MTV’s VMAs: Not What They Used to Be

MTV’s VMAs: Not What They Used to Be

MTV’s Video Music Awards have come and gone, and not surprisingly, nothing really happened—no big controversies and no crazy stunts, real or fake.

Anyone remember Courtney Love invading Kurt Loder’s 1995 post-show interview with Madonna by throwing compacts? How about Fiona Apple’s 1997 anti-mainstream, “This world is bullshit” speech? Maybe Rage Against the Machine’s bassist Tim Commerford climbing the scaffolding during Limp Bizkit’s acceptance speech in 2000? Not even a Madonna-Britney-Christina kiss (2003) could have saved this year’s VMAs from mediocrity.

Chelsea Handler hosted the awards this past Saturday, September 11, but even as the first woman to host in 16 years, her dry, sometimes racial humor wasn’t so well-received—some viewers were even offended at her off-color jokes. PETA criticized Lady Gaga for wearing a meat dress, when it really didn’t seem offensive, just gross. When Gaga proceeded to faux-cry after winning and shamelessly plug her next album, it was official—nothing can compare to the unpredictability of VMAs past.

All controversies (or lack thereof) aside, many of the performances even failed. Eminem’s voice was scratchy on the show’s opener, “Not Afraid,” and when he “surprised” viewers with Rihanna’s appearance on “Love the Way You Lie,” even her voice seemed off. A lip-synching Justin Bieber stole Michael Jackson’s group dance choreography. Meanwhile, Usher decided he actually was MJ, with all his fancy gliding footwork, and maybe a bit of Janet ala “Rhythm Nation” with ninja/military-esque backup dancers on “OMG.”


The most interesting performance was Florence + The Machine’s “Dog Days are Over.” Florence Welch has a strong voice, even live, and her performances are art pieces, totally different from what would be expected from MTV. This particular performance was visually exactly what the show needed, and her backup choir, tribal-looking guys and blue ladies with beehives added quirkiness that could only work in one of her acts.

Unfortunately, yawns returned with Taylor Swift’s “Innocent,” a response to the “Kanye incident.” Her flat vocals didn’t impress, even though she was probably sincere in her forgiveness. The only thing good about Drake’s performance of “Fancy” was Mary J. Blige, whose voice is always on point. B.o.B. also performed a medley of “Nothin’ On You” and “Airplanes,” the latter featuring Hayley Williams of Paramore, who doesn’t seem like a rap girl. Paramore then played some of their ballad, “The Only Exception,” which was a refreshing moment, better than the rest of the medley.

Linkin Park’s stage was epic, as they played “The Catalyst” in front of LA’s Griffith Observatory. With a huge outdoor space at sunset, it was probably the best-looking set of the night, even if singer Chester Bennington was looking a bit too much like Bono of U2.

Still, the VMAs needed a dose of rock, especially since the finale was Kanye’s own response to the “incident.” While Kanye’s minimal set bathed in white light with backup ballerinas, was cool, the song, “Runaway,” which was mostly about himself, was just plain bad.

The only truly redeeming factor could have been MTV’s choice of Deadmau5 as their house DJ. The Toronto-based electro-house DJ remixed a few popular artists’ tracks for the event to hype up the audience between set changes and performances. Unfortunately, most of these sets were cut short in the broadcast when MTV went to commercial, including a majorly hyped appearance by Robyn with Deadmau5 remixing her single, “Dancing on my Own.” (There were other artists left out as well, but obviously, you knew the Robyn mention was coming.)

In all fairness, no performance totally bombed, and the night validated many artists’ talents as well as Gaga’s ability to sweep an entire award show even through meaty-ocrity.

Still, the show has lost the spunk MTV used to have, even just a few years ago. Whether it’s due to censorship or a lack of creativity, the VMAs have dissolved into mediocrity. They will undoubtedly still be held for years to come, but MTV really needs to make an effort to spice it up and be consistent.

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Drew Kolar is a staff writer for

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