Hello there! I didn’t expect to be doing this, but as happens with most of my entries on this site, the inspiration came from out of the blue. In this case, the blue channel guide on my cable box.
I was flipping through the guide the other night, and when I got to MTV, I saw that the Video Music Awards were about to start. I had no idea until that moment when they were, because I haven’t cared about the VMAs in 9 or 10 years, and haven’t watched an entire VMA show in probably that same time frame. As I sat there, staring at my channel guide, I started thinking about just how out of touch I’ve become with modern music. 10 years ago I watched MTV all the time, read Rolling Stone and followed music news online. Nowadays, the only music I’m really on top of is electronic music (via the many podcasts I listen to) and film scores. I haven’t been inspired by any pop music in years enough to get back into following it, and I don’t EVER listen to the radio, so even songs that are huge hits right now often go unnoticed in my little world.
I decided right then and there I wanted to see just how out of touch I am with pop music in 2011. I didn’t care enough to watch the show live, but I did DVR it, and I was going to force myself to watch the whole thing later. I was even able to avoid almost all spoilers for the show in my internet travels the past couple days (an extremely difficult task these days). I didn’t really want to watch it, but then I came up with the idea of watching it with my laptop open and turning the whole experience into a blog post, taking notes and commenting on things along the way. Because what good is watching something like that if you can’t share your opinions of it with the whole wide world? Today, I sat down and watched all 2 and a half hours of the show, INCLUDING most of the commercials (I’ll explain why as we go), and here is what I thought.
In case you’re a complete idiot, the numbers before each comment are time stamps, i.e. how far into the show each thing occurred. 08:00 means 8 minutes in, 1:24:00 means an hour and 24 minutes in, etc. Did I really just have to spell that out?
00:00-8:00: The show starts with Lady GaGa in drag as her “alter ego” Joe Calderone, who gives this stupid, strange performance art monologue that makes no sense whatsoever. Then she/he/it performs a song I can’t identify. But at least she sings live, and does it well. So kudos for that. Various cuts to other artists in the crowd and HOLY SHIT when did androgyny become so popular? Between GaGa and cutaways to Bruno Mars and Justin Bieber, I don’t know who is male, who is female, and who is neither or both. Why is it so hard for these people to appear distinctly masculine or feminine? Weezer guitarist Brian Bell makes a cameo appearance, and of course most of the 20-somethings in the fan section next to the stage have no clue who he is. Cut to Taylor Lautner, who also appears clueless. But at least I can tell he’s a guy! Despite being named “Taylor Lautner.”
9:00-13:00: They cut to a wide shot of the venue and stage, which looks like the head of one of the alien machines in the 1953 War of the Worlds. Some guy named Kevin Hart (who, of course, has a movie to plug) is apparently the host. Or not. He declares he’s not the host and is just there to deliver an opening monologue. If that was his sole task, he probably should’ve made a better effort at making it funny. He curses a bunch of times, all of which are bleeped. Attention MTV: It’s cable. Either let people curse openly or insist that they don’t curse at all. The bleeping (it’s really temporary muting) is distracting. Cue obligatory Jersey Shore cast STD joke. Hardy-har-har!
13:00: Nicki Minaj (dressed like a complete idiot) and the newly emaciated Jonah Hill present Best Pop Video. It really is alarming seeing Hill, who seems to have literally dropped half of his weight. I don’t see how he could have possibly done that so fast without surgery. Good on him, though. He jokes about the people who have been saying that now that he’s not fat he won’t be funny anymore. I like that self-awareness. He then drops a quick plug for Moneyball (September 23!). I’m guessing no more than 14 people in that room have any idea what Moneyball is. Old Lady Spears beats out Katy Perry, Adele and…other people. Good to see Britney looking presentable again.
-This girl Jessie J is the house band playing during commercial breaks. It looks like she broke her ankle or something, so she’s performing in a chair with a boot on her foot. I’ve heard of Jessie J, but if you asked me to pick her music out of a lineup, I’d fail.
-I decided to watch the first commercial break, because I want to see what’s being advertised to teenagers these days. Nothing out of the ordinary during the first break. Wait, a commercial for A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. And now I want to cut my wrists. Why are they advertising a B-movie that comes out at the end of November now? Stupid. Needless to say, since I haven’t yet seen a Harold & Kumar movie, I’m probably not gonna start with the one that’s in 3D.
23:00: Jay-Z & Kanye West perform “Otis” off their new collaboration album Watch the Throne. More bleeped out cursing. Kanye is wearing skinny jeans and a denim shirt. Another cutaway to Justin Bieber, who can’t be bothered to even clap once the song is over. The song is pretty cool, but it’s not close to the best work from either of them. I’ve only listened to the whole album once, but it’s solid.
Which gives me an idea for our Recommended Listening today. This is my favorite track off Watch the Throne, track #1, “No Church in the Wild”:
26:00: Miley Cyrus and Shaun White present Best Rock Video. I don’t know anything about 3 of the nominees (Foster the People, Mumford & Sons, Cage the Elephant), but a band I have heard of (Foo Fighters) end up winning. Goodie for them. Dave Grohl gives a shoutout to Joel Schumacher and Falling Down, which apparently inspired the video for whatever song they won for.
-They show a commercial for Moneyball during the second break, in which Jonah Hill is still pudgy. It’s gonna be weird seeing him in red carpet pictures for Moneyball and The Sitter (the two movies he’s in this fall), where in the posters and clips you’re gonna see him where he’s twice as big as he is now. He literally doesn’t look like the same guy anymore. Freaky. Anyway, I enjoyed the Moneyball spot, but wow is this the wrong crowd to be advertising that film to. Way to waste that marketing money, Columbia. That was probably $75,000 down the toilet. Next time you guys wanna throw away that much money, give it to me instead. How’s that sound? It’s a shame nobody is going to see this movie. I just don’t see any way this is a hit at the box office, though with the pedigree involved (Capote director Bennett Miller, a script by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, producer Scott Rudin, stars Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman), it’s already being touted as one of the early Oscar contenders.
30:00: They cut to some stupid thing called the Twitter Tracker, showing how many VMA-related tweets have gone out since the start of the show and which artists are being talked about the most. I suppose this is interesting to…who the fuck does find this interesting anyway? Social media OMG!!!
-A promo for the upcoming Real World: San Diego. I love how they’re just redoing all the previous Real World cities. This cast doesn’t look all that interesting. It looks like they have a gay guy AND a genderbender. Whatever, I’ll probably give it a chance. The Real World has long been one of my guilty pleasures, and this last season (where they revisited Las Vegas) was pretty damn entertaining, which makes them 2-for-2 in Sin City. Maybe they should just do Vegas every season. But are we really out of cities we can visit? Come on. You wouldn’t watch The Real World: Worcester? Real World: Compton? I’m betting you would.
-Oh look, they found a way to incorporate Rebecca Black into the VMAs! Yay!!! Moving on…
35:00: Jack Black, Seth Rogen and Will Ferrell come out as “The Beastie Boys of the Future”, which is utterly dumb and unfunny and pointless, but leads to the introduction of Best Hip Hop Video. Nicki Minaj wins, and she still hasn’t changed out of that stupid outfit. Nicki, you’re fucking gorgeous. Dress like it.
Is there a category this year for Best Hip Hop Song with a Subpar Trendy Electronic Dance Beat?
45:00: Best Collaboration goes to my baby Katy Perry & Kanye West for “E.T.” It’s sad that Kanye West seems to be done interrupting people on stage and going on douchey, selfish tirades.
SIDE BAR RANT: Chris Brown was one of the collaboration nominees. I love how this complete piece of shit has no problem finding people to work with him. Is there NO ONE in the industry who looks at him and says, “Nope. Can’t do it. Don’t want to be associated with him.” No one has those moral principles, I guess. At least not publicly. How quickly we forget and dismiss. It’s like all his fans and the media and other musicians wanted the whole thing to go away without the guy suffering any real consequences. It’s pathetic, really. “Forget Rihanna! She’ll live! We need Chris Brown to get back to making misogynistic music we can shake our asses to!” This is basically what his female fans are saying. This dude can beat the shit out of an equally popular female celebrity and be back to work almost immediately, but we still have people whining about Michael Vick and dog abuse, even though Vick went to prison. No no, we can’t let go of THAT! Meanwhile, Chris Brown merely has a restraining order against him, which may or may not even still be in effect. For shame.
47:00: Paul Rudd & Rick Ross do the “We’re presenting together but we’re so different!” routine and introduce this Pitbull/Ne-Yo performance. Where did this Pitbull guy come from, anyway? He sounds like Sean Paul but looks like a Latino Vin Diesel without the muscles. A weird looking fellow, whose sole purpose in the industry seems to be to perform backup vocals and hooks for party songs. I guess that’s one way to make a living. Actually, this song should win “Best Hip Hop Song with a Subpar Trendy Electronic Dance Beat”. I do genuinely like Ne-Yo, though. He’s a damn good singer with several really good songs, and he was pretty good earlier this year on the big screen in Battle: Los Angeles.
-They just showed a promo for a new MTV series called I Just Want My Pants Back. WHAT?!
57:00: Katy Perry introduces the Adele performance. It’s nice when an artist is known only for their talents as a musician. I admit I’m late to the Adele bandwagon. Actually I’m not even on it. I’ve yet to listen to her album. But I know who she is, and that she’s known for being a damned good singer, not for what she wears, who she’s dating, or for any kind of outrageous behavior or other controversy. That’s always refreshing. And she’s British, which is cool. As expected, she gives a great performance.
-MTV shows an alarming amount of birth control/pregnancy test commercials. I suppose they have to after making a bunch of pregnant 16 year olds famous because of that stupid reality show, Teen Mom, which may be the most exploitative show in television history.
-It’s always interesting to see a commercial for a movie you didn’t even know existed. I just saw a spot for Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star, which is the latest attempt by Adam Sandler to produce a movie starring only his buddies. See for yourself. Further reminder that mid-August thru mid-September is the absolute worst time of year for movies.
1:10:00: Kim Kardashian (who, again, is famous because of a SEX TAPE, having a HUGE ASS, dating mid-level celebrities and being the daughter of one of the guys who got O.J. Simpson off) presents Best Male Video. And the winner is Justin Bieber, who can only barely be described as a male, and is only famous himself because of YouTube. These are America’s stars. Aye vai!
1:13:00: Chris Brown performs a dance routine, surrounded by fawning women, all of whom have conveniently forgotten what this asshole is capable of. They carry him above the stage on wires a few times, and I openly wish for the wires to snap. Kanye West gives him a standing ovation, as does Justin Bieber. Bravo. Is it clear yet how much I despise Chris Brown?
-Oh yay! Another Twitter Tracker update! #YOUCOULDNTPAYMETOGIVEAFUCK
1:24:00: Lady Gaga comes out, again dressed like a man, and presents the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award to Britney Spears. Shouldn’t GaGa be wearing a bear suit or a dress made of tampons by now? It’s sad looking at these video clips, remembering just how hot Spears was 7 years ago. GaGa can’t force her ego down long enough to stand back and allow Spears to say anything. And then Spears’ acceptance speech turns into another introduction, this time for a Beyoncé performance. As it turns out, Beyoncé announced on the VMA red carpet that she’s pregnant, which instantly detonated the internet. Beyoncé pregnant! 40-somethin people just died because of Hurricane Irene, but who gives a fuck! Beyoncé is pregnant!!! The 10th anniversary of September 11 is coming up. Who gives a fuck! Show me pictures of Beyoncé’s belly!!!
Kanye West shoves Jay-Z around in the audience, as if it was a surprise to him that Jay-Z is the father.
-A TV spot for Abduction, in which Hollywood tries to turn a 19-year old kid into an action star. God help us. And god help John Singleton, who used to be a real director. How did it come to this, brotha?
1:40:00: Selena Gomez and the aforementioned Taylor Lautner out to present Best New Artist. U Mad, Bieber? The winner is some guy named Tyler, the Creator. I haven’t heard a single thing this guy has done, but I’ve actually heard his album is decent. He comes on stage and bleep-curses up a storm. Stay classy, Tyler.
1:43:00: Jared Leto and Zoe Saldana introduce a performance by another band I’ve never heard of. The lead singer of this band is holding two microphones and alternating between them. Whatever, bro. I stopped listening to their performance to preview some Tyler, the Creator songs on iTunes.
1:53:00: Obligatory presentation by Jersey Shore cast for Best Female Video. God that was fucking awkward. Please don’t put any of these people in scripted television or films. GaGa wins, and completely ignores the Jersey Shore cast once she gets to the stage. This amuses me.
2:03:00: Russell Brand comes out to do a dedication to Amy Winehouse, who was apparently his friend. He does a nice job, though calling her a genius is probably a stretch. Tony Bennett comes out and introduces a clip of a duet he’d just recorded with her, and Bruno Mars covers one of her songs. Mr. Mars, love ya, but that haircut has got to go. He looks like Lady GaGa’s lesbian girlfiend. Anyway, he does a very nice job.
2:17:00: For some reason, Lionsgate decides to show the first footage from The Hunger Games on the VMAs. Jennifer Lawrence introduces the clip via a video recorded on set. And they may as well have not shown anything. It’s less than a minute, and pretty much just Lawrence running through the woods, then she shoots an arrow at the screen that becomes the film’s logo. Totally pointless. I’m still dumbfounded by the hype around this Hunger Games shit. If it was such a huge series of books, why did I not know anything about it until the movie was announced?
2:20:00: Katie Holmes, of all people, presents Video of the Year to Katy Perry. And Perry has placed a giant yellow block on her head.
I’ll tolerate it because I love you!
2:25:00: Featuring Drake (this is his new name, says me) presents the final performance from Lil Wayne, who has Auto Tune preset in his mic for “How to Love.” Umm, I don’t go to a lot of concerts, but just from watching this, I declare that Auto Tuning does not work live. In fact, it sounds so bad that I’m fast forwarding. He performs another song, but I have no clue what it is because he’s swearing so much that 70% of it is bleeped out. Brilliant planning. “Hey, Wayne, why don’t you perform a song that we can’t air?” “Great idea!” Somehow, I don’t think the skinny jeans look is gonna catch on with his black fans.
And that’s it! Yippee! It wasn’t as painful as I thought it might be. I recognized more of the artists than I thought I would, and almost all of the live performances were pretty good. That said, it was nothing special. I didn’t see any new artists that scream to be listened to, and I didn’t see any bands that look like they’ve got any staying power, either. Nor were there any truly classic songs performed or nominated in any category. There also weren’t any true superstars. If Justin Bieber is what counts as insanely popular these days, than the music industry truly is hurting. And yes, I realize the VMAs are not an ideal place to discover new music, but if I haven’t really been following new music for a few years, it should be a place where I see something new that I might like. Right?
It’s clichéd to sit back and say that the music of “today’s generation” is terrible, and that music was much better when I was 21. It seems every adult has said that for the last 50 years. So I won’t go there, mainly because I don’t want to sound like one of the people I despised when I was younger, when old, out of touch farts would complain about Eminem‘s lyrics. Sure, 10 years ago we had the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC and other such sugar pop, but we also had Green Album Weezer, OutKast, Dr. Dre, the emergence of people like Alicia Keys, The Strokes and Coldplay (back when hipsters liked them), to name a few. U2 (All That You Can’t Leave Behind) and Bruce Springsteen (The Rising) put out some of their best work 10 years ago. We still have guys like Jay-Z today, but he doesn’t belong to this generation. He belongs to my generation, who have been fans of his since the 90’s. Same thing for Eminem. He may have put out a great album last year that these kids are into, but he broke through in 1999 and put out his true masterpiece (The Marshal Mathers LP) in 2000. I see a lack of true greatness in modern music. Is there any album in the past 3 or 4 years you’d call a masterpiece? There are a lot of good artists who have come up in the past few years, but where are the legends? Where are the legendary songs? Where are the people who actually have something to say? Something other than, “Fuck you!” or “Let’s party!” Where is the substance in today’s music? Is there any? Is there anyone in rap/hip-hop interested in anything other than party songs that will sell a bunch of copies on iTunes that white people can grind to in the club? Sure doesn’t seem like it.
And if you can answer any of the questions I just posed about the artists of 2011, please point me to them. I’m desperate to discover new music, but it seems to be very difficult to find anything worth a damn right now. Shit, I just went there, didn’t I? Well, I am 79 years old. Fuck’em.