Do the VMAs still carry their luster?

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Eddie Okosi
Staff Writer

Relevant or dated? Image courtesy of MTV Viacom.

There are the formal Grammy Awards, where “music’s biggest night” is controlled, similar to its counterpart for the film industry, the Oscars. Then, there are the Billboard Music Awards and the AMAs (American Music Awards) — not as important, inconsistent at times, and a little more laid back. 

Cue the MTV VMAs, also known as the Video Music Awards — notorious for scandals, off-the-script moments, and the epicenter for some of the most iconic performances in music history. Different from the last ceremonies mentioned, this award show recognizes the most boundary-pushing, edgy music videos and visuals of the year. 

The first awarded Moonman was handed out all the way back in September of 1984 in New York City. Some recipients include the likes of Janet Jackson, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, David Bowie, Ariana Grande … the list goes on. 

Watching the VMAs is a treat, as the ceremony conjures up a list of many artists from different worlds all colliding into one theater. It also makes great television, as you never know who will interact with who. This is the show that has brought us infamous phrases, like “I’mma let you finish,” and “Miley, what’s good?” 

There have been moments like Christina Aguilera dissing Eminem, Courtney Love throwing a compact at Madonna for reasons we may never know, and Lady Gaga wearing meat. Audiences and viewers at home over the years have been privileged to witness Kendrick Lamar bringing the house down, Britney Spears dancing with a yellow boa, Beyonce announcing her pregnancy, Jessie J being forced to sing during a commercial break with a leg brace, and Madonna as Marie Antoinette voguing — Madonna and the VMAs have a lot of history.

Campaigns and promo for The VMAs were always sleek and followed a theme. I recall the VMAs production working with legendary photographer David LaChapelle to do the advertisements in the 2000s. 

I remember my ten-year-old self feeling so cool staying up late and watching the VMAs because I couldn’t miss a single moment, so I could annoy my classmates all week. Watching Katy Perry, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj going head-to-head in one category had too much power over me. However, as the years go by, the ceremony has become less amusing and spectacular. I’m not one of those few who think music is getting worse, because music is amazing right now, but the ceremony itself isn’t as fun anymore.

In 2021, even though the VMAs had 38 million social media interactions, viewership suffered a 17% decrease, making it the least viewed VMAs ceremony as of late. Fans also have expressed complaints that the awards process has become rigged, as production has been known to award artists who attend in person rather than giving the award to the artists whether they are there to receive it or not.

Not to mention that the big A-listers are not showing up anymore. Let this sink in for a minute — in the video of the year category, only one of the nominees will be taking the stage. There will be great artists who will take the stage, but half of the nominees will not be taking the stage at all.

Honestly, I don’t blame artists for not showing up anymore — they don’t need to. Back in the day, musicians needed all the exposure they could get. Social media wasn’t how it is now, so artists would have to go out there and promote via performances. But now with overexposure, different social platforms, and other ways to reach our faves throughout the year, artists don’t have to rely heavily on award shows as a marketing ploy. And if they do perform, they don’t go above and beyond to deliver an earth-shattering performance.

However, what is the point of a juggernaut state like the VMAs when artists no longer want to use that opportunity to bring their all? The VMAs are the place and the opportunity for musicians to take risks and try something new. With the award show being about music videos, we should be getting on-stage creative visuals. It’s a disservice to the musicians and the audiences if almost everyone wants to show up with a guitar and chair. There is a time and place for that, but the VMAs are not that time or place.  

There is also that invisible linger of stress, as artists these days fear they will not be able to top their predecessors. We as fans need to give them the leeway and opportunity for artists to find their shine and to make some moves. Artists back then also had their humble beginnings, but it was the way they took risks and perfected their craft over time that is the reason they are hailed as legends today. 

Do the VMAs still have the influence and spark they had five, or ten, or 20 years ago? What place does this specific award ceremony have in pop culture relevancy? I am not even sure if MTV productions believe they have the same power they did years ago. 

With all my doubts and overbearing worries, yes, I will be seated on my couch for the VMAs in the future and interact with the discourse on Twitter. One, Nicki Minaj just received the Vanguard Award, and that’s something to be excited about. Two, I still have some faith in pop culture events, and three, I want a surprise performance from Beyoncé even though she is in Croatia — miracles happen once in a while.

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