Award shows are back! The long nightmare time of wandering the wilderness of no awards shows1 is coming to an end, and I am here to declare all of the awards-granting bodies wrong, and myself correct. As usual.
1speaking of no award – the reason I didn’t write about the Hugos this year is because 1) I didn’t have a whole lot to say that wasn’t said better elsewhere – the sp/rp groups were dumb as hell, and wrong as hell, and it was really stupid, but also that’s pretty much the whole of my statement there and 2) it seemed like a weird time to write about them for the first time. So I’m writing about the World Fantasy Awards in November instead, stay tuned!
This year the nominations are, generally, the most boring slate in a long while. This is probably not indicative of anything! There are boring large budget and small budget videos alike, so it’s not like we’re looking at the dominance of, say, overblown spectacle pieces (although there are those!) or lazy, slapdash pieces (those as well!). Either I’m getting old, and the visual aspect of the whole thing has moved out of my demographic2, or all of the people involved with making music videos that got nominated simply have a different aesthetic that I find distasteful. Generally when confronted with a difference between my opinion and an enormous group of people’s (i.e. the creators of this year’s set of music videos) I assume I’m in the wrong, but this is an awards show we’re talking about, so I’m basically incapable of being wrong. You see my predicament.
2 this is, I’ll allow, possible, but it seems unlikely, given that I loved a ton of last year’s nominees and these things probably don’t happen in twelves months, but hey, who am I to not allow for the possibility.
Disappointing though they be, we have a job to do here, so onward to the nominees!
Song of the Summer
THERE ARE TWELVE NOMINEES IN THIS CATEGORY. TWELVE3. This one is also chosen by the people themselves! As usual with the people-selected VMA categories, it also feels like a random catch-all so that they can get, say, David Guetta’s name in promos, even though there isn’t really a whole lot of call to do so. Since this category is very difficult to make heads or tails of, I will use this space to confess that, in terms of their songs, I have spent the last few years conflating Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez. Unless I can literally see them singing it, I have absolutely no idea which is which.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Fetty Wap, “My Way”
3 that is literally one nominee for every week of summer.
Best Video With a Social Message
Well, by God, if one of the best videos in this category isn’t Wale. My disdain for this category is long-running and explained in previous VMA writeups4, so it is with some consternation that I admit: this is one of the better categories. “One Man Can Change the World” is a pretty good Big Sean song5, and the video is certainly a look at Detroit, but it also fails to ask the question: why is Natasha Bedingfield, clearly audible as the backing vocalist, not credited? Super weird, guys. Super weird. Anyway, Colbie Callait is convinced, in “Try” (co-written by Babyface) that y’all should be yourself. Just like she was in this category last year. And this video isn’t as good as that one. Jennifer Hudson has the timely advantage of making a video for “I Still Love You” that focuses on gay marriage, which is timely and uplifting. It’s not a very good video, and the song is dreck, but in terms of “social message”-ness, full marks. Rihanna’s “American Oxygen” is sort of the epitome of this category – clearly she’s sure she’s saying something, I just don’t share her belief, I guess? She’s saying….America. And parachutes. And also that we didn’t start the fire, it was always burnin’ since the world’s been turnin’. And that brings us back to the aforementioned Wale song.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Wale, “The White Shoes”
4 the short version: it feels disingenuous and self-congratulatory, especially coupled with the fact that it’s buried so deep in the nomination lists, and also with nominees that are carefully-chosen to reflect something indicative – in theory – of MTV, rather than of the songs themselves.
5 this, coupled with the also-pretty-good Wale song and the presence of a song written by Babyface (in 2015!) makes this not only one of the stronger categories, but also one of the most surprising.
Alt-J’s “Left Hand Free” is one of the best country music videos appended to a brit-rock song in recent memory, but I don’t think that’s because of the cinematography. Ed Sheeran’s video for “Don’t” is a video of two people dancing, and that’s not really the call for impressive camera work. “Bad Blood” has some pretty cool cinematography, in that it looks like a movie trailer, but also it looks like a movie trailer and gives me a headache. And so it comes to be that FKA Twigs is our winner, because that video is all one shot, and that’s pretty incredible.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: FKA Twigs, “Two Weeks”
If the rule of thumb for film editing is “if I don’t notice it, they did a good job,” then music videos are probably the hardest thing upon which to do a good job. That said, it’s an easy thing to just give the award to the most ambitious and call that even.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Taylor Swift, “Bad Blood”
Best Art Direction
OK, so I don’t always know about the radio, and it came as something of a surprise to see that the Snoop Dogg song that’s nominated here is called “So Many Pros”. On the one hand, that’s pretty clever substituting a shortened form of the word “prostitute”7, on the other hand, that’s really dumb. But it has nothing to do with the art direction of the video, which is fine I guess. “Bad Blood” doesn’t really have much going on in terms of Art Direction – “make it like an action movie” is a pretty straightforward idea. I will say that I like the videos for the Chemical Brothers’ “Go” and Jack White’s “Would You Fight For My Love?”, but they lose because basically the one thing that the video for “Where Are U Now” has going for it is the art direction, which is pretty cool.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Skrillex and Diplo f. Justin Bieber – “Where Are U Now?”
7. a thing that I know thanks to the David Mamet play Sexual Perversity in Chicago. Thanks, Mr. Mamet!
Best Visual Effects
Three of these videos had the same company (Gloria FX) in charge of their visual effects, so there’s that. While the art direction of “Where Are U Now” is great, the actual effects are pretty basic, so that’s not really it. “Bad Blood”, again, looks cool, but there isn’t really anything beyond “movie trailer” going on in the effects, and even then it’s not that impressive from an effects standpoint. “Telegraph Ave” continues Childish Gambino’s streak of having really cool videos for aggressively mediocre songs8. Tyler, the Creator’s “Fucking Young” is a slightly worse video for a slightly better song. But that FKA Twigs video is seriously cool-looking.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: FKA Twigs, “Two Weeks”
8 of course, most Childish Gambino songs are aggressively mediocre to begin with.
I mean, the “Bad Blood” video has better fight choreography than it does visual effects, but it’s not even nominated here. Dumb. I like Beyonce’s non-dancer-y dancing as much as anybody, but 7/11 isn’t the best outing for it. I’m sure a lot of effort went into the “Don’t” video, but I’m equally sure that I still think it’s boring, and boring dancing isn’t good dancing. The dancing in Chet Faker’s “Gold” and Flying Lotus’ “Never Catch Me” are both pretty good, but it seems a shame not to give OK Go an award for the one thing they do consistently well.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: OK Go, “I Won’t Let You Down”
And here’s where it basically all falls apart. “Bad Blood” is not exactly an inspired piece of direction. I don’t think I even noticed anything in particular about the direction for Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” or Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”, and “Take Me To Church” is one of the most hackneyed video concepts in recent memory. So, by process of elimination…
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Childish Gambino, “Sober”
This is terrible! A terrible category! “See You Again” clearly relies heavily upon people having seen it put to its natural use in the Furious 7, which I absolutley have not, and therefore am immune to its charms. I liked “Uptown Funk” right up until the point when I was hearing it basically once an hour, and then got pretty sick of it, which doesn’t at all make the video (which isn’t very interesting or compelling) any better, except for Mark Ronson’s adorable on-camera awkwardness. Taylor Swift appended Kendrick to the single version of “Bad Blood,” and it didn’t help! Ariana Grande scream-sings her way into this twice, with the crazy-terrible “Love Me Harder”, which she did with the The Weeknd9, and the “Good for exactly, like twenty seconds of its run time total”10 “Bang Bang” which happened to Jessie J and Nicki Minaj as well.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj, “Bang Bang,” because at least it has one part (and, really, only that one part) that I like.
9 The Weeknd has, in the last year or so, undergone an excruciating transformation into a regular utility R&B singer dude, which is a job for which he’s surprisingly fit, but which meant a lot of really terrible disappointments, including the tragedy that is “Love Me Harder,” a song on which he sounds like a parody of himself.
10 specifically the part of the prechorus where they all go “AAAAAAAAAAH-Bang Bang into the ROOOOOOM”. And only that part.
Best Hip-Hop Video
And now we enter the portion of the show where I start to repeat myself. “Alright” is a perfectly good song, with a perfectly good video. That’s sort of the baseline of “good video,” however, as it’s not that good. I’m unsure what would make one think the “I Don’t Fuck With You” video was good. Football-player fetishists with a crush on Big Sean? People that like to see Kanye scowl? “See You Again” would probably have been better served by having a video that was just the end of Furious 7, given the reception of same. “Anaconda”’s video, like the song itself, was funny the first time, and then became less so with every subsequent exposure. That leaves us with the mighty Fetty Wap.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Fetty Wap, “Trap Queen”
Best Rock Video
Welp, commercial rock music continues to fuck that chicken. For about a year now, I’ve heard “Take Me To Church,” liked it more than the songs it was surrounded by contextually, and then been a little sad, because seriously? Let’s just move quietly past this one.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: A quiet, dignified death would probably be nice. Or at least the public execution of the song “Uma Thurman”. Ugh.
Best Pop Video
Do you reckon that the reason that Taylor Swift is nominated here for “Blank Space,” instead of “Bad Blood” like she is in every other category is a resistance to nominating rappers for “pop video”? I bet it is. That’s dumb. Although “Blank Space” is also the better song, so I’ll call that a push. I’ve already spoken of the diminishing returns of “Uptown Funk,” so I won’t spend any more time on it here. Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” is not a good song, so I won’t spend any more time on it here. Maroon 5 made a dumb video for “Sugar”. Beyonce made a very funny video for “7/11”.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I think the “7/11” video is a little better than the (also funny) “Blank Space” video, but that opinion could change any day. For today it’s Beyonce, though.
Artist to Watch
Well, ruling out FKA Twigs, who has been an “Artist to Watch” for several years now, we’re left with three boring folk dudes (Vance Joy, James Bay and George Ezra11) and Fetty Wap. At least they made it easy.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Fetty Wap, “Trap Queen”
11 whose insufferable “Budapest” is saved from being the worst song nominated for a VMA this year by the existence of “Uma Thurman”
Best Female Video
Here’s “Blank Space” again, which is even weirder this time, since “Bad Blood” features, like, all the females in it12. Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” is a bad video for a bad song. NIcki Minaj’s “Anaconda” is a video of rapidly-diminishing returns for a song of rapidly-diminishing returns. SIa’s “Elastic Heart” video got a whole lot of attention, mainly as an outlet for people’s general distaste for Shia LaBeouf, but for all that isn’t, ultimately, a very interesting video. The “Blank Space” video is pretty funny. The “7/11” video is also pretty funny.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, “7/11”
12 of course, the fact that it’s also an allegory for murdering another MTV-friendly female over a backup dancer dispute seems to make it a little less of a “female” video and more of a “deranged lunatic” video, so maybe the VMAs got this one right?
Best Male Video
I, for one, will be happy when I no longer have to figure out things to say about Ed Sheeran. Won’t that be nice? That’ll be nice. Hearing “Uptown Funk” is enough to annoy me pretty thoroughly, so I’m also looking forward to the end of this awards cycle, when I can stop writing about it (sigh). Kendrick’s “Alright” is still a fine song with a dull video. The Weeknd’s “Earned It”, even more than his part of “Love Me Harder”, sounds like The Weeknd doing his best The Weeknd impression. Nick Jonas’ “Chains” is the third-best song he was involved in this year13. This is one paltry category.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”
13 after “Jealous” and Sage the Gemini’s “Good Thing”
Video of the Year
And, finally, we come to the big winner. Since this is an aggregate of the other categories, taking my response to each this far we end up with a run-off between “Bad Blood,” “7/11” and “Alright.” That seems like a reasonably good three-way tie, given that the best of those songs (“Alright”) has the worst video, the worst of these songs (“Bad Blood”) has the best video, and the most lukewarm of these songs (“7/11”) has the most lukewarm video.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Whoever, really. Nobody actually deserves it. Yeesh.
And there we have it folks! The most interesting part could very well be hat-related (I mean, you’ve got Sway and Pharrell and Mark Ronson, just saying).