Everyone complains about music award ceremonies -- there are certainly plenty of good reasons to do so -- but then we all watch them anyway. Whether you like it or not, you'll be tuning into the MTV Video Music Awards tonight, held this year at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Comedian Kevin Hart hosts, and there will be live performances by several of the nominees, including Rihanna (with A$AP Rocky), Nicki Minaj (with 2Chainz), Lil Wayne, One Direction, Taylor Swift, Pink, Green Day and Frank Ocean. There's also a new category this year for Best Electronic Dance Music Video; given the rise of the wobble in the past year, this makes sense.
In preparation for the VMAs, I watched all the videos nominated for the main categories. Here are the videos that I think deserve to win (in bold).
Best New Artist
Nominees: Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe;” Frank Ocean, “Swim Good;” fun. f/ Janell Monae, “We Are Young;” One Direction, “What Makes You Beautiful;” The Wanted, “Glad You Came”
Frank Ocean is having a solid year. He released “channel ORANGE,” one of the best albums of the year (so far), right before the VMA nominations were announced in late July. But here he’s nominated for “Swim Good,” one of the standout tracks on last year's “nostalgia, ULTRA.” This tune about coping with the loss of a lover was already haunting, but the visuals add to the uncertainty as Ocean, donning a kimono, swings a bloodied sword.
Did he kill her? Or is he just killing the idea of her in order to move on? It's a pleasing mix of David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino, vagueness and action. There are many dark moments, but humorous ones, too, like Ocean eating popcorn while wearing a mouth-less panda mask.
Most Share-Worthy Video
Nominees: One Direction, “What Makes You Beautiful;” Justin Bieber, “Boyfriend;” Beyonce, “Countdown;” Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe;” Gotye, “Somebody That I Used To Know”
This is the category viewers like you and I vote for. One Direction's “What Makes You Beautiful” and Justin Bieber's “Boyfriend” are currently in the lead, with over 25 Million votes more than the third place video by Beyonce. If you don't want one of these two to win, go vote.
Best Pop Video
Nominees: fun. f/ Janell Monae, “We Are Young;" Justin Bieber, “Boyfriend;” Maroon 5 f/ Wiz Khalifa, “Payphone;” One Direction, “What Makes You Beautiful;” Rihanna f/ Calvin Harris, “We Found Love”
By the end of Rihanna's video for “We Found Love,” the hottest single from last year's “Talk That Talk,” there’s no reason to be optimistic about anything at all anymore. After her relationship with some dude (played by the British model/actor Dudley O'Shaughnessy) deteriorates, Rihanna cuddles up with the corner in a very sad-looking room. It's perfectly dystopian, and with all the fireworks, denim, drugs, fast cars and solipsism, it's undeniably American.
Best Rock Video
Nominees: The Black Keys, “Lonely Boy;” Coldplay, “Paradise;” Imagine Dragons, “It’s Time;” Jack White, “Sixteen Saltines;” Linkin Park, “Burn It Down”
It's plausible to conclude that Jack White dies at the end of this video for “Sixteen Saltines,” the second single from his newest album “Blunderbuss.” Poor Jack's a prisoner in a town where kids have taken over and do the things kids do: dance, smash windows, get face tattoos, throw sandwiches at the ceiling, eat the same sandwiches off the ceiling, and so on.
Best Hip-Hop Video
Nominees: Childish Gambino, “Heartbeat;” Drake f/ Lil Wayne, “HYFR;” Kanye West f/ Big Sean, Push T, and 2 Chainz, “Mercy;” Nicki Minaj f/ 2 Chainz, “Beez In The Trap;” Watch The Throne, “Niggaz In Paris”
If this was an award for best hip-hop song, “Beez In The Trap” deserves the title. Too bad Nicki's video is unimaginative and pointless. The same goes for most of these nominees (and not just in this category). Drake's re-bar mitzvah idea is funny, but it quickly turns into a boring, cliche party video.
In “Mercy,” Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music crew walks around in a building. Jay-Z and Kanye's “Niggaz In Paris” isn't super-creative either, but at least it looks pretty, with lots of strobes, lasers, trippy patterns and kaleidoscopic concert images.
Best Female Video
Nominees: Beyonce, “Love On Top;” Katy Perry, “Part Of Me;” Nicki Minaj, “Starships;” Rihanna f/ Calvin Harris, “We Found Love;” Selena Gomez & The Scene, “Love You Like A Love Song”
Recruiters from the various U.S. military branches must love this video. It opens with Katy Perry leaving her unfaithful boyfriend and, in order to overcome the heartbreak, she joins the Marines. It's an over-the-top, bizarre piece of pop culture propaganda. But, seriously, there are much better ways to positively deal with a breakup than by going to war. Try yoga, or ice cream.
Best Male Video
Nominees: Chris Brown, “Turn Up The Music;” Drake f/ Rihanna, “Take Care;” Frank Ocean, “Swim Good;” Justin Bieber, “Boyfriend;” Usher, “Climax”
“Climax,” the Diplo-produced track from Usher's “Looking For Myself” album, is one of the best pop songs of 2012. The video's not too shabby either -- simple but effective.
The claustrophobic close-up shots of Usher help capture the intense sadness and confusion he feels following the loss of his lover. It quickly turns to violence, though, as Usher grabs a gun from his glove compartment and charges into the house where his girl's new dude is. Like the Katy Perry video, there are much better ways to deal with a breakup, and none of them involve guns.
Best Electronic Dance Music Video
Nominees: Avicii, “Levels;" Calvin Harris, “Feel So Close;” Duck Sauce, “Big Bad Wolf;” Martin Solveig, “The Night Out;” Skrillex, “First Of The Year (Equinox)”
A sweaty perv sits on a park bench eyeing little girls with bad intent. He follows one of them into an abandoned warehouse. But, as soon as he approaches her, Skrillex drops the thunder wobble and the little girl goes HAM against her would-be assailant. Not just human HAM, but first superhero HAM, and then demonically HAM. Needless to say, the creeper gets what the creeper deserves. As the end of the video implies, she’s done this dozens of times. Good for her.
Best Video With a Message
Nominees: Demi Lovato, “Skyscraper;” Gym Class Heroes f/ Ryan Tedder, “The Fighter;” Kelly Clarkson, “Dark Side;” K’Naan f/ Nelly Furtado, “Is Anybody Out There?;” Lil Wayne, “How To Love;” Rise Against, “Ballad Of Hollis Brown”
This category makes very little sense. Perhaps Demi Lovato's “Skyscraper” song has a message, but the video doesn't. She just walks around and cries. Is that a message? Maybe, but it’s not a very interesting one.
“Ballad Of Hollis Brown” is a Bob Dylan tune that originally appeared on his album “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” and the Chicago punk band Rise Against covered it for the “Chimes Of Freedom: Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International” compilation. The video is about rural poverty in America, which is a much more important message than whatever Lovato crying in the desert is supposed to convey.
Video of the Year
Nominees: Drake f/ Rihanna, “Take Care;” Gotye, “Somebody That I Used To Know;” Katy Perry, “Wide Awake;” M.I.A., “Bad Girls;” Rihanna f/ Calvin Harris, “We Found Love”
Shot in Morocco, this M.I.A. video has a lot to offer: machine guns, car chases, car stunts, colorful costumes, fire, dancing, a horse and bad girls. It was intended as a statement of solidarity for the “Women To Drive Movement,” a campaign started by Saudi Arabian women advocating for women’s right to drive. This also seems like it would’ve been a good nominee for the “Best Video With A Message” category, right? As always, M.I.A. looks really cool -- she's steady mean-mugging, swinging chains and lounging on a car that's kicking a two-wheel tilt.
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