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Oh Lorde: VMAs play fast and loose with definition of rock

“It was a beauty contest. They didn’t even listen to the music.”

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By Jeffrey Trainor (Contributor) – Email

Print Edition: September 3, 2014

“It’s truly astounding how self-absorbed and outlandish music award shows have become.” (Image:  Michael Candelori/ flickr)

“It’s truly astounding how self-absorbed and outlandish music award shows have become.” (Image: Michael Candelori/ flickr)

“It was a beauty contest. They didn’t even listen to the music.”

Jack Black’s memorable character Dewey Finn from the 2003 film School of Rock exclaims this line after losing the coveted battle of the bands prize to his former group, No Vacancy.

The words fit well with this year’s MTV’s video music awards (VMAs). It is truly astounding how self-absorbed and outlandish music award shows have become, and the VMAs are no exception. The VMAs were initially created to compete with the Grammys but have seen a quick erosion into a teen-pleasing, eye-catching, and controversial few hours of television (much like all of MTV’s programming).

The most glaring example of this came when the award for Best Rock Video was won by Lorde for her video and song combination of “Royals,” beating out the likes of the Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, Imagine Dragons, and Linkin Park (I’m sure some people would make arguments that the latter two bands aren’t rock, either). I have nothing against Lorde — in fact I truly enjoyed a large portion of her debut record Pure Heroine — but how does an artist who personally identifies her music as “art pop,” “dream pop,” and “electronica” take the award in the rock category over legitimate rock acts?

The Rock Video of the Year category was created in 1989, when Best Heavy Metal Video was awarded to Guns N’ Roses for Sweet Child o’ Mine. Since that time, the award has seen a steady decline from “Best Heavy Metal Video” to “Best Metal/Hard Rock Video,” to “Best Hard Rock Video,” and finally to “Best Rock Video.” This ever-changing title perhaps shows the biggest reflection in the changing scope of the VMAs and MTV. There is a constant desire by the program and network to appease their viewers and their changing musical palates. I understand this is a good way to operate, but for the sake of the musicians, it is offensive. Artists who pour blood, sweat, and tears into their art are left with no recognition for their achievements and successes. That’s not what awards are supposed to be about! If the Golden Globes operated in such a way, it’s scary to think who may be winner — Twilight, anyone?

Perhaps Dewey Finn was ahead of his time in remarking on how musical ability was second to “the look” in the industry. Certainly trend won out on this day, but I doubt we will look back and say, “Damn, that ‘Royals’ was a great rock song.” At least I hope not. That would truly show an erosion of the musical landscape.

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