This year, MTV celebrated their 30th birthday. You’d never know it though, as they scraped the glitz and glamour of such a milestone celebration to push more promos for Jersey Shore and Teen Mom down viewers’ throats. Perhaps they were avoiding dating themselves; I mean, based on demographical information, wouldn’t it seem that 30-something MTV should now be watching VH1? And perhaps as a way to keep themselves seeming fresh, young and hip, this year’s VMAs went unhosted and resulted in the type of disorganized chaos you would expect in a teenager’s bedroom.
The opening of the show was heavily promoted as being Lady Gaga’s “most historic performance in history.” As the audience remained captivated from the pre-show up until the seconds when the stage went dark, a Twitter topic trending worldwide touted “#WhatWillGagaWear”? Recalling her over the top ‘birth’ from an egg on stage at this year’s Grammys, as well as last year’s VMA Meat Dress, many wondered how the eccentric starlet would outdo herself this time. As a single spotlight lit the stage, Lady Gaga in her male drag alter-ego Jo Calderone, first envisioned in a photo shoot for VOGUE Hommes Japan and recently resurrected for her latest video ,‘You and I’, appeared on stage – part greaser, part Ralph Macchio. “Jo” then began a monologue lamenting his tumultuous relationship with “Gaga” and her artistic vision whilst puffing on a cigarette. Then, as the house lights came up, Jo theatrically rushed over to a piano to begin playing the newly in Top 40 rotation hit, followed it up with a West Side Story meets Cotton Eyed Joe dance routine, and concluded with a guitar solo from Queen’s Brian May.
Instead of making several costume changes throughout the show, Lady Gaga remained in drag throughout the entire broadcast, even creating an especially awkward moment when presenting the Video Vanguard award to Britney Spears by declaring that he used to have a poster of Britney in his bedroom to which he used to touch himself, leaving us to wonder if that was really Jo talking. However, as Gaga tried to stay in character, the back and forth during conversation and awards speeches led to several slip ups in pronoun usage, suggesting that maybe Gaga should have taken a few more improv classes during her short lived time at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
But where were the memorable moments that get talked about years later, moments that get recapped in Top VMA moment specials? Where was 2011’s equivalent to Kurt Cobain singing “Rape Me”, defying MTV producers’ warnings or Madonna’s iconic “Like a Virgin” performance where she was writhing around on stage in lace underwear and pearls? Where was this year’s answer to Lil Kim’s pasty, Howard Stern’s Fartman or Rage Against the Machine bassist Tim Commerford’s protest of Limp Bizkit being recognized as a real band (That is what he was protesting, right)? Or hell, even despite it happening so recently, where was this year’s IMMA LET YOU FINISH moment? Perhaps the closest this year’s show could come to an iconic moment would be Beyonce’s high intensity performance of “Love on Top”, at the end of which – if you hadn’t already caught her revealing her secret on the black carpet – she opened her sequined blazer, cradled her belly, and revealed that after years of rumors and speculation, there was finally a bun in Bey’s oven. This sentiment was met with great applause and a standing ovation from the entire crowd, and an especially excited bro-hug from Kanye West to baby daddy, Jay-Z.
The rest of the show was a three hour long whirlwind of top 40 artists with heavy rotation singles and not a lot of other substance. Amidst the cacophony of bleeped curses and awful transitional spots with comedian Kevin Hart and rapper Rick Ross, several awards were presumably handed out to artists with the type of staying power that appeals to the need it now, fad crazy, Facebook generation. Justin Bieber won Best Male Artist, ironic considering he’s barely old enough to be considered a man. And even more ironically, Lady Gaga dressed in drag accepted the award for Best Female Artist.
MTV took a bold move deciding not to have an official host this year and, while the equation seemed to work well in the past (the VMAs have gone unhosted several times in its history), floundered miserably in a year that MTV could have really used it the most. In spite of pretending like this year was their “29th birthday part two” like most newly 30 year olds aching to hold on to their 20s, MTV could have certainly made 2011 their most memorable VMAs yet. But maybe that’s the point – MTV doesn’t play videos any more so why celebrate their crowning achievement, the spectacular mark they’ve left on society, music and cable television? From a channel that changed the world by bringing visions to the music we all know and love, to a channel driven solely by shows about underage pregnancy and drunken, overly tanned imbeciles, MTV has become Emp-tee-vee. Is it any wonder that mainstream radio is populated by at least 6 Top 40 stations per market when there isn’t an outlet for up and coming bands to be seen and heard like 120 minutes or Yo! MTV Raps, or hell, even Total Request Live (who ,at the end of their lifecycle, barely played full video clips on their Top 10 countdown anyway).
Every time I bother turning MTV on, every interview, news report and intro is narrated by Sway, who I guess is supposed to be this generation’s answer to Kurt Loder. On the black carpet for the VMA preshow, there were a bunch of skinny, hipster, nobody supposed VJs that all looked the same and weren’t even memorable enough for me to try to look them up for the purposes of this article. And there wasn’t even one single female VJ presence on screen for interviews; instead, Sway was flanked by pop singer Selena Gomez, someone who most people over the age of 22 probably couldn’t even identify. Where are the Serena Altschuls, the Tabitha Sorens, the Kennedys, the Martha Quinns, the Downtown Julie Browns? Whatever happened to the Wannabe a VJ contest where the second coming of Matt Pinfield, Dave Holmes (who now hosts DVD on TV on FX), lost to stoner kid and crowd favorite, Jesse Camp? Upon a recent Wikipedia search for MTV VJs, it listed that none are currently active at this time. And since MTV doesn’t play actual videos anymore, who needs to be there for transitions and intros? No talking heads are needed to discuss Snooki’s poof or the winner of the latest Real World challenge; all the thinking and conversation about these important topics can done by viewers via social media interaction. Maybe this absence of human identifiers also makes it easier for teens to zone out during Sixteen and Pregnant marathons.
So just what does MTV stand for these days, anyway? A sullen reminder of a time long gone, or the frightening reality of our dwindling attention spans and the fact that we can’t even be bothered to watch an entire 4 minute long music video anymore? What does this revelation mean for next year’s Video Music Awards and the future of music as a whole? Only time will tell.