MTV’s Video Music Awards have always been an evening rich in A-list talent, surprises, and scandals that have become part of pop culture history.
In 1999 Diana Ross jiggled Lil Kim’s exposed breast.
Spears gave a career-crippling performance that was controversially mocked by Sarah Silverman in 2007.
At Radio City Music Hall last year, the controversies continued when the Queen of Pop Madonna opened the show, reminiscing on her experiences with King of Pop Michael Jackson ahead of Janet’s tribute. And while Kanye West stole Taylor Swift’s microphone, Pink stole the show by trapezing from one side of the show to the other.
And where were the big-named celebrities?
“Most of the attendees filing in seemed to be the ‘stars’ of ‘Jersey Shore’ and other reality TV shows, and a plethora of teen and ‘tween stars from the Disney and Nickelodeon set. Music already seemed to be taking a backseat before the show even started,” said Hollywood pop culture comentator Scott Huver. “Other than maybe the revelatory performance by ‘Florence + the Machine,’ the show itself seemed unusually dull.”
Even the energy-flat audience seemed particularly restless, much more so than in previous years, as flocks of people constantly bounced in and out and every commercial break opportunity and barely even got out of their seats to show much enthusiasm.
The most anticipated component of the evening was, of course, Taylor Swift and Kanye West addressing last year’s controversy by debuting their new singles. But even that didn’t seem enough to excite the crowd.
“The show’s super-hyped performances by Taylor Swift and Kanye West were shockingly safe, coming off like an attempt to cash in on last year’s major controversy while also not really rocking any boats,” Huver said.
Oddly enough, it was West who got the louder round of applause, at least in the Nokia Theater, between the two despite being the culprit who stirred up all the initial drama on “innocent” Swift last year.
Furthermore, critics have panned comedian Chelsea Handler as one of the worst hosts in the show’s 26 year history.
The New York Times called Handler “purposefully out-of-touch, with brief, alarming flashes of off-color racial humor.” Entertainment Weekly referred to her Lady Gaga-inspired entrance as taking on the “easiest and lamest target around,” while AOL TV surmised that most of her “skits fell flat.”
However, the dud of a night may be a reflection of a bigger picture – is the medium of the MTV music video now completely irrelevant in the ever-evolving music industry?
“It’s definitely time to wonder, with its focus on hyping non-music-driven reality series like ‘The Hills’ and ‘Jersey Shore,’ if MTV hasn’t made the ‘music’ part of its own identity largely irrelevant to both its audience, its industry and even its own signature awards show,” Huver said.
Jed Smith, founder of the Los Angeles based music production company Betafish, doesn’t think music videos are over – he just thinks they’re on the cusp of a big change.
“Despite a somewhat lackluster year in music videos, the format is going to experience a renaissance fueled by the skyrocketing popularity of short form content on mobile devices,” he said.
But not, it seems, on MTV - the music video's prime mover whose time as the prime venue for new pop stars may now be long past.