ONCE upon a time, MTV was the superhighway of the music industry. Nearly every musical car passed along it, and in the absence of the internet, people tuned in and stopped everything to witness the annual car crash that was the VMAs.
That was back when MTV was central to the pop (and mainstream adjacent) world. The place where every controversy was encouraged, and every beef hosted, on MTV proper, as well as MTV Europe, MTV Asia, MTV Australia, MTV Latin America...
The powers at be at MTV, at some point, switched things up. As a cable network, the honchos felt that it was time to appeal more to lifestyle watchers. So, in order to make space for reality programming, the almost total emphasis on music and the music video was pushed aside, briefly to sister channel VH1, and then, well, into the ether.
These days we watch our music videos on Youtube and on VEVO, we get our music news from the web, and follow the majority of the beefs as they play out on Twitter. MTV, MTV Europe, MTV Asia etc. have ceased to play any role of importance in our consumption of music and video, but, once a year, an increasingly out of touch set of nominations are announced for the annual VMAs. And for a couple of hours each year, MTV hosts the petting zoo, where frenzied beefs that are usually spliced and diced across the various social and digital mediums are encouraged to play out under one, brief moment under the same roof.
In recent years the VMAs have a new series of fairy tale stars who get the lion's share of the coverage. You can count on Kanye West to play his role as the Emperor with no clothes, Miley Cyrus to play her role as the princess with no clothes, and Taylor Swift to be the night's damsel in distress, despite her unchallenged supremacy when it comes to sales and influence outside the play pen.
The lead up to this year's VMAs already set the ball rolling, but anything that was lacking in the Nicki Minaj inspired controversies (oops there's that Swift making her damsel self known again) carried over to the show itself which just aired.
You can't name any Kanye West track from the last five years but you can prove that you've still got your finger on the pulse by talking about how inappropriate his latest speech/ploy for Beyonce/announcement that he's running for the presidency is. You automatically think of Blurred Lines as being Miley Cyrus's party jam (when it's not) and of the foam finger as being her little helper, but beyond that the only thing you can remember to associate her with are skimpy outfits, that tongue and a strangely outsider's role in the bigger scheme of things, even when she's the hostess with the mostest.
And who won the year's most important Moon Man? No idea. (Swift) Who walked away with multiple statues rather than multiple personality disorder? (No clear winner) You'd never know unless you googled it, because without the context that the MTV channel once provided, and the semblance until a certain point that the awards were just as much about rewarding creativity and excellence as they were a popularity quest, none of that stuff matters anymore.
What matters is that MTV generated its week of press coverage and new beefs and, as the weeks play out, we'll get the latest rounds of apologies and escalating wars, while being taken even further away from the chance to acknowledge the very creative people who are still out there plugging away at making music videos that, paradoxically are being seen now more than ever, but more and more as vehicles for sale on a superhighway that is not in any way built around artistry.
For what you need to know about the night's biggest personalities go here.
For the night's winners, visit here.
Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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