Sunday night the first annual YouTube Music Awards ceremony was held with much fanfare; it proved to be eclectic and esoteric; but not entertaining. Creative Director Spike Jonze promised the live stream audience that the night would be “messy fun” and contain “big surprises.” Jason Schwartzman, who co-hosted with Reggie Watts, warned that there was no script. He needn’t have bothered, the lack of script was apparent from the very beginning.
The other thing that was apparent from the start was the purposeful attempt to make the entire ceremony look like a YouTube video. No surprise there as Jonze actually stated beforehand that this was their intent. If, however, the they meant to make a “viral” type video it was an epic fail. The night resembled those types of uploaded videos that get a few views by family and friends and then are never watched again.
Apparently the viewing audience thought the event was a fail too. By the time Eminem won Artist of the Year, viewing numbers had dropped by the thousands. The entire event was disorganised to the extent that it was painful to watch. It had that “last minute” quality one expects from a middle school production of King Lear. In comparison, Lakewood High School’s “lip dub” music video for Katy Perry’s Roar looked professional while the music awards looked scruffy and amateurish.
The only surprises of the evening had to do with some of the winners. Amazingly, Taylor Swift’s I Knew You Were Trouble managed to beat out South Korean artist PSY’s Gangnam Style. His music video is rapidly approaching two billion views. While Taylor Swifts “official” Vevo music video for Trouble has just over 146, million. Basic math shows there was something apparently wrong with their calculations.
Where their calculations wrong, or did the fact that K-Pop girl group Girl’s Generation win Video of the Year with I’ve Got a Boy cancel out another Korean artist from winning a further category? With only six categories for the entire show, great care must have been taken to share awards equally. However, to say that PSY’s Gangnam Style music video, which took the world by storm was not the clear winner reeks of collusion in the voting process.
It is this portion of the YouTube Music Awards that falls into the eclectic and esoteric part of the show. The ceremony had no real entertainment value, unless watching a shambolic event with overly long awkward silences, which includes lack of audience reaction, is your cup of tea. The program did leave more questions than answers after the award winners were announced.
To be fair, there were questions raised before the shortlist of nominees was released. Even more were asked after the list was made public and ready for voting by YouTube devotees the world over. It is highly doubtful that there was any secret machination to change vote counts that would allow certain producer favorites to win.
It seems to be more about immediacy, or more succinctly, about when the videos were posted/uploaded on YouTube. Go to the site and look up when these three videos were available to view. I’ve Got a Boy was uploaded 10 months ago, as was I Knew You Were Trouble. Gangnam Style, was long enough ago to be used in several political parodies in last years election. Put simply, a year ago the South Korean artist PSY made his huge splash on the world’s music scene.
Which ever way you count it, 12 months vs 10 months is the factor behind this mystery. It all makes sense when you look at the other videos competing against Swift in that category. Thrift Shop; Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ music video also had hefty views almost a half million, but, it too was posted a year ago.
Unlike other award shows, like MTV or The People’s Choice, which have a specific time period which applies to the nominees, the YouTube show did not, apparently. Videos that lost out on the night were all posted too long ago to really count with the voting audience. The very nature of YouTube is that popular viral videos are quickly overtaken by other popular viral videos.
There are enough of these viral videos that YouTube partner Ray William Johnson has an entire channel devoted to looking at them on the internet. Another item that fell into the amazing category, was the inclusion of schmoyoho’s Bed Intruder remix from three years ago in the musical “history” of YouTube at the start of the show. It was this reference that showed why the program was an epic fail instead of epic win.
YouTube is the playground of the young creative and, in the case of some videos, not so creative. Viral videos, music videos and channels are only as strong, or as popular, as their latest upload. This journalist is a huge fan of YouTube and even has a channel. Age, however, is important in understanding the site and what it means to younger viewers and participants.
The demographic of YouTube partners as well as the core audience and other folks who upload their videos in hopes they become viral fame inducing hits, are all between the ages of 12 and 30. The site is entertaining because of its eclectic, esoteric and entertaining output. The YouTube Music Awards tried to match that quality without really understanding the “why” behind the popularity of the website.
Still, it was their first time up to bat. With the show being the metaphorical equivalent of hitting a foul instead of a line drive in the entertainment ballpark, they can only get better next year. The entire event felt like an exercise in frustration for everyone involved. From the camera operators to the presenters and guest artists, no one seemed to know what was happening or where they were supposed to be.
The YouTube Music Awards did come across as esoteric, eclectic and, sadly, did not entertain at all. Despite the appearances of Lady Gaga, Eminem, M.I.A. et al, the show was a travesty and a tragedy. Spike Jonze did his best, presumably, with what he had. Next year, however, the show’s creative director and producers should be YouTube alumni who cut their teeth on the internet medium. That show would be worth watching.
By Michael Smith