September 16, 2009

Kanye West And The Video Music Awards

VMA 2009.JPG


This is what he said:

I'm going to let you finish... but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time! Best videos of all time!
Hey stupid, this is the award for Best Female Video, not Best Video Of The Year.  Best Video is at the end of the show. 

But you knew that, didn't you?


Question 1:   Why would Kanye West jump up to support Beyonce?  Why not Britney Spears?  Slow down, racial profilers: would he have done that for any/every black artist?  Why Beyonce?

Question 2a:  If one of the Jonas Brothers had taken the mic away from Beyonce and said "3OH!3 has the best video!"--- what would have happened?

Question 2b: Who would have beaten them up?  Do you think it would have been Kanye West?


The VMAs aren't scripted, they are structured.  Structured shows are particularly deceiving because the audience is focused/distracted by the reality/improvisation/story, oblivious to the underlying control. 

The structure of the VMAs isn't the same as the Oscars, i.e.  an award show culminating in the award for Best Video Of The Year.  If it was the same, then why did my DVR say there was still another 20 minutes left in the show?


The Muppet Show
was about a cast of muppet performers putting on a variety show at the Muppet Theater-- the show you were watching.  It had three perspectives.

  • The backstage "unscripted" antics: Kermit trying to produce or direct; Fozzie practicing a joke on him, or setting up a bit; the drama with the guest star, etc. 
  • The onstage scripted "performance"-- The Muppet Show that took place in front of the curtain.  This included skits (e.g. Swedish Chef),  Fozzie's standup, and, most importantly, "the Big Number"-- the live guest star's performance at the end.
Looking at these two elements alone, the TV show's structure was: the first five minutes were backstage about starting the performance; then onstage the performance had its opening number;  then a backstage issue; then an onstage skit, then another backstage issue, etc.  Even though TV viewers saw a 30 minute show, the onstage "The Muppet (Variety) Show" performance filled only half that time.   The onstage variety show's highlight was "The Big Number."  But the TV show's story was about the drama of getting to the "Big Number."

This is an old set up.  But unlike many other "shows about the show," The Muppet Show had one additional element:

  • The audience actively commented on the show, in the form of the two old men, Statler and Waldorf, in the box seats.  "Look how stupid this performance is!"

waldorf and statler.jpg

It's not for nothing that the VMA artists are constantly reminding us that these awards are special because we, the fans, nominated them.

If a show is scripted and an actor goes off script, you're sunk.  But as long as the structure of the show is protected, it doesn't matter at all what happens within the show, the outcome will always be the same.  People could get naked, curse, fight-- it changes nothing.  In fact, at some point, these unplanned outbursts become anticipated. 

All that determines a successful show is: can Kermit get us to the Big Number, or not?


Another analogy: it matters to you how a football team plays, who gets injured, misses a catch.  But to the people that directly benefit-- the NFL-- the money will flow no matter who wins, as long as the structure of the game is intact.  If Michael Vick meanwhile wants to drown some puppies, that's his lookout. 

The business of the NFL is not football.  The business of the NFL is business.


One scripted VMA subplot was Russell Brand's monologue, which was unsurprisingly horrible.  Brand is a hilarious standup comic, but it's impossible to perform something scripted when the audience is expecting something supposedly unscripted.  That's why every presenter's stupid attempts at humor were stupid-- they were scripted for an unscripted show, and it showed.  The best jokes will still inevitably fail under these conditions. 

Another scripted subplot involved Eminem and Tracy Morgan trying to get Best New Artist.  This evolved over multiple segments (waking up, training on a treadmill, singing with Cyndi Lauper) until they eventually gave up ("we'll get 'em next year, homey") and presented the award for Best New Artist.  It was funnier (though not much) than Brand could be because these were prerecorded segments; they took you out of "live performance mode" and you valued it as a scripted skit, e.g. no expectation of spontaneity.

The visceral disgust most people felt at Kanye West was evidence that it was not a staged stunt.  If it was, you would have smirked an "oh please."   This doesn't mean West didn't plan to do it, it means Taylor Swift didn't expect to have it done.


The audience-- people, Twitter, performers, Leno, The View, the President-- are can't help but comment on the show.  They don't understand that they are actually part of the show.  They aren't getting paid, but neither were Statler and Waldorf.   And they were the funniest part of it.   

My DVR may have said there was another 20 minutes of show left, but it was wrong: there's still another week or so.


The VMAs, like The Muppet Show, are about getting to the Big Number.  In that sense, The 2009 VMAs are really the Jay-Z New Record Release Party.

This subplot-- scripted but presented as spontaneous-- was that Jay-Z was not in the house, but he was coming.

Before commercial breaks, shots with subtitles like  "Jay-Z's motorcade on the way to the VMAs" were shown; Jay-Z was coming!

On one of these breaks, the voice over was:  "How will Jay-Z appear for his grand finale?"  Yes, how?  What will he have to say about all this?

I am almost 100% certain that not only did Kanye West plan to do this, but that Jay-Z was in on it.  Rappers regularly have other people do their "dirty work"-- it makes them appear to have power.  But that's my opinion, and it is absolutely worthless: how would I know?

But what I do know is that when you want to make a show called the Jay-Z New Record Release Party, here's what you'll need: an already established crazy person to say what you're thinking, allowing you to distance yourself from the suicide bombing; you'll want a sexy, gracious, generous, magnanimous wife who rises above the controversy and gives her speech time to Taylor (oh, look, Taylor happens to be right backstage ready to appear);

beyonce gracious.JPG you'll want as much hype as possible pre-game; and the grandest of grand entrances.

Jay-z to stage1.jpg

jay-z perfoms.JPGThis is how it ends/begins.  Walking from backstage to onstage, seen from his perspective.

They don't show anyone leaving.


"Why do we keep talking about this crap! Kanye West?!   Who cares!"
Do you think I'm unemployed, have tons of free time?  Do you think I listen to Jay-Z records?  I haven't seen the VMAs for a decade.  Yet here I am.  Something made me write a post on Jay-Z this week... somehow I watched-- looked forward to-- the VMAs this this year.  Oh, weird coincidence: this was the most watched VMA in history.  We were all compelled before it was broadcast to want to watch it.

"Not me." You're missing the point.  Maybe the VMAs didn't get you, but something is getting you, and those somethings are all the same thing.

Pop culture controls you even if you think you're separate from it.  It is everywhere, from the clothes you wear to the language you use to the way you think.  It is a viral pandemic that masks infection by pretending to be part of you.  There's no cure.  But if you know the structure of the virus, at least you can recognize the infection as not-you. 

"No way, I'm not getting infected,  I'm not exposing myself to all that trash.  I'm going to think for myself."
That's the virus talking.



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