VMAs 2015 A WORD IS CHEAP VIEWPOINT – TEXT LUKE BATHER
So the big, unavoidable thing to happen in music videos this week was the VMAs. Yes, Nicki Minaj appears to have scared the life out of Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber did indeed fly and then cry and Kanye said a thing or six. You can learn about that from any and all websites that loosely define themselves as reporting on culture. It’s a compelling read, surely. But this is Word Is Cheap and we like music videos quite a lot so we’ll talk about those.
The VMAs (that’s Video Music Awards, not Vastly Misguided Appropriation, Miley) are, on paper at least, an award ceremony designed to celebrate the very best in music videos. It does seem to be the case though that it’s more an excuse for MTV to trot out the best and brightest in order to sate its target demographic. It’s understandable – I mean there’s no way in hell a bunch of millennials want to see some acceptance speech for best visual effects when they could be watching a performance by The Weeknd or Demi Lovato.
What isn’t all that understandable is MTV’s seemingly blanket refusal to celebrate and reward the people who make the videos. It’s such a common occurrence now, however, that the only way you’d know that Bruno Mars didn’t direct the video for Uptown Funk is the fact that he brought Cameron Duddy up onstage with him and explicitly told the audience so.
In fact, throughout the entire televised run of the 2015 VMAs, there were only two instances of directors being directly acknowledged for the work they’ve done. The aforementioned Cameron Duddy, followed by Taylor Swift bringing Joseph Kahn up and inviting him to make an acceptance speech for the Blank Space video.
Kahn himself explained the big reason for this noted absence at the start of his speech, stating that “when you invite directors to stage – this is why tv doesn’t do it – they’re gonna thank a lot of crew” before proceeding to thank a lot of crew. God love him.
Yes, there’s an award for best direction (won by Colin Tilley for his video for Kendrick Lamar’s Alright), but it wasn’t televised. Neither was Best Editing, best choreography, best cinematography, best visual effects or best art direction. For the most part these awards are still given to, and accepted by, the artist and with all due respect Beyonce, there is no fucking way you had any hand in the editing of 7/11.
It’s telling how little MTV values directors when Josh Forbes, whose video for Walk The Moon was nominated for a VMA, had to crowd fund his ticket to the awards show, because MTV had no interest in having him there.
Regardless of how bitter his subsequent blow-by-blow coverage on The Daily Beast may come across, the argument stands that if somebody creates a thing that is being celebrated and potentially rewarded, shouldn’t they at least be invited to celebrate that? Shouldn’t a general audience be able to at least see who made the thing they like to watch their favourite pop star do?
I suppose my point here is that it’s possibly about time MTV gave credit where credit is due – since its inception it’s always relied on creators to provide them with content for a channel that’d be empty otherwise. Yes, star power helps massively but without a wide variety of creative people behind the lens, MTV would be a footnote in pop culture history as opposed to the catalyst that defined it. In the beginning we were rooting for MTV, but maybe now it’s MTV’s turn to root for us. At least a little bit.
It’s not even a case of winners and losers. A lot of directors/cinematographers/vfx artists/editors probably don’t care about winning, because they still got to make a great video, right?!
I never thought I’d say this, but Kanye West made a very salient point during his rambling, meandering, stream-of-conscious, off-book verbal episode:
Replace all that stuff about selling records with making videos and that’s where we’re at. The refusal to acknowledge the people behind the camera happens before the show even starts, and that means we’ve all already lost.