MTV’s 30th annual Video Music Awards will air Sunday night, 8/24 in Southern California, and I’ve had to Google at least half the people being featured at the event. Lucy Hale, apparently of the reality show American Juniors and Pretty Little Liars, and Charli XCX (is that a new Charlie’s Angel?), British singer/songwriter, will host the pre-show, no doubt trying to avoid any media attention that will recall last year’s twerk-atastrophe. The Parents Television Council has already demanded that MTV/Viacom not promote the same type of explicit sexual content that they did in 2013 with Miley Cyrus’ non-stop tongue and booty provocations. Still, with Nicki Minaj and Beyonce on the schedule, performances definitely aren’t expected to be on the conservative side. It seems that shock value is all the 2014 Video Music Awards will have going for them yet again since names like Sia, Iggy Azalea, Ariana Grande, Avicii, Angel Haze, Sam Smith, 5 Seconds of Summer, and Fifth Harmony are barely old enough to register in my brain let alone in the halls of American music television fame. While some artists up for nomination rightly deserve it, like The Black Keys, Lorde, Drake, Imagine Dragons, Arctic Monkeys, Eminem, and Kanye West, I find it hard to believe that these fresh, uncorrupted stars who could surely just be blips on the musical radar are some of the hottest highlights of this year.
Part of the on-going issue I have with the Video Music Awards is that music videos aren’t relevant anymore. Kids don’t sit around watching VH1 like they used to. TRL has only been off the air for six years, and it’s already an outdated acronym. MTV itself barely even plays music between all of their pseudo-reality teen pregnancy shows. While the art of the music video is still one I appreciate and enjoy, I believe it to be a lost art, and one that certainly doesn’t carry much weight in our over-stimulated, YouTube-famous culture. Beyonce’s receipt of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award will be exciting for her fans and another performance by America’s darling Taylor Swift will surely be cherished by all, but it’s clear that the 2014 Video Music Awards are geared towards middle school girls clutching the latest issue of Teen Vogue. Sadly, long gone are the days when R.E.M., Pearl Jam, and The Smashing Pumpkins used to win MTV’s coveted moon men. But, as David Byrne of the Talking Heads says in a Guardian article, “A culture of blockbusters is sad, and ultimately it's bad for business. That's not the world that inspired me when I was younger.” While Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” might get your day started today, will she endure as a musical icon and influence?
Competing with the Video Music Awards the following evening in LA is the 66th annual Emmys, which normally does not grab my attention, but surprisingly does very much so this year. 2014 was filled with hard-hitting drama, much of which, also to my surprise, came from Netflix. Orange is the New Black and House of Cards kept me binge-watching from the first episodes, and I am cheering them both on from their incredible leads to their even more incredible supporting actors and actresses; both series were flawless. The next and most obvious vote is for Breaking Bad and Bryan Cranston’s truly unforgettable portrayal of a chem teacher gone mad with power, though it will be a close call between him and Kevin Spacey for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. It’ll be another tight race among Girls’ Lena Dunham (a personal hero), Parks and Recreation’s Amy Poehler (also my superwoman), and Orange is the New Black’s Taylor Schilling for Best Actress in a Comedy. So many of my favorite shows are represented at the Emmys, how can I not watch? Whether I’m rooting for Bob’s Burgers for Best Animated Program on Monday night, or encouraging many of my other TV faves like Louie, Modern Family, Portlandia, Mad Men, and American Horror Story, I’m excited to watch it because I believe the people nominated are actually noteworthy.
It seems the generations have done a role reversal – we are living in the second golden age of television while popular music has gone to crap; conversely, when MTV launched in the early 1980s, their featured pop stars were awesome rock gods like David Bowie and Queen, and 80’s television programs mostly sucked. The difference? In television, the writing has simply gotten better. Many of these award-winning shows are based on novels, making the dialogue and action spot-on (much more thought out than a rushed script). The times are also different; we can say and do much more gritty things on TV. But why isn’t that making music better? Why is that freedom seemingly making popular music worse? Our generation of pop stars have watered downed the lyrics in the same ways that 80’s television tried to with their plots, only instead of making the messages more family-friendly they’re just making them dumb. For example, in Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty,” which is nominated for Best Pop Video at this year’s Video Music Awards, he sings, “Been around the world, don't speak the language/But your booty don't need explaining/All I really need to understand is/When you talk dirty to me.”
In a Time magazine article titled “Does Anyone Really Still Want Their MTV?,” Nick Gillespie argues that these seemingly alarming pop culture cues are not that toxic other than that they are leading to a blandification of culture, just like the oversaturation of Wonder Years ideals led to a dead TV landscape. The Video Music Awards are not outrageous or even shocking anymore because we’ve grown accustomed to its antics, and when antics are all you’ve got, it’s time to reevaluate the material. Perhaps some of these pop stars should take a writing lesson from Vince Gilligan.
So, my vote for this upcoming week’s award ceremonies? The Emmys, for sure.
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