Monday, September 14, 2009

A Short and Potentially Unqualified Discussion of the VMAs

I think it's VMAs? Maybe MTV VMAs? I don't know. I haven't given a shit about MTV, or its awards show, since the Smashing Pumpkins were promoting Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. I feel so ancient when I think about MTV, because I gripe about how MTV used to show music videos, but they'd all but stopped by the time I was in high school. My brother, six years younger than me, never really experienced an MTV that showed actual musical content. I suppose he had compensatory access to a slew of other channels, like MTV 2-Googleplex, Fuse, and BET. But since we're from Wyoming, we didn't actually have access to any of that, and I'm pretty sure by the time he lived in Colorado (and my parents put down for fancy cable) all of those channels were pretty much identical to MTV, albeit with theme-appropriate palette swaps.

The current excitement eating up the web would be completely opaque to me if not for my girlfriend, who has cable, a television on which to watch it, and reliable internet connectivity and cellphone batteries with which to communicate important things which occur to me. I'm talking, of course, about Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift's acceptance speech. Please note, my gentle readers, I really wanted to call that link something else. I wanted to make some clever reference to another time when someone interrupted someone else while they were accepting an award for something. But I don't watch award shows. I don't care about awards for most things, and I instinctively mistrust the entire voting block concept which exists to dole these prizes out. Spike TV started a video game awards show, and I clocked out. Call me when there's a gala event to hand out prizes for most compelling homebrew campaign and best use of a fighter encounter power.

Those are Dungeons and Dragons references, intended to give you a firm grounding in my level of pop-culture integration.

I'll leave the key implications of Kanye's latest act (apparently this is a habitual thing for him?), professional and social, to E! and VH1 and, presumably, MTV (do they air programming that isn't some sort of reality program or something involving Puck?) (Apologies if Puck is dead.). I will, however, say this: As an erudite and articulate mulatto gentleman, it saddens me to see Kanye do this embarassing thing. I liked having a high-profile, articulate and entertaining hip-hop artist- someone who, at least at one point in his career, had the sensibility to apologize for discussing "money, hoes, and rims again". I wasn't taken in by Slow Jams or Through the Wire when they first dropped, but when I actually took the time to listen to the first album (courtesy of my much more plugged-in younger brother) I found a lot to love. I've consistently found Kanye's work more engaging and entertaining than nearly any other mainstream rapper- by which I mean no offense to the other artists I really enjoy and perhaps should consider mainstream. However, the album sales and publicity Kanye enjoys just don't seem to be available to Atmosphere, Astronautalis, Lupe Fiasco, Black Prez, Del the Funkee Homosapien, Hieroglyphics, or Aesop Rock. I could have continued waggling my indie cred but it was wearying to Google every name to ensure I was spelling it correctly- independent and alternative hip-hop loves to play with the organization of letters!

So Kanye was out there, and I felt like he was doing it for the thinkers, at least in some way. By contrast, I have almost zero personal stock in Taylor Swift. Despite being from Wyoming, I don't listen to a lot of country. I was impressed to learn that Taylor is actually from Wyomissing, and the puns therein write themselves. I do think the young woman has a deliciously vulpine cast to her face, which is a good thing- but I always felt guilty thinking that until about a month ago when I realized that Taylor is almost 20 years old, and thus it's not a sin to find her attractive. I watched a video she had posted on MySpace (about five minutes before the aforementioned revelation, note) and was entertained. And I realized (or decided, depending on how much you want to credit my opinions) that part of her popularity is sourced in her writing Emo music for young women. But that's the size of this paragraph to the preceding one.

All that said, shame on Kanye. I can't fall down on him as hard as the majority of internet pundits probably will, because I can sort of glimpse where he might possibly be coming from with the whole stunt. As a black entertainer operating at that high level of visibility, any time another black entertainer is passed over, especially an august member of the industry known for her own innovations, it probably rankles. Unfortunately, rushing a stage is never a solution. It didn't work for Gamecock and it doesn't work here. It only draws attention to the immaturity of the act, not the deep and intractable societal schisms and feelings of inequality which may or may not have spurred the act.

But what I think is the most unfortunate consequence of the show's events is that much, much more attention will be focused on Kanye's treatment of Taylor than Beyonce's grace and tact regarding the same.


  1. Any time a black entertainer doesn't win a VMA award Kanye gets to crush some poor girl's smokes in front of millions of people? Booo, booo...

    We already have an award show where only black people are allowed to win. It's called the BET awards, and pretty much has the exact same categories and guest list as the VMAs. Give little country cracker a chance to shine for 5 minutes, Beyonce is already a mega-diva while Taylor Swift needs all the help she can get!

  2. As much as I appreciate the comment, Sam, I'm disappointed at the hyperbole. At no point in my post did I support, encourage, or validate Kanye's behavior. I reflected that it would probably be difficult, as an artist, to have another artist you know and respect, who has contributed to the industry for a long time, passed over for a younger performer. Given the general breakdown of populations and awards, any time the award could go to a black artist, I expect other black artists take note.

    Beyonce is already a mega-diva, and a classy lady at that- that was the ultimate point of my entry, that her good act is likely overshadowed by Kanye's selfish one, even though the latter provided the setup for the former.

    As for the BET awards, I think there are many black individuals (myself included) who don't turn to that channel for, well, anything. The Boondocks have already managed to say just about everything I would on that topic though.

    Race is always a touchy issue, and while I hate to focus on it I can't pretend that others don't go there first and often. For myself, though, I'm trying to focus on the tact Beyonce showed in salvaging the situation as best she could.

  3. Mmmm... I was going to try to justify my comment about BET, but in hind sight maybe it sucked just a little bit. I didn't mean that black entertainers should turn to BET for accolades and let the rest of us get on with "our" awards, but that sure as hell is what it looks like. So, sorry for that.

    But I have to disagree when you say you don't support his actions... perhaps you disagree with his means, but no matter how many "sort of"s and "might possibly"s you throw up to cover your tracks, I keep getting the impression that you do believe some sort of gesture was in order to call attention to the moment.

  4. I'm sorry you have that impression; that's not at all what I'm intending to imply. I'll have to re-read the post and see what element of my language suggests I'm backing Kanye. I mention that I enjoy his music and that I'm disappointed, and that I'm proud of Beyonce, and that I have no great personal stake in Taylor. I do suggest that his actions might not have been completely without some motivation beyond "being a slavering jackass" but I didn't intend for that to suggest that his action, or any permutation of that action, was appropriate.

    It's a surprisingly inarticulate form of expression for a verbally agile man, basically.

  5. It's like... you've got to read BETWEEN the lines, man! The patterns in the patterns!

    Alright, you win.

  6. Yes Kanye is a cocky SOB
    But the important question reigns...
    What did you think of Death Cab for Cutie's rendition of their new song, Meet me at the Equinox?

  7. Katie: Lacking TV I didn't actually see said rendition, and a bit of frantic Google-fu didn't turn up a link to one, just a lot of talk about Twilight; at that point my skin started smoking and I had to turn away. If you can link me I can form an opinion; I did like the song (which I was able to listen to) which is a thing since I normally prefer Postal Service to Death Cab.