Growing up in the early 90’s, MTV played a significant role in my musical coming of age. It’s almost hard to imagine now, but we didn’t have Teen Mom, Sweet Sixteen or Challenge of the Stupids (or whatever iteration they’re on now). Sure, the Real World was around, but it wasn’t filled with vapid morons all trying to bang each other in a hot tub. It was filled with vapid morons talking about real issues like racism and AIDS! Hell, one of those vapid morons even became one of the worst Congressmen in America. Take that “The Miz” or whatever the hell your name is.
Aside from Real World, back then all the programming was music related. There was Yo! MTV Raps, Club MTV, 120 Minutes, and Headbangers’Ball. The network that is more recently known for introducing the world to mouth-breathers like Farrah Abraham, Heidi Montag, and Spencer Pratt once introduced me to the music of Michael Jackson, NWA, Madonna, Van Halen, and of course, Whitesnake, whose video for “Here I Go Again” is to me the Citizen Kane of hot women on car videos. When Tawny Kitaen does a split between the black and white Jaguar, well, that’s my personal “Rosebud”.
The network’s highlight was the annual MTV Video Awards, which showcased the best videos the network played through the year. The MTV Video Awards were everything the channel was – brash, loud, and fun. It had little of the pretension of the Emmys or Oscars, and made the Grammys look older and grumpier than Statler and Waldorf.
You get to see Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” and Sophia Grace Brownlee’s, and both are equally awesome in their own right.
My favorite moment was Nirvana’s 1992 appearance, when they briefly scared the bejeezus out of MTV execs by playing the intro to “Rape Me,” then ended the performance with Krist Novoselic tossing his bass guitar in the air and catching it with his face. Now that’s rock and roll!
While the show still airs now, it exists in name only. It’s a shadow of its former, rebellious self. Oh sure, everyone and their mother feigned outrage about a 20 year-old Miley Cyrus singing in underwear (ooooh!), but what they should’ve been indignant about was the fact that there wasn’t a bass guitar in the entire show. Or a piano, guitar, drum, or any instrument of any kind. That’s what you get when you have a reality television network hosting a music show. By the way, Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” video is now the number one YouTube video in the world with over 270 million views. If you were actually upset by her performance, the joke is on you.
Speaking of YouTube, it recently announced that it will host its first music awards show on November third. The show will be broadcast live on YouTube, from Pier 36 in NYC. Jason Schwartzman will host, and Arcade Fire, Eminem, and Lady Gaga are among the guests. The categories and nominees will be announced this Thursday, the 17th.
When I first heard about the awards show I thought it seemed like a perfect fit. MTV is no longer in the music business. The Grammys, despite their recent attempt, are still passé. The only place we really watch music videos now is online, so why shouldn’t the internet’s largest video broadcast tool showcase what can be found on it? I’m really, really hoping that whoever is calling the creative shots at YouTube is using the 1992 VMA’s as his or her inspiration, and not last month’s Miley-plosion.
I can’t help but wonder, though, if a show like this – even one that managed to celebrate music and entertain for all the right reasons – even needs to exist. The entertainment industry wants a reason to highlight the best of what they’ve done so you, the audience, will be motivated to view or listen to their products. Their sole purpose is to be a giant commercial. And that’s fine. But what’s YouTube’s goal?
We’ll likely get a better sense of that when they announce their categories and nominees this week. Will they promote undiscovered talent? Celebrate content with the most views like little kids singing Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass”? Or will we see the same major label artists that we hear on the radio? And if it is the latter, then we may find ourselves in a situation where YouTube’s future version of music awards shows looks a lot like MTV’s present version, and that would be a shame.
It wouldn’t be the first time that YouTube has tried to act like a television network, or series of networks. But the beauty of the internet, and for that matter YouTube, is that access to content is, as Tom Friedman’s mustache would call it, flat. It’s egalitarian. You get to see Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” and Sophia Grace Brownlee’s, and both are equally awesome in their own right. The idea that those videos would now be in competition, that YouTube is now a place where one doesn’t just go to be heard, but to be rewarded as well, seems counter to its true promise.
It’s unlikely anyone at YouTube would take my advice, but if I had their ears I’d tell them that this is one of those times where they really don’t want to behave like a traditional network. As a place to discover and enjoy music, YouTube has MTV beat six ways to Sunday, and it doesn’t need to manufacture spectacle the way MTV clearly does these days. Leave the slobbering all over the famous and/or obnoxious where it belongs – the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – and, in the immortal words of college football legend Darrell Royal dance with who brung you to the top of the media food chain: bloopers!