performer. At the VMAs last night it was rampant. Britney is the Queen of lip-synch, and is even lauded for how good she is at it. Hell, even Ariana Grande stopped singing mid line to put a coat on last night like it was no big thing. Note to the consumer; they will continue to give you what you allow them to give you. Demand better.
- Poor Britney had to follow Beyonce. Now, I’m not saying that Beyonce’s 15 minute bus-crashing-into-a-plane performance was great. It wasn’t. Musically it had the substance of a pop tart. Sure, the producers threw everything they could at the viewer so that you would know that something “BIG” was happening over top of what is arguably the most pedestrian pop music ever created. It was lights and bombs and firetrucks and a million dancers waving flags to celebrate what, at it’s core, was equivalent to the opening of a cereal box. Still, Britney, who meant this performance to be her big “comeback” to the VMAs, phoned in a predictable and passable few minutes that amounted to absolutely nothing. Couple that with having to follow the “Beyonce vs. Godzilla 3D Spectacular on Ice” and the results were akin to a puppet show following a Pink Floyd concert.
- Alicia Keyes is batshit crazy. Wow. With her scant 45 second appearance Alicia Keys managed to work in a Martin Luther King reference on her way to reciting a nightmarish Dr. Seuss poem before sliding into an off-key acapella sea shanty about peace, justice and something she read in Women’s Day. This is the same woman that, in 2001, took an already great song, Prince’s “How Come You U Don’t Call Me Anymore” and turned it on its ear with a stunning rendition. Very telling that the darling of the moment, Rhianna, gets to perform four times last night while a genuine talent like Alicia Keys is relegated to one minute of insane rambling that sounded like Snapple caps read by an escaped mental patient.
- Speaking of Prince … Really, MTV? Not a montage, tribute, picture or even a slight nod to one of the artists responsible for your very existence? Not looking for a crappy b-lister tribute segment (that’s been done) but at least put a purple light bulb in a desk lamp for the man. Prince is indelibly tied to the “MTV Era” alongside Michael Jackson and Madonna and you can’t spare him a second of acknowledgement? Bad enough that he never won the Vanguard award (Duran Duran, Bon Jovi and Justin Timberlake have one) but you snub him entirely at your “legit” music awards show? You don’t deserve him … or David Bowie for that matter.
- Enough with Kanye already. We had our washed up star lunatic rant segment with Ms. Keys earlier in the night. Why then must we hand a microphone to this ass clown so he can grace us with poignant nuggets of wisdom like: “This is fame, yo.” And “Came over in the same boat now we are in the same bed.” And “21 People killed in Chicago.” And “I talk to older rich people.” All in one single run on sentence. Kayne, a talentless hack to begin with, has turned into Damon Wayans’ In Living Color character, Anton Jackson. At one point he actually said: “We are the influence and the thought leaders.” And to prove that statement he premiered his “art” a brand new video for “Fade” that was basically Cats meets Flashdance meets Farmersonly.com. Literally a workout shower porn cat girl surrounded by sheep video where he grunts the same line over tired samples. At best it was the work of a dyslexic first year film student. I suppose I should feel a little bit bad for him. After all, Bruce Jenner is his mother in law.
- Rhianna wins the Vanguard award? The Video Vanguard Award, also known as the Lifetime Achievement Award, is supposedly given to musicians who have made a profound effect on the MTV culture, honoring an artist’s body of work. So, at 28, with your entire career taking place during the “No Videos on MTV” era you are worthy of a LIFETIME achievement award? In the years when MTV actually mattered they had winners like David Bowie, The Beatles, David Byrne, Madonna, Peter Gabriel, Michael Jackson, Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses, Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, R.E.M., Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers and U2. But Rhianna? Really? I suppose next year, if Nicki Minaj is pregnant, they’ll give it to her unborn baby.
- MTV is a music video channel that doesn’t play music videos having a music video awards show. It struck me about halfway through the show last night that none of this makes any sense. MTV is no more responsible for the shaping of public taste in music these days than CNN, yet they trot this spectacle out each year and it’s hyped like the Academy Awards. This is akin to Home Depot Hosting a “Best Chefs” Award Show because a guy bought a gas stove from them once.
Bottom line? The VMAs signify nothing and represent no one of consequence. Just listen to what you like, support the artists you like, and buy an album now and again. Rock n roll is going to be just fine. At the end of the day, when someone grabs your iPod and hits shuffle, you’re the one who has to explain that Menudo tune. Don’t sweat it though. We all have something on there that we’re not proud of. – Allan Carter