Yup I’m way too old for the MTV VMA’s

by Joshua B. Hoe Perhaps what we lose when we get old, is the ability to immediately understand the subtext of what the younger generation is saying between or during songs.

There must have been a TON of subtext I was not hip to at the 2015 VMA awards (or it was just awful).

I thought it might be fun to see what the VMA’s were like some 30 years later (or however long it has been)

Miley seemed pretty much to do a decent job acting like herself (the drag queen thing actually makes some sense as a motif for her).

I mean….I guess I kind of understood some of what Kanye was saying….kind of….but wowowowow...that was hard to watch (and I love Kanye’s music and even some of his performances).

It sucks to realize that pop culture has passed you by.

But, I think I had some of classic “These kids today” moments throughout the show...feel free to educate me on what I did not understand if you leave comments….

  • Politics?

John Legend talked about how Pharrell's song would be in the tradition of Bob Dylan and Paul Robeson….and then Pharrell said something about the freedom to have fun and launched into a song that included the following phrase (I could not make this up):

“FIrst name: Free” “Last name: Dom” “Freedom”

A verse later it was:

“First name: King” “Last name: Dom” “Kingdom”

I tried very hard to understand what exactly Pharrell was fighting for freedom for...The only answer I could come up with was the freedom to  wear pants with an Adidas symbol on the butt?

And what does this mean from Miley: “Trump, you had my vote but now I am voting for Kanye...Kanye for President...I have rarely felt so old (lacking understanding)....Kanye who is an amazing producer of music…..is kind of crazy with a capital C...I mean, mostly he seems motivated to right award show injustice (Justin Timberlake and Beyonce apparently both should have won awards at previous shows). What is his 2020 platform? Kanye, ensuring Timberlake and Beyonce win awards in 2020?

I kind of got the same feel when Miley sang the closing song accompanied by a bunch of transgender folk and drag queens. I mean yes, I am for that….Is that the point, is the political message that everyone now gets to be seen on television? No matter who they are or what their “truth” is?

If so, that is a fine message..But, I am pretty sure the courage was demonstrated by the transgender people and drag queens getting on stage, not by the songs or the people singing them...am I crazy here? I guess there is a courage in Miley being so out there, but what is Pharrell doing?

Don’t get me wrong, I do like Pharell...I loved Clipse. I actually think Miley can sing (sometimes)….And I get marketing (she is a marketing genius...she understands how it all works today just like Trump does...which actually would explain the connection).

But, Bob Dylan? Paul Robeson?

  • Lip Syncing, everywhere Lip Syncing

Probably the thing that confuses me most about this era is the never ending cascade of awards shows pushing LIVE performances….when the performers are 100% there but rarely, if ever, actually sing….

Okay...I am old, but, I do understand the following things:

  • Performance does not necessarily mean singing. It is entertaining to see a “singer” dance and fly (literally)...And sometimes...just sometimes, a performance can still be pretty awesome even if you are not entirely sure singing is going on...I mean you could probably play that bass pedal hook from The Weeknd’s song and win anything...that is a first class bass pedal hook (You can tell I am not the only one that felt that way - the only time the crowd got up all night was for that performance).
  • They all sing a little...Yes, I realize that they have all perfected the live mic over backing track magic that allows people to sing except when they aren’t singing (most of the time). This is the way that they can also show you it’s live by saying something spontaneous and honest like “Hello VMA”s!”
  • It is a spectacle culture...What matters is seeing Bieber fly free form….Or seeing Taylor Swift be gracious to Kanye...The clothing, the lasers, the confetti cannons, the dancers, pretty much anything to distract from the fact that nobody actually plays music and most of the people cannot really sing a lick (without massive studio help). Tweets matter more than songs…(Unless the meme is of a good song performed live maybe?).

Apparently dancers, lasers, video boards, elaborate costumes, confetti cannons, and fireworks are in the budget, but real musicians (actually playing instruments not pretending to play to backing tracks) are not….Did anyone else notice that the drummer from 21 Pilots was the only honest to God live musician playing at the show?

I dunno, I get it, it was not made for me...But, I do know that many of the best musical moments (even at the VMA’s) were bands and singers pouring out pain live.

I still have enjoyed moments of real singers pouring it out live more than any second of these canned performances where everything is exactly the same as the recording…And here is the most “old dude” thing I will say…WHAT IS THE POINT IF IT IS THE SAME AS THE RECORDING….Just save the commercials and play the recording.

One of the few highlights for me was Justin Bieber’s mic being live enough so that all you could hear was his heavy breathing as he tried to recover between the many sections of choreography during his number….At least that was honest.

  • The Real Winners of the Night

Am I crazy, did Purity Ring deserve to win the big awards?

The two songs that were the big awards of the night were Taylor Swift homages to Purity Ring no?

Not really my cup of tea, but I recognize the work….I also heard songs by Kelly Clarkson and several other artists this year that sounded suspiciously like Purity Ring songs. I mean these songs don’t just sound a little like Purity Ring songs...with different lyrics they were Purity Ring songs.

Yes, I know, the awards are for videos not songs….do we even need the songs per se….and is ripping people off okay now? Isn’t that the reason Rap doesn’t use samples anymore?

And speaking of T Swift. I actually try to stay away from ragging on her because she writes songs, can play instruments, and sometimes actually sings live….Again, not my cup of tea, but that makes her somewhat okay with me (not that it matters at all what I think...just sayin). But didn’t the album come out last year? Didn’t she win VMA’s last year for the same album...I know it is probably based on the year the video comes out but MTV never plays videos anyway….right? And, why are you lip synching the open?

What was my point? I dunno, what the hell are the VMA’s exactly...why do they even give actual awards, MTV is not a music channel….and hasn’t played videos in seemingly decades (maybe after hours?).

Oh right...the winners...so, to my ear, the best “performances” were:

    1. The Weeknd….I mean it is a great hook...best moment of the whole show
    2. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, wanted to hate it, but it was a really joy-filled performance (even if it was the first known example of hip-hop as musical theater).

  1. 21 Pilots and ASAP Rocky….Kudos, one real instrument! Not exactly a collaboration I would pick...and objectively not great...but an instrument was played.

The rest was pretty universally awful….Seriously, really really bad. I found myself slack jawed in amazement at how bad it was….I could live the rest of my life happily forgetting all about Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, Miley (who actually was singing), Pharrell, etc.

Last but not least, I am starting to worry that Britney Spears is actually a robot...Can she say anything without coming across as mechanical and stiff? It might actually be a kindness if the actual BS were replaced with a robot so she could finally just live her life and get out of the limelight. I feel like she might be the most exploited child star in the history of exploited child stars...I have always suspected she has massive PTSD from the 90’s.

Anyway, I vote for The Weeknd, Purity Ring, and Apple Music as winners of the night (apparently no other music service wanted to compete).

  1. Why Award Shows?

I think maybe award shows have taken the place of keeping the music profit machine going. There is no more MTV really...they are a content outlet just like everyone else...Everyone is fighting to create the new music service and unify listeners under one banner...but, music is pretty fragmented.

I think we might have 100 music awards shows a year (I am not sure that is an exaggeration, Country Music seems to have an awards show every other week) because award shows have become the only place dominant media performers can all gather to reassert their claim to dominance?

Maybe they are just really cheap to produce?

I just don’t get it….I mean the Grammy’s at least used to carry some cache...but what are all these awards shows really about? Filling holes in TV schedules? That doesn’t make sense either because people mostly watch TV on demand now. I know I barely care what time my shows actually air anymore….does anyone?

Most important, they seem to mostly suck...Yes, I rated three performances, but they were not really very memorable either….I dunno, I just dunno….(muttering = old man behavior...yup).

  • Appropriation and Overt Racism

Pretty hard to have a show with Miley, Demi, and Iggy without people complaining about appropriation….I dunno, this is always a tough one for me...Paul’s Boutique showed how deeply the Beasties understood and felt the history of the music...I have no idea on Miley (she should know better than the Mammie thing in a skit involving marijuana transforming Snoop into a dog - and yes, I know he did that in his first vids)...I have no idea on any of them really. I don’t know how much they actually care and how much it is about the cash grab and social cred….I am not the right person to make this investigation because I just don’t care about any of the three of them enough.

I also am not entirely sure I understand the appropriation hatred toward MackLemore and Ryan Lewis...Haven’t we had white rappers for a long time now? I seem to remember their origin story being that they started with self-promoted mix-tapes...That is pretty much the story of hip-hop, no?

Also, wasn’t part of the point, as Ice-T put it years ago, Home Invasion...as in people of color would change the politics of the world in the next generation by infecting the ears of suburban youth...Isn’t Macklemore and Ryan Lewis a sign of victory?

My ignorance on this is probably, again, based in me not really caring about them at all and not keeping up with the pop culture insider stuff on them...If they did some shady stuff, I apologize. If they are appropriating tropes from a bad place, I apologize.

When I say that I don’t care about them, it is not just because I am old...I have rarely if ever cared about the biggest names in popular music. I almost always have listened mostly to the rebels and loners (Dottie). There is a reason Kenny G made millions for every thousand Wynton M made in Jazz….What is popular is rarely what is good….Yup, okay, I admit it, I am a hipster snob?

I mean as far as I am concerned all rap awards for 2015 should be shipped to Vince Staples.

I hope Miley, Demi, Iggy, MackLemore and Ryan all give a damn about the history and the music…?


That will probably be my last VMA’s...clearly no longer a show for me (I mean except for that Weeknd hook)...(Jesus that is a great hook - pure money...a cash machine hook)

If you want to hear more purity ring, you can listen here:

Purity Ring - Another Alternative

Feel free to say that I am crazy, or to agree with me, either way :). Would love to hear your comments, comment away!