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YouTube Music Awards: Eminem Wins Artist of the Year in Video Site’s Glitchy and Awkward Webcast

Peak of 220,000 users live-streamed show Sunday, which suffered from technical glitches and confusing unscripted moments

The first YouTube Music Awards webcast wasn’t broadcast-quality in any sense — it was marred by video and sound snafus, and the show’s hosts looked adrift as they tried to wing it without scripts — with Eminem and a South Korean girl group winning top prizes based on fan votes.

The kudocast, which may be prelude to YouTube launching a music-subscription service, was held Sunday at New York City’s Pier 36 and streamed live over the Internet.

A peak of more than 220,000 people were concurrently live-streaming the event, which started at 6 p.m. Eastern and clocked in at just under 90 minutes. That’s compared with 10.1 million who tuned in for MTV’s Video Music Awards in August to witness a writhing Miley Cyrus. The Grammys in February drew 28.4 million viewers for CBS.

The YouTube video stream froze at several points, and microphones malfunctioned. Performers missed their cues several times. And even when the video played normally it often wasn’t clear what was going on. Instead of producing zany water-cooler moments, the unscripted nature of the show felt muddled.

Nine-member K-pop supergroup Girls’ Generation “I Got A Boy” won video of the year, beating out bigger-name nominees in the music biz including Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, One Direction and Psy. The announcement of the win by Girls’ Generation — a group popular across Asia — elicited a muted reaction (evidently a collective “who?”) from the Gotham crowd.

“There’s nothing scripted tonight — it’s about anything happening,” co-host Jason Schwartzman said at the start of the show.

Problem was, nothing very interesting happened. Schwartzman was dusted with blue powder near the end; that was after members of the band OK Go painted him to look like Gotye in the video for “Somebody That I Used to Know.” The actor-musician hosted the show with comedian-musician Reggie Watts. Both were handed babies by actress Rashida Jones for some reason.

The YouTube Music Awards — a.k.a. “YTMA,” following the nomenclature of MTV’s VMAs — featured live performances by Lady Gaga (wearing a baseball cap and flannel shirt), Eminem, Arcade Fire, Avicii, M.I.A., Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler the Creator, Walk Off the Earth, and YouTube musical acts Lindsey Stirling and CDZA. Confusingly, most of these were staged as “live music videos” with actors instead of the usual live-performance presentation.

The show was directed by filmmaker Spike Jonze and exec-produced by Vice Media and Sunset Lane Entertainment. Kia Motors was the title sponsor. At the close of the show Jonze thanked YouTube “for letting us make this mess.”

Other YTMA winners: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis won in the breakthrough artist category; Lindsey Stirling and Pentatonix won best response video for their version of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive”; Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” won in the “phenomenon” category (songs that generated the most fan videos) though Swift was not in attendance to accept the award; and YouTube personality DeStorm won innovation of the year for “See Me Standing.”

The full list of YouTube Music Awards nominees is available here. YouTube determined the nominations based on data over the last 12 months, to represent the artists and videos with the highest levels of engagement, including views, likes, shares, comments and subscriptions.

Fans voted by sharing the official YTMA nomination videos for each nominee via Facebook, Twitter or Google+, with about 60 million “votes” cast. The voting kicked off Oct. 21, with the final tallies taken right before the show, according to YouTube.

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