Here It Goes Again: The 2006 Video Music Awards
ooking back on it, the 2005 VMAs were definitely one of the more noteworthy awards ceremonies in recent years. Diddy’s constant assurances that “anything [could] happen,” which included such surreal moments as MC Hammer performing a crunk-updated “U Can’t Touch This” and him conducting an orchestrated version of Biggie’s “Juicy,” made for some fond memories, if not a coherent awards ceremony. In addition to that, we had R. Kelly performing a live one-man show of The Best of “Trapped in the Closet,” great, inadequately-censored feuding between Fat Joe and G-Unit, a bizarre cameo from Video Star of the Moment Eric Roberts, and a Best Video win for “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” the first rock video to win in almost a decade. It might not’ve proven the relevance of the music video the way I hoped it would, but it at least proved the semi-relavence of the music video award show. Could this year continue the streak?
Immediately, the ceremonies (which occurred last Thursday—I never understood why these shows are always during the week) had one large strike against it in the form of host Jack Black. Much like the finally-getting-released Tenacious D movie, Black’s appearance here seems time-displaced from 2003, and his “I AM BIG FAT ROCK GUY!!! ARE YOU READY TO ROCK WITH ME?!?!” schtick is getting boring and grating, if it was ever particularly funny in the first place. The crowd’s reaction reflected this—Black’s typically over-enthusiastic intro piece, which was supposed to go “comically wrong” but in reality went “actually wrong,” was received very coldly by those in attendance. Black never really recovered from his failed intro—he flubbed many of his lines as the evening progressed, giving intros that weren’t his to give, and the predictable subplot involving Kyle of Tenacious D seemed far more self-indulgent and self-promotional than funny.
So without assistance from that corner, it was up to the performers and awards themselves to, as Black constantly put it throughout the evening, “bring the thunder.” At the outset, it wasn’t looking too positive in that regard either. Performances from Shakira and Ludacris seemed rote—both appeared at last year’s VMAs, and I could swear they’ve been at the last couple Grammys as well—and the tired re-appearance of both just smacks of MTV going “well, who else is available that we can get for this?” The awards handed out were even worse, though—for the first three categories, literally the worst nominee in every category emerged victorious (James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” for Best Male Video, Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps” for Best Hip-Hop Video and Kelly Clarkson’s “Because of You” for Best Female Video). The next winner, Pussycat Dolls’ “Buttons” for Best Dance Video, seemed random and pointless, but at least it was only the second worst video nominated for the category. Not promising.
Possibly because it had no other direction to go in, the evening did improve as it progressed. OK Go, a group who just a year ago appeared to just be a flash in the pan for their 2002 semi-hit “Get Over It,” did a surprisingly successful live reenactment of their viral video sensation “Here it Goes Again,” a pretty good song in its own right. Further promise was shown by the double appearance of The All-American Rejects, performing their recent smash “Move Along” only minutes before pulling off an upset in the Best Group Video category for the same song. The song might not’ve deserved the “song with a MESSAGE” tag presenter Paris Hilton gave it, but it’s unquestionably one of the best and most powerful rock singles of the year thus far, and it was nice to see it get the credit it deserves. Beyonce pulled off a rather impressive performance herself of new single “Ring the Alarm,” a surprisingly aggressive and different choice for a performer that usually seems content with songs that are 7s out of 10.
The most interesting aspect of the ceremonies was not the performances or awards either, though. What I found fascinating was the subtext (a rarity in itself at the VMAs) of the Rock vs. Hip-Hop tension that seemed to underlie pretty much the entire evening. This conflict first appeared, in essence, at last year’s ceremonies, when Green Day, upon winning their first of many VMAs, proclaimed “good to know that rock music still has a place on MTV.” But the tension pretty much ended there—between Diddy enthusiastically introducing My Chemical Romance and Pharrell heaping praise on Coldplay, there was still a relatively communal aspect to the proceedings. Not so this year, in which the line between hip-hop and rock on MTV had never been clearer—the performances were either one or the other, with no attempt whatsoever at cross-pollination. Add to this the RAWKitude of host Jack Black (as well as the evening’s house band, The Raconteurs) and various “c’mon dudes, where’s the rock?” comments made by Best New Artist winners Avenged Sevenfold and Best Rock Video presenter Lou Reed, it was clear how threatened the genre’s premier artists felt on the channel these days.
However, if the VMAs proved one thing this year, it’s that maybe they might not need to be. Aside from the rock performances being generally better received by the audience than the hip-hop ones, there was not a single rap video nominated for this year’s Best Video award, with the closest thing being Shakira & Wyclef’s “Hips Don’t Lie,” the big nominee and favored winner of the night that ended up getting shut out of the major categories entirely. And when the award was eventually presented, it went to rock act of the moment (and performers from earlier in the evening) Panic! At the Disco. For the moment, at least, it appears that Rock has emerged victorious—though it did it with “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” arguably the worst rock single of recent years. Perhaps (hopefully?) hip-hop will have its revenge at next year’s ceremonies.
Aside from this strange dynamic, the most redemptive aspect of this year’s VMAs definitely came in its bookending performances. The first came courtesy of Justin Timberlake, who led off with some impressive dance moves and the first verse to his “Cry Me a River”-ish upcoming ballad “My Love,” before bringing out Timbaland and launching into the current #1 song in the country, “SexyBack”. If one had any doubts whether Timberlake’s new album could be the phenomenon that Justified was, they were surely laid to rest by his scorching performance (as well as the fact that the main hook was undoubtedly the catchphrase of the evening, being uttered from such disparate guests as Jared Leto and Al Gore). Also validated by this performance was JT’s producer / guest star Timbaland, now officially the man behind the two biggest hits of the summer and dressing the part—compared to Pharrell’s lukewarm guest appearance during Ludacris’s performance of his lukewarm new single, it’s clear that Timbaland has officially bested the Neptunes as the hot producer of the moment (a title the man has held, on-and-off, for a decade now).
Just as good, though, were the evening’s closers, The Killers. Flowers and Co. performed at last year’s ceremonies as well, but it was a mediocre performance that wasn’t even played on the main stage. This year, now as VMA regulars, they brought the house down with just the opening riff to new single “When You Were Young,” sounding bigger and better here than it ever has elsewhere. It felt like the biggest band in the world was playing, and if the song and audience reaction are any indication, it might not be too long before that is actually the case.
Despite these performances, and a couple nice WTF? moments brought by now regular awards-crasher Six and the bizarrely sincere acceptance speech from Best Ringtone winner Mike Shinoda, ultimately the VMAs were neither eventful or different enough to make this much of a noteworthy awards ceremony. Add to that the gaggle of shitty videos that managed to walk away with Moonmen (only the previously mentioned AARs and Best Rap Video winner Chamillionaire were even slightly deserving) and the inarguable tanking of host Jack Black, and you could call this a failure of a VMAs. Still, even when they fail (or in this case, even fail at failing), the VMAs have consistently proven to be the most guiltlessly entertaining of the major Award Shows, without the stuffiness, pretentiousness or total irrelevancy that tend to plague the Oscars, Grammys, and Emmys. You might not always be able to rely on the Video Music Awards, but you can always rely on the Video Music Awards to be the Video Music Awards, with everything that entails. And for most of the people watching on August 31st, that was probably enough.
By: Andrew Unterberger
Published on: 2006-09-05