Earlier this week, MTV announced the nominees for its annual Video Music Awards. So, let’s get this out of the way first: 1) MTV doesn’t even play music videos anymore! I know. Isn’t it ironic? 2) I hate Drake/Rihanna/Justin Bieber/Katy Perry. Why doesn’t MTV just play the video for Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” over and over again like they used to? Sorry bro. 3) What’s a Skrillex? It’s complicated.
Now that that’s out of the way, there actually is some pretty good stuff nominated, both in terms of the quality of the songs themselves and of their videos, along with some total crap. As usual, it’s hard to tell if what’s being honored here is the song itself or the video. But ultimately, who cares? This is a meaningless awards show even by awards show standards. The whole thing is just an excuse for MTV to push whatever product it’s pushing at the moment and there isn’t even an attempt to make the nominees or awards seem “legitimate,” which is why I found the whole idea that Taylor Swift was the victim of some huge injustice when Kanye West interrupted her acceptance of a VMA a few years back to be ridiculous.
The biggest category is “Video of the Year” and three of the nominees are three of the most ubiquitous songs of the year: Gotye, “Somebody That I Used To Know,” Rihanna, “We Found Love,” and Drake (featuring Rihanna) “Take Care.” The Gotye is an interesting choice in that the inescapable song’s video was actually released on YouTube in 2011 and gradually became a sensation online, eventually leading to the song becoming a huge hit on Top 40 radio and the video being shown on VH1 and MTV. (They do actually show videos still, just not very often.) If the award is meant to be for the video that had the most effect on a song’s eventual success, it should definitely go to the Gotye clip.
The video for “We Found Love” is pretty evocative and disturbing, as it shows Rihanna in some sort of crazy, unhealthy relationship with a guy who looks like Chris Brown. The video for “Take Care” is also evocative, as it shows her in intimate solitude with Drake, another former lover. Both of these videos are actually quite artfully shot and edited, but the songs are much more well known than their videos. So if the idea is to award the video in and of itself, I can’t imagine either of these winning. This is unlike the situation with Gotye, where the mild surrealism of the video was at least as famous as the song.
MTV has also nominated the video for Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake,” the mind-blowing eighth hit single from Perry’s Teenage Dream album. The fact that this album is an all-consuming pop juggernaut on the level of Thriller, or, um, Sports by Huey Lewis & The News and no one seems to realize this continues to baffle me. If she is given the award for her contribution of basically single-handedly keeping the mainstream music industry afloat, it would be well deserved.
MTV did nominate one legitimately great music video in the “Video of the Year” category, the one for M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls.” I’ve embedded the video below, because it really is a must-see. The song is okay, but the video is a beautifully shot and edited, thrilling look at a foreign subculture, like something VICE might produce at its best. (It in fact was produced by VICE affiliate Noisey.)
Another category with some potentially interesting action is “Best New Artist,” if only because it will be fun watching the predictable griping that the acts aren’t really “new” in many cases. Seems to me the likely winner will be the band Fun. for their perfectly crafted pop song and enjoyable video “We are Young” and many people (most of them no longer young) will complain that it’s in fact from the band’s second album.
In the “Best Hip-Hop Video” category, Donald Glover/”Childish Gambino” continues his bid to be thought of as a “real rapper” by somehow getting the video to his song “Heartbeat,” nominated. The song “Heartbeat” was by far the best thing on his disappointing album Camp and, somewhat improbably, it actually got a little bit of play on commercial hip-hop radio earlier this year, but I didn’t even know it had a video. And now that I’ve seen it I have no idea why it was nominated.
The video for Drake/Lil Wayne’s “HYFR” (i.e. Hell Yeah Fuckin’ Right) is incredibly clever, as it’s a full re-enactment of Drake’s actual Bah Mitzvah at the place it happened, but I don’t know if MTV ever actually played it.
MTV also nowadays honors the “Best Electronic Dance Music Video” (or “best EDM video” as no one calls it). Duck Sauce’s video for their irresistible earworm “Big Bad Wolf” was nominated. If this EXTREMELY NSFW, totally insane video doesn’t win, there’s no justice in this world.