Once a year, mtvU hosts the Woodies, an event that’s a lot like the Teen Choice Awards, except that it caters to college kids and music-industry people who can say stuff like, “I started listening to that band, like, two years ago.” The award show held their third gala at the Roseland Ballroom Wednesday night, a room filled with contest-winning ticketholders, nominees, MTV personalities, reality-TV stars (Roxy, you get the gas-face), and many, many red Solo cups. The whole “college” shtick was kind of cute, really. The nominees and performers were set up at brightly lit, sparkly bars instead of your usual plush audience seating. There were waiters walking around with burgers, fries, and brownies, with kegs stowed away for flip-cup and beer-pong tournaments. They covered everything from Gaga to Gossip Girl, and someone even got Kanye’d . . . but we’ll get to that later.
Diplo, complete in shiny silver suit jacket, was on the decks as we walked up to the already buzzing mezzanine and a booming voice introduced “Major Lazer’s DJ Diplo” (is that what we’re calling him now?) as he cruised through a set of hip-hop and Major Lazer and Mad Decent productions, every now and then cleverly throwing in a funny collegiate hit a la “Jizz in My Pants.” His set was brought to an abrupt halt as the huge TV screens showed us the scene outside: a gleeful Matt & Kim riding their bikes up to the red carpet and straight onto the stage. Clothes went flying, their entourage stripped down to their underwear, and everyone grabbed microphones for a crazed rendition of “Lessons Learned.” We were only 10 minutes into the show–so far, so good.
What happened next had to be the most awkward set of presentations in award-show history. Pete Wentz, the first speaker of the night, sauntered onstage with (you guessed it!) a red Solo cup. “I tested positive for swine flu!” he quipped, to half-hearted chuckles from the crowd. Thanks to the speechwriters, the other presenters weren’t much better. The painfully adorable Zooey Deschanel nervously stammered, “I’m not prepared to take my clothes off” in response to Matt & Kim’s performance. A very proud 3Oh3! stumbled onstage in Lady Gaga drag (you win the award for being “those guys”) to present the “Left Field Woodie” (it went to Tech9). Somewhere in the mix, Never Shout Never, decked out in a Minnie Mouse sweater and rosary, won “Breaking Woodie” for best breakthrough artist of 2009. I must be out of touch–he was the only artist in the category I had never heard of, ever.
It wasn’t all so painful, though: The performances almost redeemed those awkward interludes. Though it was immediately apparent that most of the crowd had literally no idea who most of those performers were (our guess is everyone came to see their one favorite band), they at least bopped along as the artist’s true fans clamored to get close to stage. Passion Pit was a big hit, though not really my thing. Death Cab for Cutie played “Meet Me at the Equinox” (off the New Moon soundtrack) and throwback favorite “Sound of Settling.” [ED–I am super old.] P.O.S. mixed it up, starting out in the middle of the crowd (and backed by video of a live, in-house flip cup game). The beautiful and weirdly robotic Janelle Monae introduced the Clipse; a nearby PR guy scoffed, “Who even cares about the Clipse anymore?” Well, I do–and apparently so do Cam’ron and Rick Ross. Both rappers joined Pusha and Malice for blinding renditions of “Popular Demand” and “I’m Good.”
By now we were 90 minutes into the show, and most of the artists were visibly drunk. Passion Pit were taking shots of whiskey, Matt & Kim’s entourage were doing keg stands, and the older presenters seemed thoroughly amused to be hanging out with college-age revelers. There was some more ill-fated presenting: The never-nude David Cross made an awkward appearance, will.i.am spoke on the importance of charity work in the music biz, and Asher Roth presented “Best Performing Woodie” to Green Day, who accepted via webcam. He then dove off the stage in his jersey/hoodie combo. (Remember, kids. He. Loves. College.) Matt & Kim took home Video of the Year for “Lessons Learned,” triggering much drunken revelry. Soon thereafter, Ninjasonik’s Telli Gramz hijacked the show’s live interview with a startled Friendly Fires: I caught something like “Ninjasonik is the truth, they’re the future” among the ramblings. (Ninjasonik pals Spankrock pulled a similar stunt at the 2007 Woodie awards, just with Fall Out Boy in the Friendly Fires role–I sense a trend.)
When Leighton Meester and Cyndi Lauper took the stage to present “Woodie of the Year,” I almost fainted from fandom. Unfortunately, Ms. Lauper wasn’t in the best of moods and remarked that she didn’t think MTV really played music anymore, before throwing in some poorly scripted “girls just want to have fun” line. Meester suavely swooped in and finished the rest of Lauper’s dialogue (that’s totally what Blair Waldorf would have done) and announced not-present Kings of Leon as the winner.
The night ended with a set from Jack White’s new project, the Dead Weather. A smirking Mary Louise Parker–the ultimate MILF for teenage boys everywhere–took the stand as the last speaker of the night. “You’re all so hammered you don’t give a fuck what I say,” she half-joked. It was mostly true. The Dead Weather took the stage in full rock-star glory, the once mostly ambivalent crowd snapped to attention. Alison Mosshart thrashed around as Jack White (who’s really buying into this whole vampire look) dramatically pounded on the drums and everyone from the waiters to the photographers raged along with them. So, at least the show ended on a good note. I think the lesson here is less talking, more rocking.
The Woodies air on mtvU, MTV, and MTV2 on December 4th.