Friday, August 13, 2010

VMA Video of the Year Rundown: 2010

It's that time of the year again! As I did in 2008 and 2009, the moment has arrived to discuss this year's nominees for Video of the Year at the Video Music Awards. But, before we begin, I have to make an announcement. For a couple years now, I've been trying to make this a regular series, investigating all of the nominees for Video of the Year in each year. I got a couple done before hitting a rough spot and never actually completing the series. I vowed last year to get the series started but, again, nothing. I've now come to the realization that it will never be finished and it's time to move on to a new project: Best Female Video. The reason I could never finish another entry is because the nominated videos often sucked all inspiration out of me. How could I spend 300 words writing about a video that was neither horrible or amazing? And what about in years where all five nominees are like that? Zzzzzzzz. But when I started looking around at the Best Female Video category, I realized that there was no way I could ever get bored by the nominees. I mean, look at them! Who wants to discuss videos from Queensryche, USA for Africa, U2 or Steve Winwood when I can be discussing Madonna, Janet, Cher, Beyoncé, Paula, Kate and Annie? I will continue this annual tradition in the coming years, but I won't be looking back at any past Video of the Year lineups. Sorry to the two people who may actually remember me doing this, but I guarantee the Best Female Video series will be even better.

Overall: 2009 was all about the star factor with five of the biggest names in music competing for the big prize. This year, we see two repeats but, overall, the nominees are a return to the early days of the category when the biggest stars weren't necessarily getting the big nomination. Lady GaGa, with two of the most talked about music videos in ages, and Eminem, the VMA's prodigal son, both got in rather expectedly, but the surprise nominees came at the hands of a British act just getting started in America and (former?) actor Jared Leto's rock band. Sometimes digging up unexpected videos can be good for the category but this year quite the opposite happened. When 'Telephone,' a video I've complained about all year for being a short film in music video clothing, is still the second best in the category, you know there's a problem. Florence and Mars are trying hard to be different and metaphorical, respectively--about what, I have no fucking clue--yet nothing comes through. Eminem once again gets in with another lazy, retread of his past videos and the less said about the B.o.B. video the better. Thank goodness for GaGa then, who manages to save this lineup from obscurity with 'Romance,' the video they'll remember her for in the coming years. With so many uninspiring nominees, you have to wonder how Rhianna's 'Rude Boy,' easily the most talked about non-GaGa music video, not only missed out here but in nearly every damn category minus a technical one. And, although I think the video's not very good, the Black Eyed Peas' massive 'Imma Be Rocking that Body' was completely shafted in every category, a surprise given how many of the nominated videos this year (Bad Romance, Telephone, Kings and Queens, Video Phone) have massive runtimes. And, if we lived in a perfect world, the year's double nominee would be Danish pop group Alphabeat and not GaGa. 'DJ (I Could Be Dancing)' and 'Hole in My Heart' both took obvious 90's inspirations and twisted them for this decade.

The best:
Lady GaGa 'Bad Romance' # # # # #
Just before GaGa became the queen of the entire world and everything she did was deemed other worldly, she came out with her clip for 'Bad Romance' and proved that she was more than just a passing phase. 'Poker Face' showed promise, even if it wasn't a very good video, and 'Paparazzi' reintroduced the epic music video, but 'Bad Romance' capitalized on her newly minted success and trumped every expectation people had of her. Five minutes may seem like a long time for a music video, but when you have as much going on as GaGa does here, it goes by far too quickly. But that's what is special about 'Bad Romance': she manages to tell a complete story visually without once stopping the music for a dialogue interlude. The opening birth scene where GaGa and her dancers emerge from the metaphorical womb, clawing and scratching their way out in spandex catsuits is astounding to look at. It's the perfect way to visualize the GaGa character's emergence into this world of prostitution and to let the audience know what to expect from the rest of the video. And never does 'Bad Romance' ever feel like anything but a Lady GaGa video; there's no homage to Madonna or Tarantino and you can hardly imagine Britney, Rihanna or Beyoncé doing this video with the same amount of impact. 'Bad Romance' is a textbook example of using the music video to move a pop persona forward and the fact that she does this with a fair amount of depth and beauty is all the more satisfying.

The rest, in order:
Lady GaGa featuring Beyoncé 'Telephone' # # # # #
And now we come to certainly the biggest video of the year, in terms of impact, hype, feeling and overall length. The premiere was an event in itself, the first time I remember that happening since the good ole days of TRL when the Backstreet Boys would stop by to premiere their latest shitty video. I liked the video at first, and still am generally a fan of it, but the flaws are even more glaringly obvious than they were six months ago. My biggest complaint about 'Telephone' is that it never quite feels like a music video. Sure, it's a video with music in it, but the song eventually comes second to all of the insanity going on around it. I've said it before and I'll say it again: 'Telephone' works as a short film, but as a music video, it's an epic fail. Music videos should promote the song, but can you honestly say you remember the song amid the numerous wardrobe choices, the prison yard make out session, B's Honey Bun and the "Let's Make a Sandwich" bit? What I do love about the video, though, is the way GaGa and B synthesize their own larger than life, batshit crazy personas with their homage to all things Tarantino. The video is complete and utter insanity, but when it works, it really works at highlighting what we love best about GaGa and B. 'Telephone' is hardly perfect yet something about it's madness is worth celebrating.

Florence + the Machine 'Dog Days Are Over' # # # # #
I will say this for Florence + the Machine: she certainly knows how to make a vivid impression. When you see her onscreen, red hair a-blazin' with that kabuki-inspired makeup over her eyes, you immediately marvel over this fascinating creature and really want to get to know her better. The 'Dog Days Are Over' video is certainly the very definition of "weird," but it often feels weird for weird sake rather than weird for a purpose. The only way I can describe what I mean is to use another example, last year's nominee 'Love Lockdown' by Kanye West. The bulk of the video comprises of these natives flinging arrows and tribal dancing to the song. What saves it from 'Dog Days Are Over' territory, however, is the fact that the opening and closing moments show Kanye West obviously in some kind of emotional distress, so it can be inferred that these natives are representative of him going insane. I'm not suggesting that 'Dog Days Are Over' needs a gimmick like 'Love Lockdown,' but, rather, any idea of when to pull back the "weirdness" and figure out what they are trying to say. The video doesn't need to make a groundbreaking point, it just needs to say something besides "Oh look at these blue people dancing!"

30 Seconds to Mars 'Kings and Queens' # # # # #
Maybe I'm completely missing the point, but what exactly is supposed to be happening in this video? I see minute after minute of footage of a group of young adults riding bikes through a deserted town, someone getting hit by a car, a horse stampeding down the street, the kid getting back up unharmed and everyone resuming biking. What? I give 30 Seconds to Mars for attempting to say something, anything with this video and for giving it the full-length treatment without sacrificing the song. Yet, I'm not exactly sure what they're trying to say is worth saying. Then again, I could only be sure of that if I was aware of their intentions.

Eminem 'Not Afraid' # # # # #
It seems almost futile to bitch about yet another Eminem video making its way onto the Video of the Year shortlist, yet I feel like something needs to be said in order for this madness to end. 'Not Afraid' is not anywhere near as embarrassing as his nomination for 'We Made You' last year, that's for sure. Still, there's not exactly anything worth celebrating in this video, certainly nothing worthy of Video of the Year status. I think people are starting to mistake Eminem as an artist who reveals pieces of himself in his music videos. He does do this in his music, don't get me wrong, but outside of 'Stan,' do any of his videos which are supposedly about him truly capture anything worth knowing about him? 'Not Afraid' certainly doesn't, as standing in a dank basement and throwing a chair angrily against a wall is the sort of the thing you'd expect from an Eminem video. The scenes with the mirrors and Eminem buzzing through the air like Superman might be an attempt at revelation, and I suppose that's what got people thinking 'Not Afraid' was about something, but it's handled so clumsily and nothing about it is truly original, interesting or even worth thinking about. Eminem, you're officially past your sell by date; wake me up when you're relevant again.

B.o.B featuring Hayley Williams 'Airplanes' # # # # #
OH GOD, MAKE THIS END, MAKE THIS END! Not only is the song one of the most horrible, cliché-ridden pieces of shit I've ever heard, the video is, also, lazy, uninspired and almost ugly to look at. First of all, can someone tell Hayley Williams that despite what other countless music videos have taught her, closing your eyes and rocking your head gently while singing "deep" lyrics the ones in that godawful chorus does not make you look emotive in any way? Secondly, putting an artist in dark room while strobe and neon lights dance around them in odd rhythms does not an interesting video make. I know this nomination is more for the inexplicable popularity of this song rather than the video itself, but did we honestly need to expand to six nominees to make room for it? This is not a video we're going to be remembering for many years to come. Hell, I'll be surprised if anyone remembers this by the end of the year.

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