Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus pulled out all the stops at the recent MTV Video Music Awards, and ratings for the show keep going down. One wonders what can be done next, live executions? George Carlin suggested that a while back.
Not that you can have a sense of humor these days. Because someone might be offended.
And the way you make hay on the VMAs is to offend. Yet the concept is so long in the tooth that we laugh when the oldsters get their knickers in a twist, because we know it’s just about attention.
Attention — it’s hard to get in the Internet era.
You could make a record, but it’s not easy to succeed that way. Happens every once in a while, with “Blurred Lines,” “Royals” and “Uptown Funk,” but what the industry thinks is important most of America does not, so the way to get ahead is to be featured on the VMAs, which resembles nothing so much as Halloween. You put on a costume and have a night out, and then you forget about the whole enterprise until 12 months hence.
The reason the VMAs are irrelevant is that MTV no longer airs music videos. I’m not saying it should, I’m just saying that in the heyday of the channel, what was hyped at the awards was exposed thereafter ad infinitum on the channel, and we were all paying attention.
These days, we don’t pay attention, en masse, to anything other than the Super Bowl, which is why an appearance there is so meaningful and powerful. Prince resurrected his career there in 2007. Today, he can bloviate ignorantly about the Internet, but we all still care, because we saw him knock ’em dead at the game, whose contestants and score elude our memory.
That’s the power of music.
If we were living in the old days, the manager for VMA host Cyrus would have brokered a deal wherein her new tunes would be featured on the outlet, ensuring they were hits. We’d all know them, and we’d all talk about them. Still, I give her props for dropping her LP right after the show. That’s how you do it — strike while the iron is hot, when the eyes are upon you. Because in a flash, no one cares.
It’s not that people have a short attention span, it’s just that they’re overwhelmed with product to the point they don’t care about much at all, percentage-wise, and those left out haven’t stopped bitching. Hell, you can see that’s happening in television, too, if you read the newspaper.
But what newspapers have that those appearing on the VMAs do not is a new product that appears every day. Whereas you get your shot on the VMAs, and if you don’t catch fire, you’re done.
So what have we learned?
If live shows were important as a gathering of the tribes, ratings would soar, but they don’t. We’ve seen the antics, the train wrecks, and they’re no longer new. But if you’re not featured on one of these shows, it’s even harder to get traction.
Everybody who puts money first develops acts that fit the paradigm, and are hyped this way.
So what’s next?
What I’ve been telling you all along, a whittling of the culture, a reduction of the offerings. Ever fewer tracks are going to be hits. You may not like what is selected, but popularity is everything in today’s culture.
And popularity can be manipulated, but victory truly occurs when the machine melds with quality such that we all care.