VMAs 2009: Let the music do the talking?

Well, as we all know, the highlight of MTV’s Video Music Awards (to give them their full title) for 2009 was Kanye West’s insulting of a teenage pop star live on stage. Priya’s already got this one covered from her post yesterday, so I won’t go into it too much.

I wanted to point out this thought-provoking post on the La Times site. The author, Ann Powers, makes a very good point in reference to [[Lady Gaga]]’s performance versus the Kanye’s bad-mannered tirade:

…Lady Gaga, whose series of wildly arty costumes (her final one seemed crafted on a paper shredder) and bloody cool re-enactment of her “Paparazzi” video, were the night’s artistic highlights. She made me long for the days when performance, not celebrity feuding and staged makeups, generated the most excitement on the VMAs.

Powers goes on to say that class acts like Green Day, Jay-Z, Beyonce and Pink all made their mark on the evening through performance. I think we were all taken aback by Pink’s apparent ability to sing just as well upside-down as right way up.

It’s a recurring theme for me, not just in music. It’s celebrity culture and how we got to a point where we’ll put anybody on our shoulders and hero-worship them, regardless of actual abilities. It’s about cheap stunts at award ceremonies and selling your family to reality TV (looking at you, Katie and Peter) when you’ve nothing else to sell. It’s about how music frequently has absolutely nothing to say, replaced by endless tit and ass videos.

Although there is a spectrum of entertainment that we can enjoy, it’s worrying that there’s such an absence of intelligent music out there. Yes, Green Day have made some political points musically (not as preachy or condescending as U2/Coldplay), Pink has addressed celebrity culture and female self-image issues. I’m not sure about Beyonce’s contribution to pop beyond nice frocks and booty shaking routines. Even Gaga, once you strip away the costumes, doesn’t seem to have much to say for herself.

Clearly I’m not saying that every 3.5 minute pop tune should make deep and meaningful points, but the ‘industry’ is plumbing new depths in shallowness these days. It’s no wonder there’s a rise in the acerbic anti-celebrity movement who pour scorn on everything the mainstream entertainment industry publishes.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see other messages out there other than lust-as-love songs, stripper music and naval-gazing celebrity-self-referencing records? What do you think?

Or maybe the question should be – who are the artists out there who have substance behind them rather than simply style?

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