School On Top: Lessons From This Year’s Video Music Awards


It’s been about 15 hours since the Video Music Awards blew by in a cloud of bleeped-out curses and plastic chains, which is just enough time to let the night’s bigger-picture themes sink in. After the jump, a few thoughts on What It All Means For Us.

The Internet is its own local music scene, although not everyone is as plugged in as your Twitter feed might make you think.
Following the VMAs was a sneak preview of I Just Want My Pants Back, a sex-drenched look into Greenpoint life that is apparently going to be Skins populated with north Brooklyn scenesters and even an aspiring music writer or two. (Good luck with that.) And much ado was made about the anthem-minded revival act Young the Giant trucking in fans from their hometown of Irvine for their performance, even though without traffic that trip is only under an hour. (If you want to show “dedication from a fanbase,” maybe expand your geographical radius a bit, bookers.) But despite this lip service to the idea of local “scenes,” the Video Music Awards last night tried to embrace the idea that the wriggling mass of online music grazers was its true audience, what with the Twitter shoutouts and Rebecca Black cameos. If nothing else, the “who the fuck was that?” resurgence inspired by the antics of Tyler, the Creator should give the powers that be a clue that not everyone watching at home is so jacked into the grid that they care about—or are even aware of—artists whose scatalogically minded output results in them having more Twitter followers than record sales.

Gossip trumps music.
Not news at all—indeed, any music blogger worth their line item on a balance sheet knows that trafficking in Kreayshawn nudes brings the pageviews a lot more than an MP3 from a band that’s actually, you know, good. But the fact that the two biggest “news” stories to come out of the night—Beyoncé’s pregnancy and the “Gucci Gucci” nitwit’s beef-in-miniature with Rick Ross and his entourage—were tailor made for TMZ pickup is the latest piece of evidence supporting the idea that popular music is actually just music made by people on the gossip pages. That none of the Jersey Shore principals were on hand to lend their pipes to anything is probably just a matter of laziness on their collective part.

Justin Bieber is going to be no fun as an adult.
The irony that the Canadian heartthrob won an award last night for a song called “U Smile” shouldn’t be lost on anyone, given his dour disposition for most of the time he was sitting in the audience. Calling it now: His Christian-rock record will be out before Katy Perry’s.

Britney Spears should probably, in the words of a wise man years ago, be left alone.
Raise your hand if your heart sank when Britney’s lip briefly trembled while Lady Gaga’s greaser alter ego Jo Calderone tried to lean in for a kiss during the presentation of the Video Vanguard Award. Her pushing Jogaga off with an “I already did that” was a fine neg, and one that seemed to come not from the show’s abysmal writers but from her battle-scarred heart. Thank whoever decided to schedule the show for putting Beyoncé’s triumphant run through “Love On Top”/pregnancy announcement immediately afterward; it served as a pretty great palate-cleanser even for those people who think the widespread adoption of the term “baby bump” is among the worst verbal innovations of the 21st century.

Remembering the ’90s is a thing now more than ever.
Bringing Tony Bennett back to MTV was probably the cherry on top of that sundae. (1994, never forget.) Imagine if he’d done a virtual duet with Amy Winehouse, though?

People are kinda lazy with their shock tactics these days.
Lotsa swearing on the VMAs last night, from Gaga’s almost-Dicemanlike embodiment of her Jo Calderone alter ego at the show’s open to Lil Wayne’s whitespace-embracing closing set. Can we please give everyone a thesaurus, or at least a list of swear words that can be used that aren’t the Seven-Plus-A-Few-More Big Ones? As an editor, I’d ding repeated word use in any piece I was running, and I think it’s time for audiences to up our standards similarly—especially since you can now get away with saying “shit” in the middle of the day on certain basic-cable networks these days. (Also, confidential to some people who are upset at their associates’ swearing being called out: When your whole “artistic” posture is being a sexist yet mom-loving, homophobic yet pink-wearing, anything-for-attention bad-ass, whining about what other people think of you, even by proxy, is kind of not a good look. Particularly when you pull out the race card, which, sheesh.)

Even in the Internet era, there will be bands that are “priorities” for the suits and few other people.
Congratulations, Jessie J and Young the Giant—you’ll be “most inexplicable people to appear on the VMAs” listicle fodder for years to come.

Beavis and Butt-Head: Still funnier than everyone.
Why didn’t the couch-bound duo, returning to MTV not soon enough, host? Was there an industry-wide publicist revolt against the prospect of having their stars Real Talked to on this big night?

Telling people they can buy the music they’re listening to helps, because it’s a fact that can easily be forgotten.
The best-selling song on the iTunes Store the morning after? Foster the People’s pillow-linty “Pumped Up Kicks”—a song not performed by a band that didn’t win. Actually, the top 10 is evenly split right now between songs that did (“Someone Like You,” “You And I,” “You Make Me Feel…,” “Love On Top,” “How To Love”) and didn’t (“Kicks,” “Moves Like Jagger,” “Cheers (Drink To That),” “Stereo Hearts,” “Party Rock Anthem”) appear on the broadcast. Good looking out for the iTunes callouts during Lil Wayne’s and Adele’s performances, though—right now Tha Carter IV and 21 are tops on the store’s album chart. Maybe someday buying music will become fashionable again—you know, to bring that ’90s revival full circle.