Youth Culture Window
There’s always a risk in trying to predict award shows; but when it comes to MTV’s Video Music Awards, I can offer a few guarantees: Tons of risqué humor, Lady Gaga dressed like a freak show, and girls shrieking when Justin Bieber takes the stage.
Bet on it, baby!
The Coveted Moonman
On Sunday, September 12th, the biggest names in music will be competing for tiny, silver, flag-planting astronauts called “moonmen.” The legendary icon – still symbolizing MTV to this day – has not only staked its claim on entertainment, but youth culture in general. That’s why we recommend that parents and youth workers actually pay attention to this show each year (more on that in a minute). The Video Music Awards, aka the VMAs, is one of the most accurate windows into today’s youth culture you’ll find.
This year’s show will pass out moonmen to musical winners from various categories, including Best New Artist, Best Female Hip Hop Video, Best Male Video, Best Pop Video, Best Rock Video, the highly prized Video of the Year, plus several more.
But this space traveling moonman doesn’t usually come in peace.
The interesting thing about this “awards show” is not who wins what. Nope, it’s actually about “the most-talked-about moments.” The celebrities who are the real winners of the show are those that walk away with a “moment.”
At the 2009 VMAs, a few of the “most-talked-about moments” were when Kanye West hijacked Taylor Swift on-stage during her acceptance speech, when Lady Gaga thanked “God and the gays,” and Jack Black led the audience in a prayer to Satan.
At the 2008 VMAs, big “moments” included Britney Spears “thanking God” for winning three moonmen for songs like “Piece of Me,” The Pussycat Dolls “thanking God” for winning an award for “When I Grow Up,” and Lil Wayne “thanking God” for his smash hit, “Lollipop.” (If you know the lyrics/videos to any of these songs, you’ve got good reason to doubt God had anything to do with their production!)
The list of “moments” continues, but you’ve probably gotten the point by now. However, if you want to see the track record MTV has established at its VMAs over the years, you can easily catch our two cents on this porthole into youth culture each year here: 2005, 2006, and 2007. And if history repeats itself, www.MTV.com will have “the most-talked-about moments” from 2010 on their website within minutes of the show’s conclusion, this year.
Some may naïvely think, “If the show is so trashy, why would anyone want to watch it?” I say naïve because the “trash” is what many are tuning in for! (Much like NASCAR fans who watch cars go round and round waiting for a fireball-inducing crash.)
Last year, Viacom-owned MTV raked in over 26 million viewers for its VMA show. MTV knows that the only way to increase the viewership is to increase the odds of a potential “crash.” Here’s just a few ways MTV will be greasing the track this year:
- Chelsea Handler will be hosting the show. For only the second time in its relatively short – but staggeringly influential – history, the VMAs will be hosted by a solo female. Comedienne Chelsea Handler, host of the late night comedy talk show “Chelsea Lately” on E!, has been given the mic…and the responsibility to lead the charge.
Handler is up to the task. She’s a fiery, often crude, and malicious-tongued TV personality known for her ability to brazenly alienate herself from those around her. This promotional video interview with MTV records Handler talking about which candidate (for Best Hip Hop artist) she’d like to have sex with.
- Lady Gaga will win…big! The controversial (and often oddly dressed) Lady Gaga has set VMA history by collecting a whopping 13 nominations for her music, receiving nominations in almost every category. And in some cases, Lady Gaga has multiple songs competing for the same award! (Even though 13 isn’t known for its luck, you gotta like her chances of taking home at least one moonman.) But remember, the show isn’t about moonmen; it’s about “moments.” Trust me; Lady Gaga won’t miss a chance to snag a “moment.”
To excite her fans while simultaneously responding to her overwhelming number of nominations, Lady Gaga said, “A long time ago, the world told me and my little monsters we would never be heard. Together we changed the rules. God put me on Earth for three reasons: to make loud music, gay videos and cause a damn ruckus. Thank you, MTV!”
Yeah. Thanks MTV….
- A live performance by Kanye West. Last year, Kanye had what may have been the second biggest “moment” in the history of the VMAs (behind Britney and Madonna kissing on-stage at the 2003 show). The morning after West rudely interrupted Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech, the video clip was played on every news channel in the country, making Kanye the water cooler topic of the week.
Now that it has been reported Kanye will perform at this year’s VMAs, no telling what will happen. My guess… he’ll get booed (again). It’ll be a “moment” for sure.
A Reason to Watch?
MTV is offering teenagers plenty of other reasons to watch their two-hour long awards show: a performance by Linkin Park, special appearances by Katy Perry and Ke$ha (and tons of other A-List celebrities), and last-minute opportunities for viewers to vote for Best New Artist.
Nothing will stop MTV from producing an unforgettable – if regrettable – night. The show will air live from Los Angeles on Sunday, September 12th, at 9pm EST.
And despite how I’ve described it thus far, you should consider watching it.
No, I’m not trying to lead you astray. No, MTV’s not paying me to say this. And no, I’m not some sort of a masochist.
Watching this annual awards show provides parents and youth workers with a window on youth culture that can’t be found anywhere else. Sure, there are plenty of other awards shows out there: the Grammys, the Emmys, even the Oscars. But MTV’s two award shows (The Movie Awards and the Video Music Awards) give us a raw glimpse of cultural icons…without any rules or constraints.
The fact that MTV encourages, documents, and then broadcasts celebrities in search of their “moment” is both bad and good. Bad in the sense that so many kids call it mere entertainment…good in the sense that parents and youth workers can take a crash course in youth culture.
Granted, watching the VMAs will probably give you a stomachache…but it will also give you a good sense of the messages our kids are pumping into their heads through their mp3 players, internet connections, and TV shows.
Relax. You don’t have to watch the entire two hour show. The first fifteen minutes will give you a clear picture of culture’s message to teenagers. Like the Super Bowl, you’ll want to pay attention to the commercials, though. They’re typically filled with promotions for the forthcoming albums, TV shows, or movies that they want to sell to our kids.
So, this Sunday night, lock the kids in their rooms (without access to MTV), and consider checking out the VMAs, a true dynasty of youth culture. Then, come back to TheSource4YM.com to get Jonathan’s insights on Monday morning. He’ll also include a few talking points to help you discuss this cultural phenomenon with your kids (cause regardless if they watch it at home, they’ll hear about it at school).
The time you spend perusing this year’s VMAs, watching celebrities vie for their “moments,” could give you the opportunity to have a powerful “moment” of your own, with your teenagers.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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