The inaugural YouTube Music Awards (YMA) took place Sunday night in New York City. The website-sponsored music awards show, touted as a celebration of the do it yourself content environment Youtube helped to foster. It was billed as the crowning moment of years worth of artists that have taken things into their own hands to make it on their own terms. From the sounds of it, the YouTube Music Awards seemed poised to crown those who had used the website as a come up. Think Mac Miller, Macklemore, Chance The Rapper and the hundreds of young artists and directors across the country using the site to get their art to the world.
Instead, the YMAs featured headliners Arcade Fire, Lady Gaga and Eminem performing while shooting live music videos with program director and legendary video director Spike Jonze. It was, in the words of one of my former Journalism professors, one of the biggest public blowjobs in the history of already blowy award shows. The awards show was, in essence, Jonze’s wet dream, a grand stage for the director to remind everyone he’s pretty good at what he does. Add in the fact that hosts Jason Schwartzmann and Reggie Watts rarely had any idea what to say and you have yourself a show with a production value seemingly lower than many of the videos the site hosts.
In a similar position to that of MTV on September 14, 1984 when the Video Music Awards first entered the world, YouTube finds itself as the de facto landing spot for music videos in today’s media climate. Perhaps because of this distinction, the YMAs came to fruition yesterday. Jonze, earlier last week, voiced his interest in creating “live music videos” at the awards show. While playing on YouTube’s reputation as an open-source type format from which anyone can make a name for themselves, Jonze missed the mark in directing videos for larger-than-life acts such as Lady Gaga, Arcade Fire, Eminem and Avicii; forgoing the up and comers that make the greatest use of the streaming video site.
It wasn’t all bad. While the artists featured may have been different from what I had in mind when first picturing the YMAs, organizers did get plenty right. For one, by producing a live awards show, albeit a show Jonze described beforehand as one in which “We’ve been given a lot of room to make a mess,” YouTube was able to step up and prove itself a viable alternative to traditional television-an important distinction as viewers increasingly ditch the tube and cable for free streaming service via the website. Winners were also voted on by fans, a nod to the user-generated content and interaction that has made YouTube the media Goliath it is today. While Eminem interestingly won ‘Artist of the Year’ days before his first album in two years came out and kid’s group Girls’ Generation won best video, it was a good move to leave it to the fans. . . I guess.
Regardless of what I or anyone else thought of the show last night, it happened, and that’s all that really matters at the end of the day. The web was flooded with fresh memes and, soon, a slew of new Jonze-directed videos. Any first run is going to be a little rough around the edges (see: early VMAs), but it will be interesting to see where YouTube takes the fledgling awards setup-to the mainstream or tailored to the users actually frequenting the site and providing much of the content. Either way, organizers of the show and YouTube can sleep easy knowing they’re having a better week than former YouTube owner Chad Hurley, who got himself in Kanye West’s line of fire this week, although Tyler, The Creator may feel differently (see below).