The de-brief: VMAs 2009


Yes, please. MTV: proof that reality is the greatest canvas, and life is the greatest performance art. By reality, of course I mean “reality drama” and MTV’s “reality” which is anywhere a production crew happens to be, and by life I mean celebrity – because, really, who else’s life matters? The VMAs (as stated below) are the encapsulation of all things Generation MTV, all things pop. While the past few years saw the bubble burst and pop culture crumbled to a state of all style and no care for substance, 2009 was ripe for the renaissance of Pop Art and a Warholian world of blurred lines between reality and fantasy for entertainment’s sake. Let’s delve.

Yeah, whenever you see Madonna in the first frame – you know it’s about to get significantly something

Madonna is the matriarch of modern pop: period. Love her, hate her, or care less about her, she is the baseline and the foundation. She humanized Michael, she honored him, she gave a speech worthy of the King he is from the voice of a Queen. Most importantly though, she held court. On Pop’s greatest stage she spoke the greatest truth of all: that behind the tears and our blurred vision, we are all accountable. We all abandoned him. She spoke as a colleague, a companion, the company with whom he shared misery – but also as the cause, and the apathetic bystander who cared too late. Madonna brought it back to basics. He was one of us, but he was so much more. Madonna is the voice of Pop past, her brilliant homage to Michael was just that but so much more. She reminded us of where we lost our way as a culture, where we dehumanized true artists – those who we made celebrities, those who we deified – just as we detached ourselves from true artists, we denied their art. Madonna paying respects to Michael – not flinching, not faltering – speaking undeniable truths about where we are as a culture in the midst of people-turned-products to “the cool kids” half her age, was Madonna’s Blueprint 3. Long live the King, and the Queen ain’t dead yet.

Janet: Nothing needs to be said. “Such confusion don’t it make you wanna scream?” Yeah, but the world’s done enough screaming for twenty lifetimes. Without a spoken word, just the shared lyrics of her classic collaboration with Michael, she said it all.

Yeezyyyyyyy: I love this man

Yes, going on stage and interrupting a 17 year old girl’s speech is disrespectful. But honestly, four hours – and 400 replays – later, we all know it was staged. That said, what Kanye said wasn’t all that disrespectful. “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, Imma let you finish; but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time. ” Scandalamity! Moving on to the brilliance that is MTV’s writing staff/production. Just as they revived Britney’s career – they’re back again to give us the circus of a lifetime. This was an amazing move for Kanye, Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and MTV. Kanye – is Kanye – he’s an artistic genius. He doesn’t care about the drama that you do bring, he’s just tryna change the color on your mood ring. He, as @glasshousedc so eloquently put, “won’t be broke in ten years.” Taylor Swift got the PR of her life, she should make Kanye her publicist. Who wasn’t TeamTaylor tonight? People who had no idea who the blonde haired pop country singer was, are now her biggest fans. Beyonce: won Video of the Year (making Kanye a prophet), and let Taylor Swift make her acceptance speech. Can we say “country crossover appeal” for Beyonce? MTV: well this is the best thing to happen to reality since Laguna Beach begat The Hills begat The City (both of which have new seasons on the brink, thanks perfectly placed VMA commercials). Somehow, everything happened to clean up in a nice neat little package, everyone ended up happy – except the people who are still hating on Kanye… and the Grinch for stealing Christmas.

Britney: Won Best Pop Video. Yay. She’s becoming a staple, stability never hurts. Also, she was one of the most together people featured tonight: her and Eminem… what does that say about pop culture – good things. “Womanizer” was kind of a big deal, btw.

Eminem: Glad he won, I do wish Kanye got Best Hip-Hop Video though. Eminem is calm now, which is always fun – well, not fun per se, but healthy. I will note that Em avoided acknowledging Kanye, and also that Kanye magically lost all of this categories. That’s not completely unheard of, but still. Also, had Eminem pulled the Kanye instead of Yeezy what would be the outcome? Let’s add up all the factors – no, let’s not, but just munch on that food for thought for a bit.

Lady GaGa: Madonna and beyond for this generation/21st century American youth – with a Warholian mindset, and a whole lot of cacaine thrown in. In terms of performance art though, she is genius.

The return of performance art. Paparazzi, the spectacle, the rise and fall and theatrics and choreographed reality, the perpetual show going on, in the midst of, and directly into the bloody demise. Aside from the general symbolism, it was literally a live stage depiction of the Paparazzi video (Jonas Akerlund is pretty much amazing). Lady GaGa isn’t crazy. It’s almost unfathomable for the general public to see the sanity of someone who can put on a show like that (completely, from her multiple, literal costume changes throughout the ceremony, to the stage presentation) and then remain normal and completely on-point during the red carpet interviews and acceptance speech – honestly the dedication to “God and the gays,” epic. She was like an Andy/Edie hybrid tonight: creating this completely abstract symbolic exaggeration of everyday celebreality – art – but also being the flipside of the dictation. Again, it elaborated on the video; like any true artist, the stage performance breathes life into the on screen concept – this was that perfect over-the-top portrayal of her Paparazzi mindset. Like any true artist, she also created a concrete installation of her imagination’s figment. GaGa killed herself at the end of the performance, Andy was the voyeur producing and portraying other’s crazy demises, but never his own. Edie was the charismatic “divine one” that embodied the joie de vivre of the “now,” the brightly burning but quickly dimming superstar on display. Tangent, tangent. Point is: Edie said of herself something that resonates so deeply with GaGa tonight, “if you just listened to what I had to say it was sane, but if you just looked at me you wouldn’t bother to listen. And none of them did. God it was a nightmare.” There isn’t that futility with GaGa, but the nightmare is quite apparent. Performance artists live their art – completely. The world is their canvas – truly. Where the art succeeds, the artist suffers, but it is for the sake of art – even if only for art’s sake. Now, GaGa’s performance harkened back to another not-once-in-a-lifetime-but-once-in-life performance artist’s VMA show

of course 1990 was a simpler time, and following Madge’s words on Michael, it seems like she wouldn’t veer too far from the unhappy ending a la Paparazzi. It’s a cold, cruel world out there under the hot, hot lights.

Hola Hovito:

Of course, Jay-Z brings it back to basics. No glitz, no glam, just the message and the music. This performance embodied the vibe of the VMAs – from the MTV perspective. The red and black silhouettes and cityscapes of New York, raw photography, etc. I still don’t know why Lil’ Mama was on stage, but alas. Now, performance aside, this was a great move for Live Nation. The VMAs open with Madonna – $120m “360” deal for 10 years, about to come out with her epic greater-than-greatest hits CD/DVD collection: Celebration, reminding the world of her icon status, not that she trying to steal the spotlight from the Taylor Swifts, but that she built the stage they’re on right now – and the VMAs close with Jay-Z – $150m “360” deal for 10 years, off the heels of his 9/11 concert and Blueprint 3 release, reminding the world of his icon status, that he’s not battling the Gucci Manes, but that he christened the battlefield, he’s reminding the pop princes, princesses, and paupers how to look at the big picture and get into the empire state of mind. So, the middle is all filler but the bookends are steady – thanks, Live Nation, you corporate behemoth you.

The rest: Beyonce slayed it – again – per usual with Single Ladies (live). Pink, still believes LC works for Teen Vogue, and that she can fly – can’t hate on her though, I do like the “Sober” video (Jonas Akerlund: still pretty much amazing). Muse, kudos on making the show but I do miss the old stuff. Wale! DMV came hard, enthusiastic thumbs up – he is, after all, flier than the rest of em. Russell Brand, not bad. Nick Jr. cast members – that girl from iCarly and the boy who feels he’s best equipped to stand up for Taylor Swift – next time you come out to grown folks business, I’m telling your moms you stayed up past 8. J. Lo, you’re still alive; good for you.

That’s about it for my preliminary rant on the VMAs this year. I thought it was a brilliantly executed production.

Watch this space: This is easily the best show in years, which says good things about the year in Pop that lies ahead.


  1. Pingback:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s