The 2017 VMAs: An Exhibition of the Enfeebled State of Music

It’s not that you’re getting older (okay, yes, you are). It’s that music has genuinely gotten worse over time. For those who used to watch the VMAs in their prime, which arguably, went all the way up to 2007 when Britney Spears delivered her notoriously disinterested performance of “Gimme More,” attempting to give it a chance in the current era always feels like a bad idea. And yet, tradition commingled with force of habit, has some of us loyalists continuously committed to watching it year after year. If nothing else, it certainly is a stark study in the devolution of music and what it means to be a success in what’s left of the “industry.”

Starting with the glaring detail that arguably the human most visually and auditorily resembling a Muppet, Katy Perry, was tapped as the host, the 2017 VMAs were probably doomed no matter what. Clipped acceptance speeches from the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Ed Sheeran were in sharp contrast to Kanye bum-rushing the stage to insist Beyonce, not Taylor Swift, should have won for Best Female Video. So yes, even 2009 was still at least a mildly entertaining year for the Moon Man. One can even cede that the VMAs were still acceptable in 2011, when Lady Gaga, dressed as a man, tried to kiss Britney Spears, only to be rebuffed by the Southern belle, who offered as an excuse, “I’ve already done that,” in reference to her 2003 kiss with Madonna.

Then there were MTV’s attempts at political commentary, almost as limp as the music being honored, with Perry making the first of many bad jokes in her various monologues by claiming she had been in outer space the past year (hence, the astronaut suit) and noticed just how “messed up” everything is right now after being away. Elsewhere, Paris Jackson called out white supremacy, which felt a bit out of left field and brings up the issues with race her own father had throughout his lifetime, leading him to bleach himself whiter than most white supremacists. Tellingly, her “empowered” message felt suddenly hollow when it was immediately followed up with, “And now the nominees for Best Pop Video.” It was almost too rife with detached irony to be real.

And, speaking of Michael Jackson, that P!nk had to be the one bequeathed with the Video Vanguard Award (once reserved for the likes of Janet Jackson, Madonna, The Rolling Stones and Guns ‘n’ Roses), was telling of just how short we are on any viable icons at the moment. Plus, you know, P!nk has technically been around for like twenty years, so why not?

With each passing minute in the show, it became clear that the MTV VMAs, once a beacon of controversy and star-making performances, is now just begging people not to kill themselves. Literally. There was a suicide prevention number promoted throughout Logic’s faux emotional delivery of “1-800-273-8255.” Cameras flashed most frequently to those shedding tears, all of which looked liked utter phony baloney playing it up for the sake of getting some camera time. And, of course, it was all done so as not to ruin one’s makeup. 

For some reason, interpretive dancing was quite the trend for the night (maybe because everyone is an emotional retard nowadays that must express themselves nonverbally), with everyone from P!nk to Lorde partaking in the style, the latter of whom felt compelled to writhe about to “Homemade Dynamite” in lieu of singing as, well, she had the flu. Ah how the flaccidity abounds, even from one of our few answers to decent music in the modern age.

Not unsurprisingly, Miley Cyrus was the one to deliver the best performance of the night, her futuristic country look also borrowing from an updated take on the 1950s for “Younger Now.” Surrounded by aged men and women as well as little girls and boys on motorcycles, Cyrus’ stripped down vocals assured, “Change is a thing you can count on/I feel so much younger now.” And well, about counting on change, perhaps the most visible way in which the music scene has altered of late is that everything is so literal–whether it’s Alessia Cara having a dress and makeup pulled off her to show that “you’re beautiful just the way you are” or Katy Perry setting “Swish Swish” to the backdrop of a basketball court. In keeping with this enthusiasm for the “on the nose,” the messages throughout the awards show, ones touting how everyone is great and special, is, alas exactly how we’ve found ourselves in this state of a total lack of star power in 2017. Where are the Princes, the Madonnas, the George Michaels? Shit, even the fucking Milli Vanillis–at least they could provide more scandal with their lip syncing than Nicki Minaj did during her portion of “Swish Swish.”

Maybe next year’s ceremony will learn from the mistakes of this one, or maybe the lackluster nature of celebrity (everybody’s a star, after all) in the present is doomed to make all subsequent awards shows ever-worse. One thing MTV can do to improve, however, is never get Perry to host again.