MTV's VMA Experiment is an Embarrassing Catastrophe

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So you've thought the MTV's Video Music Awards have sucked in recent years? Well, the 2007 edition aired on September 9 brought sucking to a level that even the pros on the Hoover design team never imagined possible. Although the startlingly pathetic opening number by Britney Spears has received the most attention thus far, the entire concept was a bunker-busting bomb. Indeed, MTV execs should send Brit a thank-you note for distracting viewers who would otherwise have been left slack-jawed by the lameness that followed.

Granted, Spears' rendition of her new single, "Gimme More" was just as ghastly as advertised. She wandered the stage wearing bejeweled underwear that offered music fans an all-too-good look at her astonishingly untoned physique. The only other thing she wore was the blank expression of someone who'd been rousted from medically enhanced slumber only a few minutes before the show was set to start. Her stage moves suggested a rehearsal walk-through rather than an actual performance, her lip-synching was extraordinarily lazy, and her general demeanor radiated confusion. The song would have been lousy under any circumstance, but Brit's lack of focus transformed it from weak to wacky. (What did she want more of anyhow? Ambien?) Likely the only folks happy with the results were producers at the E Network's True Hollywood Story, who'll be getting mileage out of this disaster for years to come.

Bizarrely enough, things went downhill from there. Comic Sarah Silverman stepped into the spotlight next, unleashing a slew of nasty remarks at Britney's expense -- but given what attendees had just witnessed, the jokes seemed unnecessarily cruel, like baldness puns in a cancer ward. Afterward, a variety of hosts introduced performances in relatively small venues sprinkled throughout the Palms, the Las Vegas resort where the awards production took place. The idea was to make viewers feel as if they'd been invited to private parties hosted by the likes of Fall-Out Boy, the Foo Fighters and Kanye West. But the spaces were so cramped that camera operators were right on top of the musicians -- an effect that was more awkward than immediate. The format also prevented the sort of quick-cutting that MTV introduced into the visual lexicon lo these many moons ago, and none of the tunes was allowed to play from start to finish. There'd be thirty seconds of this, forty seconds of that, and then on to the next thing -- an indication of how little the folks at a network whose acronym stands for "Music Television" actually care about music these days. As a result, the only showcases that worked were ones starring Chris Brown and Alicia Keys, which took place in the main room and were staged in the most traditional manner.

Meanwhile, fewer actual awards than usual were given out -- an approach that echoed the shortening of the ceremony to two hours, from three -- and none focused on the art and craft of the video medium the program was originally created to celebrate. No best cinematography, no best choreography, no best director. Instead, there was the Quadruple Threat contest, about nothing in particular, and other assorted salutes that seemed more about particular stars, not the clips featuring them. The exceptions to this rule were the viewers-choice and video-of-the-year categories, each of which featured at least one entry almost never shown on MTV -- or have I somehow missed their overplaying of Justice and/or Peter, Bjorn and John?

In acceptance speeches, Justin Timberlake twice asked the men and women at the network to play more videos. That's unlikely to happen: After all, the promos screened during commercial breaks pimped new reality shows such as Pageant Place (Colorado's Miss Teen USA is said to be prominently featured) and Kaya, a scripted program that looks about as cutting-edge as Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? For that reason, the Video Music Awards will become more anachronistic with each passing year -- but they probably won't be as downright miserable as they were in 2007.

If they are, somebody should put a bullet in them. I nominate Britney to pull the trigger. -- Michael Roberts

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