[10 September 2007]
PopMatters Interviews Editor
Oh sure, we’ve all heard about Britney’s out-of-shape performance, Kid Rock’s fistfight with Tommy Lee, and oh-too-brief glimpses of some exciting musical collaborations, but the most enjoyable VMA broadcast in years somehow dampened the importance of the music video in question. Even Justin Timberlake sounded off upon winning the Male Artist of the Year Award, challenging MTV to play more music videos and quipping “We don’t want to see the Simpsons on reality television.” Much to the chagrin of the program’s director, the in-house audience responded with resounding applause.
A brief history: music videos are, in fact, an art form. Though the artistic merits of 50 Cent’s “I Get Money” video are no doubt debatable, one only needs to look at the work of such legends as Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Mark Romanek or Jonathan Glazer to know that it can be much more than a simple marketing tool. For awhile, MTV actually gave the music video art form a respectable standing with their Oscar-styled awards show. As a matter of fact, the very first year of the VMA’s was a tuxedo-only event (!).
Though the show has gotten raunchier and Madonna-makeout-ier over the years, the awards still stayed the same: Best Cinematography, Best Breakthrough Video (aka Most Innovative), even Best Editing. This remained true all the way up until last year’s Jack Black-hosted 2006 event. It was still a pretty wince-inducing evening of entertainment (thanks to shoddy work in many technical aspects), but the many people who work on music videos just like they’re short films still got their brief moment in the sun.
This wasn’t the case in 2007. Gone are the days of Breakthrough Video, Best Visual Effects, and categories of technical importance. Now we’re down to 11 categories, including new, pointless additions like Monster Single of the Year (not to be confused with Video of the Year, you see) and Earth-Shattering Collaboration. Also cut was an hour of the broadcast’s running time, making for a concise and far less-indulgent program. Yet with such trivial categories, no one seemed to care about who won, much less who was nominated. It was a night of partying and reveling… and very little care for the thing that made MTV so powerful in the first place.
50 Cent - I Get Money
Yes, the evening started with a poorly rehearsed whimper. Admittedly, all the dancers were well rehearsed, but Britney was not. She apparently forgot how to lip-sync properly (something that happened with Rihanna as well when she performed “Shut Up and Drive” with Fall Out Boy in one of their hotel “suites”), and when the song ended, she was the first person off the stage. Adding insult to injury was the usually funny Sarah Silverman giving an opening monologue that fell absolutely flat. Yes, we were off to a roaring start.
Yet as the evening went on, the performances just got bigger and more hyped-up, all while presenters were dolled out to give uninteresting speeches to awards that no one cared about, followed by uninteresting acceptance speeches (Justin excepted). Everyone at the Las Vegas Palms Hotel had their own themed “suite” where artists’ partied and had crazed collaborations. Fall Out Boy played with Lil’ Wayne (and we saw roughly 13 seconds of said collaboration). The Foo Fighters covered Prince’s “Darling Nikki” with Gnarls Barkley’s Cee-Lo exhibiting surprisingly heavy rock vocal prowess (and what a powerful 23-second glimpse it was!). 50 Cent was great at being 50 Cent.
Yet Kanye had the most fun: he had Soulja Boy stop for a moment (aka the guy with that “Superman” song), but he got to perform the entirety of his excellent “Stronger” as well as the entirety of his soon-to-be-heralded-as-excellent “Good Times” with vocoder-lovin’ T-Pain. He looked like he was having a blast, and it translated well across the screen. Of course, it may be the last fun he has for awhile, as immediately after he found out that he came up short on all five of his nominations, he claimed he would never come back to MTV again.
And he had good reason to be slightly peeved: he lost to Rihanna a lot of the time. She shared a mainstage performance with the ever-energetic Chris Brown, who decided to imitate Michael Jackson right down to playing “Billie Jean” right in the middle of his performance for no reason whatsoever. Rihanna proved that she has great songs but not a lot of live star power. Chris Brown proved that he has enough star power to fill up the strip, but he simply doesn’t have any solid songs in his canon (and as he made his way through the grating number “Wall to Wall” proved, it doesn’t look like he’s going to have any in the near future). Meanwhile, Linkin Park proved that they love laser light shows during their performance of “Bleed It Out”. Needless to say, it was an evening of pretty lights.
Rihanna ft Jay-Z - Umbrella
Yet, despite all the expected-showiness, there were a few moments of genuine musical expression. A majority of these moments were owned by Alicia Keys, debuting a pretty-good new song that somehow segued into a cover of George Michael’s “Freedom”—a fact that would’ve no doubt eluded the average MTV viewer, but it was a great performance. Alicia let her vocals rip just like a young Mary J. Blige, and her domineering stage presence and feel-good spirit lead the crowd to give a much-deserved standing ovation. Chris Brown can win people over with spectacle, but no amount of money could ever buy you the single greatest facet that any artist can have: honesty.
The evening ended with a real artist (Mary J. Blige) introducing a real producer (Dr. Dre, saying that his long-awaited album Detox was in fact coming soon) who introduced an increasingly meaningless award: Video of the Year. Rihanna won for her high-gloss image-driven-but-concept-lacking clip for “Umbrella”, and she didn’t have any particularly illuminating thoughts on her line of business during her acceptance speech. Diddy then introduced Timbaland who introduced Timberlake who was really a warm-up for Nelly Furtado. Confused yet? The show’s last fourth was indeed confusing; so much so that as soon as the Timberland/lake performance was done, no one really knew who was going to say that the show was over. People got in bits of sentences here and there, but the camera was too busy floating away and flashing credits for anyone to notice.
Yet there were a lot of things that went unnoticed besides haphazard goodbyes, like Tommy Lee and Kid Rock’s fistfight over Pamela Anderson, Serj Tankian’s too-short collaboration with the Foo Fighters, the Queens of the Stone Age’s too-short collaboration with (again) the Foo Fighters, Shia LeBeouf announcing the lame title to the new Indiana Jones movie (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), and Beyonce’s dress being very, very loose-fitting.
Man, there was so much going on! Almost makes you forget that we were supposed to be honoring music videos this fateful eve. Oh wait…