2013 VMAs

NOTE: sorry this is so late. I forgot to hit a button. I’m officially not the smartest person any of you know. At least I got it in before Sunday.

Hey guys! The nominations for what is simultaneously the least-useful and also most-honest awards show in the business1 are out, and it’s time to make sure that you poor little lambs aren’t left out in the cold, all alone, with no one to guide through what you should think about them. Also, as of press time, the nominees for “Best Song of the Summer” have not been announced yet. I don’t know why, either.

Best Song of the Summer

I’m kind of annoyed. None of these songs are summery. I suppose that they’re all (save the One Direction song) about having sex, but, like, that’s still not the same as “summer.” They should be songs about ice cream. In fact, each of these songs would be better if it was about ice cream. I guess “Get Lucky” could be about ice cream already, provided you allow for “some” in the chorus to mean “some ice cream” and re-define “getting lucky” as “receiving some ice cream”.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mrs. Coach’s hair which, if you think about it, looks a lot like summer, and therefore has more fo a right to this award than any of these stupid songs. Except maybe “Blurred Lines.” That’s song’s a-ight.

Best Video With a Social Message
Sigh. Flagrant misuse of the word “social” aside (we all know what they mean, after all), what on Earth are we supposed to do with this category? I still don’t know the answer. “People Like Us” is Kelly Clarkson’s entry into the “Beautiful”-style we’re-all-alright ballad, but it’s also far too easily interpreted about being about pretty rich white people from Texas, which I think is maybe a garbled message there2. “No Guns Allowed” is stupid. Someone tell Snoop Lion to stop doing that. Nathan Rabin once wrote that “The theme of most of Beyonce Knowles’ hits….can be reduced to ‘I’m Awesome. Fuck You.’” “I Was Here” seems to be no different, really, but I suppose that’s an empowering message to the people projecting themselves into it. “Candles in the Sun” is the most boring song of Miguel’s brief career, and the more I hear “Same Love” the more I think that I become convinced that Macklemore is one of nature’s born marketers, and the less I’m able to take it even a bit seriously.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: This video of Pete Holmes shouting.

Best Editing in a Video
The editing of a music video is a lot like the recording of a song: on the one hand, it’s the easiest to notice if it’s janky, on the other hand, without its editing, no music video would look like the same video. It’s true that Bachman-Turner Overdrive II is, technically, better-recorded than The Velvet Underground and Nico, but honestly. Which would you rather listen to of an evening? My point here is: I don’t know “good” editing from “distinctive” editing in a music-video context, and am therefore unqualified to give this award out.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I’d say make them all wrestle, but that’s as good as giving the award to P!nk, so I guess I’ll just say “Mirrors” because I might as well get used to saying it.

Best Art Direction
Isn’t Art Direction, like, the props and shit? “You have the best fake-spaceship soundstage” is a weird award. Janelle Monae is a weird lady.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Janelle Monae f. Erykah Badu, “Q.U.E.E.N.”

Best Visual Effects
Hey! I wrote about “Breakin’ a Sweat” right here! Anyway, it still sucks. I really didn’t think that Capital Cities video was at all special, but I guess I’m wrong. I guess. That Duck Sauce video is a bit crap. I really like Flying Lotus, and I really like that record, and I really like that video, but really.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Weeknd, “Wicked Game”

Best Choreography
DIDN’T CIARA USED TO BE A GODDAMNED CHOREOGRAPHER? Or am I wrong about that? She used to be some kind of something, goddamn it. Anyway, that song sucks a lot. She doesn’t win that one. what.how.notreally doesn’t win anything at all, much less something he was nominated for with Justin Bieber. “Treasure” is a neat video, but it isn’t even the best-choreographed Bruno Mars video of the year, let alone the best overall.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: By process of elimination, it’s Jennifer Lopez f. Pitbull for “Live it Up.” I think Jennifer Lopez was also a choreographer, although I know she was actually a dancer. I guess what I’m saying is: I see choreographers everywhere. I’m like Haley Joel Osment, and it’s going to turn out that Bruce Willis was a choreographer the whole time3.

Best Direction
What, precisely, would compel one to nominate “Started from the Bottom”? While I’m not necessarily opposed to the song (although it does largely serve to remind me why I didn’t always like Drake), I see nothing about the direction of its music video that makes me feel anything but “eh.” “Carry On” and “Can’t Hold Us” would both probably win for “most operatic direction,” but they don’t win for “Best.” Oh fuck it, you all know where this was going.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Justin Timberlake, “Suit and Tie” The worst Jay-Z verse in living memory doesn’t change the fact that David Fincher is still the best director in living memory, and it’s kind of a hoot to see him go back to his music video roots.

Best Collaboration
However, the worst Jay-Z verse in living memory is more than enough to tropedo “Suit & Tie” right the holy hell out of this category. Fuck that. Actually, this whole category belongs in what I like to call the “VMA awards confusion hole.” All music videos are collaborations – they’re a collaboration between an artist, who made a song, and another person, who aimed a camera at them. Therefore, regardless of who is nominated, they’re all in the spirit of the music video awards.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Everybody that made a music video in 2013, except Justin Timberlake for “Suit & Tie” because that Jay-Z verse deserves punishment. You can sit out in the rain, Sean, and think about what you’ve done and not get an award.

Best Hip-Hop Video
Remember when (drank) there was a time (drank) that hip-hop videos (drank) were the absolute worst (drank) things on the network (drank)? When everything was (drank) naked titty girls (drank) and a general sense of money-flashing (drank) and fancy-car-driving (drank)? Now that rap music (drank) has replaced rock music (drank) as the formerly-hugely-popular-but-now-just-taken-for-granted (drank) form of popular music that appeals to white teenagers (drank) we’ve gotten a much more variegated approach (drank) to the hip-hop video (drank). That’s nice (drank). “Started from the Bottom” is still stupid (drank), “Power Trip” is a good song with a stupid (drank) video, “Can’t Hold Us” would be lost without its press (drank) and its (sung) hook (drank).

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Actually (drank) it’s “F*ckin’ Problems” (drank), I’ve just always wanted to do the (drank) thing in a post. Or at least (drank) ever since last year (drank) when “Swimming Pools (Drank)” came out (drank).

Best Rock Video

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Thermals, “Born to Kill”, because holy gosh is this a terrible category.

Best Pop Video
Man, “Mirrors” really should have been the lead single from The 20/20 Experience. It’s a better song, it’s got a better video, no one is wearing ALL BLACK AT THE WHITE SHOW, it’s just better all around. “Carry On” isn’t as interesting as any other fun. video, I clicked on the video for Selena Gomez’s “Come and Get It” and got about halfway through it when I realized that I’d forgotten that I was watching it for research and had started playing another song while it was playing. That’s how much of an impression it left on me. “We Can’t Stop” doesn’t have a very good video, and its nomination is probably little more than an excuse to get Miley to the VMAs.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER – Bruno Mars, “Locked Out of Heaven,” which is one of the only cases in this whole mess where the video is actually better than the song itself. That is one great video.

Artist to Watch
Hey everybody! Welcome to Insufferable Hipster Corner! The Weeknd’s record – you know, the one with “Wicked Games” on it – came out two fucking years ago. I realize that, in the comparative scheme of things, not a lot of people heard it, and that a lot of people have only found out about it since Trilogy (actually the label-sanctioned release of the three mixtapes that he’d already put out to that point in 2011) was given a physical release in stores and stuff, and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with showing up to the party late, as long as you show up to the party. No, the problem here is MTV trying to somehow position themselves behind the Weeknd two years after anyone who would have watched The Weeknd started watching The Weeknd. Nobody is under the impression that MTV is particularly near the cutting edge – at this point they’re not in really even in the music industry anymore, so they’re something of a rear-guard as it is: they’re there to show off stuff you’re just going to go look at on YouTube, and to put up a couple of hours of television where Lady Gaga wears something outlandish and somebody’s boobs fall out of something. And that’s fine. I’m in no way opposed to this version of MTV, and I don’t actually care how any cable network programs. I’m just hear to cast judgment on their awards shows, and if you’re calling your category “Artist to Watch,” and you’re implying that you’re giving us the key to something, and the thing in question has already got a platinum album with a years-old song that is, to be sure, one of the very finest moments of the decade so far, and unlikely to be diminished any time soon, then you’re silly, and your award is equally silly, and therefore a song as great as “Wicked Games” should not be eligible for consideration. Whew. Ok. Stop trying to make Austin Mahone happen. It’s not going to happen. Zedd are dumb, and I can’t believe I now know anything about them. There is no compelling reason to ever care about Iggy Azalea, although at least when you’re talking about her music videos you’re not shutting off the only reason she’s famous. Twenty One Pilots are from Columbus, and that’s pretty cool.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Twenty One Pilots, because they’re not as good as The Weeknd, but they also aren’t being nominated for a platinum-selling two-year-old record.

Best Female Video
Shouldn’t it be “best video featuring a female artist”? As far as I know, videos don’t have biological sex4. Anyway. Nate Ruess and Mikkkkkkey Ekkkkkkko aren’t women. So this category is already wrong twice, and I don’t think we should have to embarrass ourselves like that. The knowledge that Demi Lovato is still making music videos fills me with an almost-apocalyptic sense of dread. I still don’t see why the “We Can’t Stop” video is in any way interesting. Of course, I also don’t know why the “I Knew You Were Trouble” video is in any way interesting.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Aw, hell. It’s Pink and Nate Ruess. That is a pretty nifty video.

Best Male Video
So. I guess I already used that (drank) thing then. So. Uh. I think that we need to have a serious discussion about the role that Ed Sheeran is currently playing in our pop cultural landscape. Namely: I think he should go away. I want you all to get to work on that. At least this song isn’t about sad hookers. Ugh. Outside of that colossal horrible terrible blunder, this is actually a strong field. “Mirrors” is pretty cool. “Blurred Lines” is a dumb, dumb song, but the video is fine at least visually interesting5. Unfortunately, the “Swimming Pools (Drank)” video isn’t actually that good. Actually, that helps, because it makes it easier.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bruno Mars, “Locked Out of Heaven.” Y’all. I really like that video.

Video of the Year
I suppose, logically, that the rightful winner should be the one that wins a toss-up between “Best Male” and “Best Female” videos, but the only possible toss-up this year would be “Locked Out of Heaven” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Wouldn’t it be weird if I said it was something completely unrelated? Like, say, “Thrift Shop,” which was not nominated for Best Male or Best Female or, in fact, anything else, since “Can’t Hold Us” is the song that’s all over these nominations? Yeah, that’s dumb.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Still “Locked Out of Heaven.” It hasn’t gotten any worse in the last thirty seconds.

1 the VMAs are, in this sense, the exact opposite of the Oscars: no one will ever care who won a VMA. Nobody cared back when music videos were actually a part of the television culture (as opposed to now, when they’re largely just a part of the grander YouTubescape*). Yet the people who win generally deserve to win for reasons other than politics, marketing or public image. I should create some sort of unified-awards-show-validity-theory. Expect to see it, at the rate of my current ability to deliver on things I promise to post, sometime around 2081.

* which, I hasten to remind everybody, is fine. Remember: while it’s true that MTV used to show music videos, it still sucked, because most of those music videos were terrible. Anyone who tells you differently is lying.

2 I mean, it’s certainly fine to be a pretty rich white person from Texas. It’s just not really something you’d need to band together about.

3 spoiler alert.

4 Wakka wakka!

5 although it loses points for the fact that I wrote that and then felt that I had to make it clear that I did not mean “because boobies.” Sigh.

Give the bass player some

Do you guys know who Philo Farnsworth was? He invented television. I don’t mean he invented television like Uncle Milty, I mean he invented the television. In a little house in Provo, Utah. At a time when the idea of transmitting moving pictures through the air would be like me saying I’ve figured out a way to beam us aboard the Starship Enterprise…He was a visionary and he died broke and without fanfare. The guy I really like though was his brother-in-law, Cliff Gardner. He said to Philo “I know everyone thinks you’re crazy, but I want to be a part of this. I don’t have your head for science, so I’m not gonna be much help with the design and mechanics of the invention. But it sounds like in order to do your testing, you’re gonna need glass tubes.”….See, Philo was inventing the cathode receptor, and even though Cliff didn’t know what that meant or how that worked, he’d seen Philo’s drawing and he knew they were gonna need glass tubes and since television hadn’t been invented yet, it’s not like you could get them at the local tv repair shop. “I want to be a part of this,” Cliff said, “and I don’t have your head for science. How would it be if I taught myself to be a glassblower? And I could set up a little shop in the backyard, and I could make all the tubes you’ll need for testing.” There ought to be Congressional medals for people like that.

-Sports Night

Pere Ubu are, unquestionably, the finest rock band ever to emerge from Cleveland, Ohio1. More importantly, they’re the best kind of rock band: the kind that works as a unit itself, rather than as the composition of its individual members2. While some of the members’ contributions – David Thomas’ inimitable bleat and Allen Ravenstine’s approach to the synthesizer as a means to actively screw up the sound of the song foremost among those – it’s Tim Wright that kept them firmly in the realm of the rock band. Observe:

I’ll have more to say about this below, but this is Pere Ubu’s first single (it actually began its life as a Rocket From the Tombs song), and this is Tim Wright, holding down the regular parts of the song – keeping the time, marking the different sections, etc. The whole song is based on Ted Lawson’s book (or Dalton Trumbo’s screenplay) of the same name, and during the part where it’s clear the plane is having trouble – firefight, or simply crashing – it’s the part where even the bass guitar is out of control. It’s rare that Wright got in on the freak-out parts, and even in this case, he’s still the first person back to normal.

First take a moment to realize that this songis almost forty years old and that, in fact, it has been more time since David Thomas screamed about needing a final solution than it was between when he first needed it and when Hitler ruined the phrase for anything else.

While it’s probably possible – even likely, as you all probably know by now – for me to lend too much significance to something that probably doesn’t deserve it, it still feels portentous that a band who was on a self-proclaimed mission to make pop music for the future (and one of the first bands to be described as “industrial”) still started the a-side of their second single (their third-ever-recorded song) with their most technically-gifted3 member grounding the song. In fact, throughout the whole song, it’s Tim Wright’s bass that gives the listener their clues about where the song is going – Scott Krauss (the drummer) and Tim Hermann (the “normal” guitar player) are basically adding accents at this point, and Peter Laughner (the “weird” guitar player) and Allen Ravenstine are occasionally firing up clouds of noise to punctuate the “verses” (such as they are). Without Tim Wright, it’s possible that “Final Solution” would be a great song, but it wouldn’t be the same Pere Ubu – what made them work is that the “art” never got in the way of the “rock,” a lesson that precious few art bands would remember the importance of. The highly-dub-y “Cloud 149” features Wright more prominently, showing the band’s reliance on him (and, to a lesser extent, Scott Krauss) to keep them from floating off (as they would eventually do in the early eighties)4.

Eventually, as all the obituaries say, Tim Wright would move to New York and be a member of Arto Lindsay’s occasionally-mind-blowing DNA. He performed a similar role in DNA – especially in the sense of grounding the work of an unhinged, atonal vocalist – as you can see here:

Once again, Ikue Mori’s drumming (which is, in and of itself, an oft-underrated contribution) and Arto Lindsay’s general psychosis are the attention grabber, but the only semblance of actual form the song actually has. It’s a role that is a logical extension of his role in Pere Ubu, but also one that he inhabited comfortably for a long time.

And then he died, and the fact that he was in two of the most original, theretofore-unheard bands in the history of rock music was given little more thought than a passing “huh.” His wikipedia page, at three sentences, is shorter than the dozen or so obituaries each of which said “he had been the bass player in Pere Ubu and the bass player in DNA”, which I suppose is more notice than he could’ve gotten.

Still and all, it doesn’t seem fair that each of the reports should basically copy and paste from each other. The problem here is that it’s hard to appreciate Cliff Gardner – it’s hard to recognize, really, who exactly it is making the glass tubes. Even I’m guilty of it – I don’t know that, before this article, I had thought substantively about what it was Tim Wright was doing for DNA, or what kind of role he played in making them as great as they sometimes were5.

So here’s to Tim Wright, and here’s to Cliff Gardner, and here’s to Bun E. Carlos and William Mesner-Loebs and Robby Muller and Tim Minear and Bob Weston and Candice Peterson while they’re still alive. Sometimes the most important part of something original is the part that makes it recognizable.

1 The Cramps are from Akron, Nine Inch Nails weren’t the same kind of great, Craw doesn’t have the same kind of impact, Prisonshake is only intermittently as great as people say they are, the Cloud Nothings dude is, like, twelve, and you aren’t genuinely suggesting that I consider The Raspberries, are you?
2 alright, kiddies, this one might get long: I mean to say that the best kind of rock bands are the ones that don’t actually exist a showcase for one or more of their members. This is something that Pere Ubu was, in its middle incarnations, actually guilty of. But the Minutemen without D. Boone (and with Ed Crawford) turned out to be fIREHOSE, despite having the same rhythm section. And Scratch Acid without David Yow or Brett Bradford (but with Steve Albini) turned out to be Rapeman, and Paul Rodgers will apparently join any band with a vacancy and a blank check, but none of them are Free*. The point is: the elements of the band don’t matter as much as the band itself. Call it synergy, I suppose, but the point is that rock music is at its best when it’s dealing in the interaction of band members. Joe Carducci, in his possibly-great-but-also-kind-of-a-ranty-slog** Rock and the Pop Narcotic talks of it in terms of taking place between the notes, which is both exactly something Joe Carducci would say and also a little too hippie-dippy-ish for me. Anyway. On to the point.

*no, seriously. Free were awesome in all the ways Bad Company were dreck.

** not unlike this footnote! Except this footnote is probably not possibly great!

3 traditionally technically-gifted. This is meant to be a ode to Tim Wright and the idea of the supporting cast, but I do have to head that sentence off with this one: Allen Ravenstine invented a new way to play an instrument, which is no small thing. He also left rock music to become a commercial airline pilot, which basically makes him the coolest guy ever. But Allen Ravenstine stayed with the band for the better part of a couple of decades, and Tim Wright left early, and the difference between their very early work and their subsequent (Ravenstine included) work is striking, so I feel it’s worth saying, given the evidence, that Tim Wright was as responsible for the Pere Ubu gestalt as I’m giving him credit for here.

4 actually, Tim Wright was only in the band a hair longer than Peter Laughner, who would soon find drugs more rewarding than being in Pere Ubu, which is stupid, but they would both move to New York.

5 they have, like, an hour of recorded material total, and about 40 minutes of it is face-melting.