Everybody’s talking about Britney Spears’ MTV Video Music Awards “performance” today, but what struck me most about the whole over-hyped evening wasn’t that predictable debacle, but how oh-so-hard Viacom’s (VIAB) MTV was trying to be down with the Gen Y audience. It felt a little like watching a high-school quarterback struggling to fit in at his first college frat party. Or as New York Times writer Kelefa Sanneh put it in his review: “More than a quarter-century after MTV made radio stations seem old-fashioned, it’s funny to watch the channel’s executives grapple with new media.”
I’m as ADD as the next Yer, but the race to keep up with the 56 million suite parties, random snippets of live song by sometimes unidentifiable artists, and all the usual intrigue left me breathless. Even the traditionally non-traditional nominee packages were stressful — a computerized voice (challenged by such obscure names as Kanye, which it pronounced KEN-yay) read through the nominees over screens of thumbnail videos with some scrolling, abstract images, and techie sound effects thrown in for good measure. Pretty cool, huh? Oh, wait…
Granted, it’s a tough position for the network, as VMA ratings have dipped and increasingly bad reviews have become the norm. But the answer might just have been to do a better show — from the, you know, performance perspective — than to do the television equivalent of flailing around in hopes of distracting us from the fundamental awfulness. And while I appreciate the conceptual appeal of creating that real party atmosphere, there are parts of the party — bored people who don’t know the songs dancing off the beat, for instance — that I’d just as soon not watch. Especially if it’s at the expense of actual performances of whole songs. (But then, maybe this is just another example of the direction things are going at MTV, which prompted that paragon of activism, Justin Timberlake, to comment last night, “Play more damn videos.”)
If this is what the network thinks we want, then, as a Yer, I’m insulted. Just because we like YouTube doesn’t mean we don’t want or expect quality. One look at the crowd confirms it; as discombobulated as the show was, the starlets and rockers never looked more stylish and put-together. And while, orchestrated properly — i.e., in such a way that it wasn’t painfully obvious no one knew what was going on much of the time — the night-at-the-club VMAs might have worked, this particular one made me want to go home. It’s just bad business. Or maybe, despite my love of The Hills, it’s just that I’ve officially aged out of the MTV demographic. You?