The Youtube Music Awards: Are They Legit? (Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love K-Pop)
On Sunday evening, the first annual Youtube Music Awards took place streaming live online from New York City. But it wasn’t an ordinary awards show. There were no marks for presenter after presenter to hit so they could flawlessly read off of teleprompters while the stagehands worked backstage to get the next musical performer ready for their finely crafted 4-minute performance.
But that’s not what happened at the Youtube Music Awards at all.
If anything, it seemed like the awards show, directed by Spike Jonze, seemed more like a stream of consciousness rambling put to video than a coherent awards show – and in some aspects it worked perfectly. The 90-minute experimental awards show (man, that was weird to type) was hosted by Mr. “He’s Still Around?” Jason Schwartzman and the indescribable Reggie Watts, and that should tell you the vibe for the whole show right there. There were no commercial breaks and there were many awkward moments of Jason Schwartzman running from one stage to the other through a crowd that had no designated place to stand or sit – it seemed very chaotic and rushed, but that kind of added to its charm. The musical performances ranged from the weird but entertaining to the type that would’ve been better placed on the MTV Video Music Awards. Lady Gaga’s stripped down version of “Dope” while she was decked out like a lumberjack skater kid was nice, and Tyler the Creator’s performance with Earl Sweatshirt turned a green room into a basement punk show, complete with jostling camera and continuous bleeped audio. On the other hand, Eminem’s performance of his awesome song “Rap God”, probably the most hyped part of the show, came through as underwhelming. Also, there was this much too long “Live Short Film/Music Video” for Avicii’s monster hit “Wake Me Up” that was just sloppy and boring.
Spike Jonze said he directed the YTMA’s to be unpredictable and messy, just like the making of Youtube videos should be, and when that shone through the blandness of the “awards show” parts, it’s where the show really shined. The two improvised jam sessions with Schwartzman on drums and Watts doing his thing were more interesting than most of the other performances of the night. But I digress – the thing to take away here isn’t necessarily the execution of the awards show, but the awards themselves. Some big awards show have a single category for fans to vote on, but every category at the YTMA’s was determined by a fan vote online – and that’s where some of the biggest surprises of the night came from.
In the more “Youtube” categories, there was Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” meme taking the “Youtube Phenomenom” category from heavy-hitters “that weird guy from work showed me this and it’s hilarious” memes Gangnam Style and Harlem Shake. Eminem took the straight-forward “Artist of the Year” category, which is weird considering he’s barely made a comeback this year at all. But the biggest award of the night was the Video Of The Year award. Nominated were Justin Bieber, One Direction, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and other names you’d expect to be in a category like this. But the winner wasn’t any of those – it was the 9-member Korean pop girl group Girls’ Generation. This brings up an interesting thought – fans of Justin Bieber and One Direction are notorious for bombing polls for anything that have to do with their respective fandom, but in the poll that pitted them against a foreign group out from left field, they were decimated in votes. The voting came by the way of social media mentions, such as Facebook shares and tweets. 2nd place Demi Lovato came in with just over 300,000 total votes – Girls Generation had 3.3 million. It wasn’t even close.
Does this mean that the rest of the world is ready for K-Pop? It’s not just a cultural phenomenon in South Korea (Girls Generation might just be the biggest cultural export from South Korea…ever), but the girls have partaken in multiple sold-out tours in Japan and southeast Asia, and were the main draw in a label showcase in Paris and a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden. Since exploding on the international scene with 2008′s wildly infectious “Gee,” the girls have amassed over half a billion views on their Youtube music videos, a performance on David Letterman, 8 million physical album sales and 50 million digital downloads, heaps of endorsement deals, countless reality and game shows featuring all the members, and a rabid fanbase the world over. The combination of talent, eye candy and the stagnant state of pop music in America just might’ve poised the world for the rise of Girls’ Generation.
I guess the approach taken in this post was similar to the YTMA’s – just a stream of consciousness ramble. Hopefully parts of it made sense, and hopefully I didn’t fanboy too much about Girls’ Generation. But the group released their new single the day after they won this (maybe?) huge award, and it’s the closest thing they’ve done to a radio hit so far – except for the fact it’s not in English. But is America ready for its first non-English, non-gimmick (Gangnam Style, Macarena, etc.) chart-topping song? I hope so. If anything, the Youtube Music Awards showed that people still use Youtube as a main source of music, but does it have enough gusto to compete with the MTV VMA’s? The Grammys? Or are the YTMA’s destined to be a niche yearly event for niche internet-centric music? Only time will tell. But K-Pop rules.