×

VMAs Prove Offensive is the New Normal – And Few Are Enthralled

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.

Popular on Variety

More Voices

  • Tegna CEO Dave Lougee

    Coronavirus Pandemic Puts a Bright Spotlight on Value of Local TV

    The TV station group Tegna has been the subject of acquisition rumors for nearly a year. Finally, bids started to surface earlier this month that pegged the company’s market value at about $8.5 billion.  But in the space of a week, the assets up for grabs at Tegna have taken on a very different kind [...]

  • SXSW

    How Canceling SXSW Because of Coronavirus Affected These Filmmakers

    The 2020 South by Southwest Film Festival was set to be a career-making moment for many creators, and a particularly bright spotlight for women, as 70% of the films in competition were directed or co-directed by female filmmakers.  But when the 27th edition of the Austin-based festival was canceled on March 6 due to the [...]

  • Sugical mask isolated on yellow surface.

    How I Raised $6,000 During the Coronavirus Pandemic by Asking for Couples' Drama (Column)

    When you have a generalized anxiety disorder and a daily existential crisis, you end up self-isolating long before the city of Los Angeles mandates it. My coronavirus co-quarantine result is an apartment-turned-shared-home-office between a graduate student (my boyfriend) and a social media editor (me) who attempt romance from six feet apart without leaving their loungewear. [...]

  • Sam Mendes Bong Joon Ho 1917

    Final Oscar Predictions: Who Will Win in the Major Categories?

    The 92nd Academy Awards are almost here… For films like “Joker” and “Marriage Story,” the journey to the Oscars began five months ago with their premieres in Venice. “1917” had the least amount of time on the campaign trail: The Sam Mendes war movie didn’t start screening until late November. In the end, however, it [...]

  • Harriet Movie BTS

    Academy Needs to Start Taking Chances With Noms; Rewards Will Follow (Column)

    Throughout its history, the Academy Awards has been subject to intense criticism for the issues it embraces — and ignores. This year’s uproar over the lack of diversity among nominations in the highest-profile awards categories is the latest example. This failure reflects a chronic dearth of opportunity at Hollywood’s top artistic and financial levels. The milestone nominations [...]

  • Baby Yoda The Mandolorian

    Media Giants Make Smaller Moves With an Eye Toward Future Gains in Streaming Era

    Maybe the empire can strike back. Or at least strike anew. Over the past few months, a number of developments have emerged for traditional media companies that indicate a spirit of reinvention and experimentation is spreading across the industry. There’s a new willingness to take a hard look at long-standing operations and make big and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content