(Semi-)Livebloggin’: The 2008 VMAs
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 8, 2008
Dum dum de-dum, dum dum de-dum dum
Ah, the first Sunday in September–for better or worse, there’s still nothing quite like it. And while the rest of America is watching the leaves turn from green to brown instantaneously and/or obsessively checking the first-week stats of their Fantasy Football roster, those of us who still believe in the music video (or just want to relive the Fartman and Jamiroquai-related memories of our youth) will be watching the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards, hosted by Forgetting Sarah Marshall breakout star Russell Brand. Technically I won’t be live blogging this, as I’ll be too busy watching game two of the Phils-Mets doubleheader (in fact, I’m actually writing this introduction after having watched the VMAs on re-runs–spoiler alert: Carlos Delgado shells Cole Hamels, and J-Roll goes 0-5). But they’re live to me, and that’s good enough. Get ready for two and a half hours’ worth of shallow insights and employment-seeking procrastinations–it is September after all!
- Britney, out to introduce the opening performance, somehow looks human again. She’ll never recapture the allure she had around the turn of the millennium, obviously, but the fact that you can look at her now and even remember that she and the girl from the “Sometimes” video share many similarities (and may even arguably be the same person) speaks to great progress.
- Rihanna opening with a super-gothed-out “Disturbia” with bits of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and “Seven Nation Army”–should be the most awesome thing ever, right? Unfortunately, Rihanna sounds like the song is completely out of her vocal range, and she barely has anything to sing anyways, since all the song’s cool parts are done by the back-up singers. Thought that counts, I suppose.
- Russell Brand, as in the awards’ ad campaign, comes out swinging at the obvious question: What the hell is Russell Brand doing hosting the Video Music Awards? He insists that he is indeed famous in the UK, and hopes you take his word for it. “My persona doesn’t really work unless I’m famous,” he admits, with good cause.
- Shots at the Republican party? Know your audience, my trans-continental friend. I would have no idea who Sarah Palin even was if I was still 17. And I run a blog.
- Repeated, repeated shots at the Jonas Brothers’ virginity brings up to me a sort of obvious, but little-asked personal question: At age 17, would you rather take your chances at sex with below-average potential and no guarantee of success, or would you prefer to stay a virgin, with the extremely assured knowledge that you could sleep with just about anyone in the entire world should you decide to do so? Would having to perform “When You Look Me in the Eyes” 500 times a year sway the balance one way or the other?
- Britney takes one for the team by beating Katy Perry for the Best Female Video VMA, the first award of the night. She begins her acceptance speech by thanking God, and I search for the irony that I’m sure must be there somwhere.
- The house DJ scratches on a copy of “Wonderwall” while accompanied by a live drummer. It sounds pretty cool, but I continue to be vaguely amused and embittered that some 13 years after their one year on top of the colonies, Oasis continues to be the #1 reference point for British musical culture in the U.S.
- You know, back around the time of her Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle resurgence, I thought the “Demi Moore = hot as ever” movement was significantly misguided. She looks pretty good presenting the Best Male Video VMA, though–in almost the exact same outfit as Katy Perry, no less.
- Chris Brown wins BMV for “With You.” Right dude, wrong song. Good enough. He gives it up to Lil’ Weezy, his pick for the award, who now has officially reached Kanye-level status of “I better give this dude his propers, since he might have his entourage beat me up after the show otherwise, and everyone thinks he’s cooler anyway.”
- The JBs perform “Lovebug,” at first on an apartment porch in vests and suspenders, the set of which gives way to a much larger street setting, as the song revs up, the crowd goes nuts and Head Jonas goes crowdsurfing. It’s a surprisingly good song, and I am reminded for the 150th time that these guys are the first pop phenomenon in my lifetime that officially make me old.
- The presenters and announcers keep making a big deal about it being the 25th VMAs, with Katy Perry (mention #3 already in this article, of god knows how many) paying homage to (but not re-enacting) Madonna’s famous performance of “Like a Virgin” at the ’84 ceremonies. Considering the fact that in last year’s ceremonies, the channel seemed to be doing as much as was humanly possible within their power to shit on whatever sense of legacy or history the show had, I consider this an accomplishment of sorts. Maybe MTV won’t even need JT’s stern admonishing at this year’s ceremonies.
- I hope I never get sick of this Gates / Seinfeld commercial.
- We get the tail end of Katy Perry (#4) performing her mega-hit. Russell Brand totally blows an opportunity to become my personal hero by failing to in any way slam on Perry, instead just making a lame joke about putting cherry chapstick on his balls. Boo.
- Leona Lewis covering The Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”? Shit, am I missing something here? I wish this girl would come out with one song that I could like unreservedly, because she seems like a pretty decent human being.
- Lil’ Wayne is, without question, the biggest rock star on the planet. Weezy, performing shirtless with his ass hanging squarely and unapologetically out of his pants, and T-Pain, in his leather jacket, top hat and white-rimmed sunglasses, have taken over the mantle of JT and Timbo grooving to “SexyBack” in their white suits at the ’06 VMAs, as the epitome of pop cool. Say what you will about the current state of pop music, it’s good to know that its leadership is still in relatively good hands. I wish they had used the zooming “A MILLI” screen in the background, though–I’m definitely picking one of those up for my new apartment.
- Uh, Fannypack winning a VMA? Like, that Fannypack? What the fuck?
- I can’t decide what’s worse, the previews for Burn After Reading or the previews for My Best Friend’s Girl. I mean, I don’t much question which actual movie will be better, but when did ad people and editors of all stripes decide it was OK to not actually advertise any of their movie’s jokes? Instead, we just get a lot of interrupted sentences and flailing limbs.
- Russell Brand seems to think that if he talks remarkably quickly, no one will mind the fact that his jokes are going way over everyone’s heads. Which is pretty cool by me, actually–it worked pretty well in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
- Paramore, these kids are pretty nifty, huh? The great songs aren’t quite there, yet, but once lead singer Hayley Williams gets her heart broken by the bassist or one of the guys in Panic! At the Disco or something, they’ll be Tragic Kingdom-caliber in no time.
- Shia LaBoeuf, in suit and slicked-back hair, and Slash, looking like Slash, are the two representatives of rock culture deemed apporpriate to introduce the award for Best Rock Video. Linkin Park’s “Shadow of the Day” takes down Paramore, trumping the old award show maxim of the most recent performer winning the next award they’re nominated for (somewhere in the audience, LeAnn Rimes seethes with recognition). It’s a worthy recipient, though–still the best U2 song in close to a decade. “Transformers was awesome,” Chester professes to Shia in reverence.
- Russell interrupts Miley performing “Living on a Prayer” on Rock Band II, reminding me that a week from today, not only will the Jovi anthem remain the most over-played song in karaoke history, it’ll also be the Rock Band go-to for anyone that doesn’t know what an asshole I can be when it comes to played out 80s anthems. Plus, she’s brought out to introduce Pink performing “So What,” her new smash that once again makes me wonder how Pink has managed to cover about 20 different musical styles, attitudes and genres in her decade’s worth of hit singles without ever turning out a single one that was even half-decent. Grumble.
- Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson, together in wedded bliss. I’m trying to think of what my generation’s equivalent of this would be. Billie Joe Armstrong marrying Sporty Spice? Yikes.
- Christopher “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse shows up on stage with Slipknot, allegedly trashed from doing bodyshots back stage, to introduce the Best Hip-Hop Video. Tick-tock, Chris. Tick-tock.
- Jordin Sparks and John Legend show up to introduce T.I.’s performance of out-of-nowhere #1 hit “Whatever You Like.” Sparks first takes a moment to shoot back at Russell for mocking the Jonas Brothers’ promise rings, claiming “not everyone, guy or girl, wants to be a slut.” Legend’s reaction is vaguely akin to Mike Myers being informed that our president doesn’t care for dark-colored folk.
- T.I. and Rihanna perform “Live Your Life,” a song based on a sample of “Dragostea Din Tei,” the song from the Numa Numa video. How this has not yet, at date of publication, caused the internet to collapse in on itself, is a fairly mysterious phenomenon. MOLDOVA REPRESENT.
- Hey, Christina Aguilera’s still around. Get Mandy Moore and Jessica’s big sis in here and it can be 1999 all over again. Chrissy performs a darker update of breakout hit “Genie in a Bottle” (pretty cool, though I maintain that the original is kinda unfuckwithable to begin with), leading into new hit “Keeps Gettin’ Better,” which sounds like a significantly more extroverted Goldfrapp. Not so bad.
- More blandly pretty people that I only sort of recognize, all right. Presenting the Best New Artist award, to uh, Tokio Hotel. Do these guys even exist in this country outside of TRL? Well, I guess my enemy’s enemy is my friend and all that, as Katy Perry (#5) continues to go moonmanless.
- Russell Brand introduces Paris Hilton to announce the Best Pop Video award. McLovin nods knowingly in the audience, thinking to himself “Hmmm, yeah, I could probably fuck her if I wanted to.” Arguable. Britney takes home award #2 for “Piece of Me,” which apparently was a much, much bigger hit than I remember it being. God gets shoutout #2 from Brit-Brit. Still searching for the irony.
- Drake & Josh (Wikipedia is gettin’ a workout tonight, lemme tell you) come out to introduce Kid Rock, doing his cover of that Hitmasters standard, “All Summer Long.” I never stopped believing that you had another comeback in ya, Kid, I just wish you could’ve stuck to over-appropriating from one classic rock song to do so. Good show, though.
- Kobe Bryant, renowned celebrity and much-beloved popular figure, comes out to introduce the award for Video of the Year. I wish he could’ve been out there to introduce the inevitable performance of Kanye West, his musical equivalent in almost every way, but it’s still a treat to watch him to try to mask his contempt for the youth of America. How the hell did the Ting Tings get nominated for this award, exactly?
- Brit gets the hat trick with “Piece of Me,” though unforunately, God only goes two for three in her acceptance speeches. “Where are we going?” Britney asks, as Russell talks her into a golf cart that starts speeding off the set. “We’re going to start a new life, Britney,” he casually enforms her. Well played, Mr. Brand.
- Kanye has a new song to close the awards, apparently. I don’t know exactly how I feel about Kanye throwing traditional rapping over in favor of one of singing into one of T-Pain’s auto-tuners–I mean yeah, “Hey Ya!” was fun and all, but we all know what happened to Andre 3000 once he decided that he’d have more fun doing spoken word pieces and drum and bass covers of jazz standard, right? Still, hard to argue with for a closing performance. And the rolling credits confirm it: Katy Perry (#6 and final) will be going home unadorned tonight.
All in all, maybe the first VMAs since I left high school where the times I felt slightly seasick were outnumbered by the times I nodded to myself and said, “all right.”