For those of you who may not know, for the last three years, I have been called upon to recap the MTV Video Music Awards for certain outlets. The rules are simple - I break the show into five parts and grade each based upon a curve I have set for the world of popular music. It's a very scientific curve, you know. No, actually, it's not.
Regardless, the following is my take on this year's VMAs, a ceremony that was indeed a little off its game this year (by VMA standards, of course). Enjoy, friends.
Down from last year's A and the previous year's A-, this year's set of performers are actually lucky to end up with anything above a C. The West/Swift pout-off simply seemed icky. Yes. Icky. Not to dismiss the artists' songs — Swift's track was typical Taylor Swift-like awesomeness, and West was in the running for performance of the year until the second half of his set, when he turned the effects on and his words were completely drowned out. It also must be mentioned that I believe the way the two of them went about things was 100 percent perfect — playing the video before her song was exactly the right thing Swift needed to do, and West yelling from the top of the mountains that he is a laundry list of words I'm not allowed to reprint was, in my opinion, probably the correct way to go. But the whole thing felt a little too put on. We all knew she wanted to address it, but she didn't need to cite lines talking about how he's 32 and needs to grow up. We all knew he wanted to address it, but he didn't need to roll out the 808 to force everyone to watch how he presses buttons to make pretty sounds. Simply put, it could have been done better.
The rest of the night was...bad. Yes. Bad. Linkin Park completely alienated its fan-base with a song that just didn't fit. Robyn playing the show into a break was embarrassing. And what is Florence And The Machine again? Sure, Eminem was inspiring, and yes, Haley Williams makes it impossible to not love her and her band, but even Drake seemed off his game a little (by the way, whatever happened to him taking over the hip-hop world?). Oh, and while Justin Bieber's admittedly interesting arrangement of "Baby" was exciting enough, the dude dropped his drum stick when going for the big drum solo, ironically showcasing a microcosm for how the performance aspect of this year's awards ceremony can be viewed as: Disappointing.
• Best Moment: Eminem rocking "Not Afraid" and "Love The Way You Lie" with more passion than I've ever seen him offer. Ever. No. Like, EVER. Dude sold those songs, and when you add a real, live Rihanna to the mix, it can't get much more sincere when it comes to performing those songs. Everything from them seemed just a tad more honest than anything form anyone else.
• Worst Moment: Linkin Park trying desperately to gain credibility with this new look/sound/approach. Stop, fellas. People don't want you to yell and play fast. They want you to melodically hard rock their depression to the wayside with four-bar raps and industrialized pop. Silly, Linkin Park.
"This is actually making me look forward to Linkin Park," my roommate said no more than two minutes into Chelsea Handler's opening monologue. This should be an F. I just can't bring myself to fail someone so quickly when the individual has only had one shot at trying. I wrote this last year, and I'm going to say it again: The suits should have given Russell Brand a third shot. His effort last year was noticeably better the second time around, and if you would have put him out there for a third year, he had the potential to be memorable. This year? Well, though I can admit I'm not the world's biggest Chelsea Handler fan, I think it was pretty obvious how her night was going to go when we saw her awkwardly prance from one end of the stage to the other during her opening monologue. Yuck. There was nothing about her that seemed polarizing — nothing seemed interesting. Her jokes were either too obscene or too boring. She clearly didn't know how to work the crowd, and while it took me a few minutes to notice, I began obsessing and wondering why the cameras wouldn't pan away to whoever she was talking about whenever she was talking about them. Were the targets of her jokes not in attendance? Did the network not want you to see that no one in the crowd was laughing? Did she make people angry (and if she did, so what? That's the point of opening monologues, anyways) ? Bad idea, MTV. For not having a woman host this thing since 1994, you owe us a good female host next year, now.
• Best Moment: "Don't give it up for the cast of 'Jersey Shore,'" Handler told the crowd at one point. "They're the reason MTV doesn't play your videos."
• Worst Moment: That taped opening bit featuring everybody slapping Handler's butt. How can you incorporate Lindsey Lohan and not be funny at this point? She showed us how.
The white was actually kind of neat, I thought. When the cameras panned to the first wide shot of the stage, I audibly make a noise for reasons I can't really explain. It simply just took me by surprise, I suppose. All of that said, it still fell so flat in certain areas. It was clear the money shot was the camera they had perched above the dot in the center of the circular stage, and the network went to that way too often. I mean, my goodness. It felt like nearly half of Kanye West's performance was shot form that angle. It was easy to understand what the production team was trying to go for — less is more, let's try and be as "arty" as possible — but some of this show's best performances historically came when the special effects were over the top (i.e. a few years ago in Los Angeles). This is the kind of show that celebrates pomp and circumstance. Why stop now?
• Best Moment: The beginning of Eminem's performance. Before walking onto the round set, they created the illusion of him being in a club. Yes, I know. Pretty uninteresting for a "Best Moment."
• Worst Moment: Usher. I hate to say that, actually. I full-heartedly believe there is something to be said about his longevity within the business (think about it: Who else from 1997's world of pop music is still around so prominently?), but this time around, something felt as though it was missing from his dance moves, song arrangements, lip synching, etc. He tried to use the circle to his advantage, but in the end, it just made me dizzy.
Sans Kesha, this year's set of presenters was probably the best thing about the production. Jesse Eisenberg. "Modern Family's" Sofia Vergara. A "oh, where have you been?" Justin Timberlake. Emma Stone and her adorable lisp. And Ellen. Yes. Ellen. Coming out to present the Best Female Video seconds after Handler completely bombed, Ellen was the first individual I saw on the television that made me genuinely laugh. The only real problem this year? Having the headlining appearance come from...Cher. Honestly? Cher? You couldn't get anybody else to man that position? Like, anyone? You were in L.A. Why not grab a movie star? Hell, why not grab, oh, say, anyone other than Cher? I mean, my goodness. She must have talked for five minutes and I think I saw her lips move a grand total of four times. Spooky.
• Best Moment: It's a tie. 1) Seeing Jesse Eisenberg look utterly uncomfortable on stage. 2) Seeing Al Bundy's new TV wife glow with enthusiasm for no apparent reason.
• Worst Moment: Well. Cher.
And yes, I am justified in offering a failing grade in this position. Come on, MTV. You've had nearly 30 years to do this, and you still feel like 30 Seconds To Mars put out the best rock video of the last 12 months? What's your problem? I can ignore your disgusting love affair with Lady Gaga (who didn't see those awards coming?). But you nominate B.o.B. for 58 awards and you can't bring yourselves to give him something — anything — to go home with? Not that it hasn't already been hard enough to trust that the "M" in MTV stands for "Music," with its constant adolescent, dumb-minded programming, but using its marquee event as a platform to profess love for a second-rate Madonna is a cheap way to appease the masses that the network only makes stupider with every "Real World" marathon. Digressing from music as a whole can be understood when you are in business for as long as MTV has been. And offering gutless, shallow and gross television shows from time to time can even be forgiven when one considers how viewers must understand that this thing is a "business" over everything else. But why even hold such an awards ceremony when you aren't going to give the non-mainstream pop world a shot, MTV? Who cares if you put Broken Bells in the Best New Artist category? It's like giving a child a bottle to suck on when you know its only a quarter of the way full to begin with: The child's going to start crying again in five minutes, when it realizes the parent has no intention of fulfilling its suggested need.
• Best Moment: The two awards Eminem took home.
• Worst Moment: That meat-y Lady Gaga dress. Really? You had to do that while an 89-year-old Cher is standing a few feet away from you in the same outfit she mistakenly thought she looked good in 25 years ago?
Whew. That's a lot to digest, I know. Of the three years I've been recapping the show, this year's installment is easily MTV's worst. Does it get better next year? Well, MTV will need to find a new host, for starters. Moving back to New York may help, too. The network could maybe get a few more performers worthy of being showcased on the most influential music station's biggest night of the year. Oh, and maybe most importantly, Lady Gaga's next record will have to wait another year to come out. Onward and upward to February's Grammies. In the meantime, feel free to kill me in the comments section. All are always welcome.