My mission was clear. I was to discover what happens when the decidedly corporate MTV sets its sights on the staunchly independent arena of college rock...
The MTV Woodie AwardsCity: New York
Venue: Roseland Ballroom
PopMatters Events Editor
I first heard the "legend of the hippo" during an informational tour of DC's George Washington University. I listened closely as a petite, energetic brunette -- a "real" college student -- walked backwards through the street, gesturing at buildings as she gave my group of starry-eyed high school seniors the hard sell. "The unofficial mascot of GW, this Potomac water-horse's origin is unknown, but that doesn't stop students from rubbing its nose for good luck during finals." The truth, I later learned, is that the statue was an impulse buy made just a few years earlier by our spend-crazy, obsessively building-building President. Of course, the story does hold a speck of truth: students do drunkenly hump the hippo year-round (possibly for good luck). Ah yes, college. The kids love their humping and, MTVU is hoping they love their Woodies just as much. Wait that came out wrong. The name Woodie (created by MTV's college-oriented offshoot MTVU) is an allusion to the hand-whittled (tee-hee) wooden award plaques given out during the fledgling ceremony's live taping. Any other interpretation would be decidedly un-collegiate, crass, and out of sync with the award's prestigious history. Well, ok, so the show was actually founded last year and this was the first time it was taped - presenters Coheed and Cambria mentioned this fact, saying that the award they received last year was handed to them in the basement of New York's Bowery Ballroom. Still, artists like Death Cab for Cutie and Matisyahu began bragging about their nominations months ago on their websites. So it must have meant something, right? My mission was to discover what happens, and what it means, when the decidedly corporate MTV sets its sights on the staunchly independent arena of college rock. And so, I braved the show's Roseland Ballroom taping alone, entering a strange land of neon lights, large screens, and crane-cameras. The awards stage, set in the front of the cavernous ballroom, was lit in heavy reds, beams falling across iron walls covered in torn music posters. The set was designed to convey a sort of urban alley chic, though it was more reminiscent of a West Side Story stage set than the walls outside CBGBs. In front of the presenters' stage - adorned with a twisted metallic podium whose mic appeared taped on -- there was a sectioned-off area with tall, round, candlelit tables. There weren't as many as I expected, certainly not enough for all of the nominees. To the left sat the performance stage, which would host one-offs by The Go! Team, Matisyahu, and Death Cab for Cutie. And looming over everything stood a tall, bright screen displaying the words: MTVU WOODIE AWARDS. The word MTV seemed to stand out from the rest, and as I stared across the empty room (waiting for the audience to come in) the whole thing had a stale, synthetic taste. I don't know what college rock IS, or what it means to be indie, but candlelit receptions and booming speakers sporting MTV logos just aren't IT. Then the audience arrived. Filtering in slowly, college kids began to fill the areas around the barricades and in front of the performance stage. They spoke excitedly of those to perform (albeit one song each). Having entered contests, called in connections, and waited in line for the chance to see the show, these kids offered what I remembered as the real "college" ambiance: