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Some Thoughts on the VMAs

Since Sunday night, there has been a seemingly endless string of discussions about how horrendous MTV’s VMA awards were. Most of them centered around Britney’s performance which has been officially declared a train-wreck by congress.

Anyway, I can’t pretend to have watched the whole thing, however, I did see enough that evening and then watch enough on the MTV site the next day to understand what all the buzz was about. After some interesting conversations with friends, I had been considering writing something about it, but I just didn’t know where to begin. But then my friend Andy was kind enough to get the ball rolling with an unsolicited email:

Did you watch the MTV VMA’s this week? I watched it with my girlfriend, we are both pretty in tune with pop culture, media, youth, etc…and we found it to be unwatchable. I didn’t know who 70% of the artists were, the performances and production were terrible, and the nominee announcement editing nearly gave me an epileptic seizure when they showed it before each award.

For the first time in a long time, I really felt disappointed in pop music and in MTV. The decline of MTV has obviously been a long time coming (since the Real World debuted some might say and started the slide from a music videos to content programming model), but it really felt to me, that this VMA’s was the tipping point. It’s over for MTV. They have just completely lost the audience that grew up with them.

So how do they save themselves? Do they? Can they? Should they? Would anyone care if they did? Do they even need saving, or is it just the evolution of the brand and the business and I am now officially out of the demographic?

At 29, I grew up with music based MTV and just can’t get down with new MTV…but the 15 year olds of today, they have grown up with Real World and reality based MTV and this super polished, pre-packaged “here is your pop music and here are your manufactured pop stars” on a plate…so maybe I am another near 30 year old shaking my fist at these kids and their crazy rap music. Who knows.

I sometimes forget that everyone doesnt consume media like you or I might, with Last.fm and the like…maybe most people don’t care that Comcast, and News Corp, and Viacom, etc all tell them what to listen to and what to like. Maybe the average person is fine with having their media wrapped up nicely and left on their doorstep. Maybe we’re the crazy ones.

I took the bait and added my two cents (I also added a few thoughts as I was writing this time):

I was having a conversation about just this the other day. The VMAs were a trainwreck, that seems indisputable. However, the question in my mind is why MTV didn’t do anything about it. Surely someone must have noticed the thing sucked and mentioned it. Actually, from the minute I turned it on I noticed how the camera work seemed odd. In a way I felt like I was watching a reality show (like Laguna Beach or the Hills), not an awards show with a million dollar budget. Eventually it led me to wonder whether MTV had actually done this on purpose as a way to get people (like us) talking about them. [Seth seems in on this conspiracy theory as well.]

As for MTV, clearly the model has changed (no new news there). Music videos (and music generally) lives in the digital realm. With that said, music videos, I would argue, are more popular than ever before. What’s more, three minute short-form content is no longer just an idea, it’s a reality. MTV, in many ways, was about 25 years too early. The question, then, is how did they lose their way? Why are they not able to tap into current musical attitudes?

What’s more, the thing that really struck me was the cruelty of the whole thing. Shelly Palmer nailed it with his entry about Britney’s performance: “Tonight, I was profoundly sad for a star that is about to implode while others profit from her misfortune.” It was so clearly a performance made to humiliate. Sarah Silverman had her monologue all ready to rip Britney down. It’s almost as if MTV has taken on the personalities it asks of its faux-ality show stars: Shallow, backstabbing and cruel.

It’s all quite odd. I think the big question is why MTV would let this happen? Sure “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” and I may watch next year to see if it’s even worse, however, my desire to turn on MTV at any other moment is non-existent. Sure I’m not the target and it’s entirely possible that I am just being an old fart, but MTV seems to be struggling generally (outside The Hills).

So I think that’s it. Sorry I couldn’t add more insight Andy, hopefully some commenters can fill in the holes. Anyone?

Update (9/12/07): Andy has thrown up a poll on Quibblo: Has MTV Lost Its Appeal?

September 12, 2007