MTV VMA: MTV & Britney Spears Washed Up?

At one time, the MTV Video Music Awards cut the American Music Awards and the Grammy’s off at the knees. The VMAs were innovative, had some of the most interesting performances, and often honored people who deserved to win. This year’s show, which I had stopped following long ago, felt like an identity crisis for the network. And if you have seen anyone going through one such crisis, you know that it’s not pretty.

I felt embarrased for MTV. They were simply trying too hard. The show, on the production end, was a train wreck. It was done in Vegas, and they did this whole “hotel suite” party thing, where many bands/artists played to small crowds in the suites with the cameras lookin on–while very few acts actually performed on the main stage in the auditorium. The suite parties were hosted by one band or artist with a theme, and then they had guest artists (for instance Justin “I don’t know nuthin ’bout no wardrobe malfunction” Timberlake hosted a dirty south/crunk suite, where he got to do a tired beat box with some crunk artists, and our favorite leather bear producer Timbaland.).

That seems like a good idea, but they didn’t even give you the whole song, and they just drop in on them with no announcement as to who the hell you’re watching. When you’re of a certain age like me, all the white boys with mullets and skinny jeans seem to blur together. And you don’t get Cee-lo to sing with the Foo Fighters on a cover of Prince’s Darling Nikki, and just drop in at the end for 30 seconds. This dropping in and out of everything in short snippets was schitzophrenic–probably done after hours and millions of dollars in research calculating the average attention span of the MTV viewer to keep them from changing the channel– and added to the sense of anxiety of the show.

And no one was more anxious than the opening act, Britney Spears. The entire world was waiting to see what Britney was going to give–and I think most people who even hate Britney secretly wanted to see her rock it. She didn’t. The song she lip-synched, a new electro-pop tune, was cute, but her performance was, well, sad. She’s never looked so unsure of herself. Instead of throwing herself all over that stage, in the trashy way we’re used to seeing Brit, she seemed to meander from place to place and relying heavily on her dancers to do most of the work. It was like they’d do an 8-count, and she’d literally walk to her next mark (like she was walkin to the corner store to get Pampers for her babies), and then do the next 8 count. She barely made eye contact with the audience. When her performance was over, the crowd clapped (barely) politely, and it seemed as though the underdog everyone wanted to root for, was just plain under.

Then Sarah Silverman followed Britney with a little standup that was her usual gross and offensive self. And not at all funny. Even though celebs and industry people can be a hard audience to perform for, they were utter stone to Silverman.

Kanye & 50 appeared together to present an award. It of course ruined the illusion that they have some kind of beef, as if anyone believed it was more than a publicitiy stunt to ensure both of their albums sell like crazy. But I still hope 50 loses and sits his ass down somewhere. Permanently.

Chris Brown was the best thing about the show. I fucking hate lip-synching, but if you’re going to do it, you better be giving me dance. He came out in a Charlie Chaplin-esque get up, and did his song Wall-to-Wall. He rocked it. He had more charisma than anyone who touched the stage. Then Rihanna came out with him and did a snatch of Umbrella. He slipped into this MJ Billie Jean tribute, and then danced some more with two kids! Damn, it was the first real performance of the night worthy of show.

The next best performance, though not her best by far, was Alicia Keys. Keys seemed to want to let us know she’s going in a different direction musically, and she sang her new single, or at least shouted it at us. It was awkward. Then she launched into George Michael’s Freedom 90. OK. I love me some Freedom 90. But it’s been done. And better.

This number of Keys, the Kanye/50 stunt, and in fact the entire show, seemed to emit an anxiety by MTV as to the direction of their award show, the channel, and the music industry itself.

(By comparison, this summer’s BET awards was 100 times more entertaining, and you know damn well Viacom didn’t give BET half of what MTV got to do their show.)

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