I watch the Oscars now, but even still, I have to admit they’re a bit stiff. So much pressure on the host, so much scrutiny on his or her performance, what the actors and actresses wear, who won and why. Not to mention they’re long. So are the Emmys, which have lately been predictable (stars of “Modern Family” and “Breaking Bad” please make your way to the stage). Who wins and who doesn’t leads to all this ‘deserves’ nonsense, and really weird track records like Leonardo Dicaprio and Jon Hamm never winning Best Actor.
This is not to say I don’t love these shows, and watch every year, and read pre- and post- reports, because I do. It’s more to say that I love the MTV Video Music Awards for all the reasons I get frustrated with the rest of these shows. None of that other bullshit matters. If the host bombs, great! If Ke$ha shows up in a trash bag or Katy Perry looking like a Monopoly piece, fantastic! If something goes horribly wrong, and everyone escapes in good health, everyone wins! But with the 2013 VMAs approaching, airing this Sunday, I’m saddened to think that my cable-less ass will miss out. I’ve moved out on my own, have sacrificed my slothful TV habits, and am now considering the error of my ways; for the first time in recent memory, I won’t be watching America’s greatest train-wreck-waiting-to-happen live, and I couldn’t be more disappointed.
While the VMAs started in 1984, before my date of birth, I feel this deep connection to the show. I, and I would imagine other millennials like me, grew up watching MTV — TRL, Making the Band, all that good stuff — which included some VMA retrospectives. A 20-year-anniversary feature in 2004 that reminded and taught of Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” rollin’ on the floor singing (rofs) performance, of Andrew Dice Clay’s lifetime ban, of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley locking lips, the quote “And just think, nobody thought this would last,” still lingering in the air. The list goes on; Lil Kim’s dangling breast, Diddy performing “I’ll Be Missing You” with Sting, dancing in all his Diddy-fashion.
The VMAs have been a capital E event since their inaugural airing, and that standard, that bar, has more or less been consistently met. We all remember Kanye’s crashing of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech, but that same year, 2009, Lady Gaga performed “Paparazzi” and pretended to bleed to death on stage. This has become the expectation for the VMAs and what other award show has built such a spectacular one? The VMAs were Buzzfeed, before Buzzfeed was Buzzfeed. A technicolor mash-up of egos and eccentrics, with a fuse of unknown length. I enjoy high art, investigating which films have the most Oscar-buzz, engaging in thoughtful discussion on them afterward. But I also enjoy pop art, and the VMAs are a pop artist’s living, breathing Frankenstein.
But there are elements of the show not quite captured there, namely the role of host. Dan Akyroyd and Bette Midler hosted in 1984 but the position has evolved considerably since then. Eddie Muprhy took over the following year, Dennis Miller hosted back-to-back years in ’95 and ’96, making way for Chris Rock, who took the reigns in 1997, 1999, and 2003, submitting what can only be behind Billy Crystal and the Oscars as the definitive award show hosting clinic. But recall back to 2002, if you will, to when a then 27-year-old Jimmy Fallon opened the show with a dizzying display of artist parody that would go on to be the comedians “Late Night” calling card and pave the way for him to be “Tonight Show” host.
How before and of its time is that? That this dude is going on to be our Johnny Carson? This is how I feel about the show as a whole. Fallon hosted in the middle of a ratings hike for the show, with nearly 12 million viewers tuning in. Those numbers dipped below 10 million until Kanye bombarded America’s sensibility. The two years that followed saw a return to high marks, before last year’s show, airing on a Thursday night, dipped to just over 6 million viewers.
Now, I’m not Miss Cleo, have no crystal ball or magic mirror or spoon-bending oracle to consult, but I think this years show is going to revive those numbers. First of all, it’s already been announced that Kanye AND Lady Gaga are performing, the torch bearers of all things insane and provocative. ‘N Sync is rumored to reunite, which could result in a break in both the viewing numbers and sound barrier. Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke are both nominated for Video of the Year, so if one wins, expect a glorious reaction shot of the other. And then there’s the fact that this year’s show is in Brooklyn at the Barclay’s Center, and that Jay Z has been on a press tour in recent months unlike anything we’ve seen from him ever. There’s some speculation that he’ll close the show out, but how? With Beyoncé, with Kevin Garnett, isn’t it all plausible?
And that’s why I’ll shed tears of regret come Sunday night. For being late to the party that my generation has grown up with. It’s the FOMO that plagues us, and I’m experiencing it at its zenith.