It was about the age of 15 that I last nestled in the harbors of mainstream popular music. Prior to that rather welcome au revoir, Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill was on heavy rotation in my walkman on every journey to and from my school in Kowloon City. It was the best of times mainly because I didn’t know any better.
Then, one evening on probably the number 7 KMB bus from Jordan to Kowloon Tong, a cool and hilarious kid named Matt introduced my friends and I to a small band from Seattle called Plankeye. At the back, on the upper floor of our double-decker bus, we all took turns listening to the song “Wings to Fly” from Plankeye’s album The Spark, and I was sold. Somewhere along the line, Plankeye gave way to another Washington state band called MxPx, who ushered me into the pastures of punk rock where, to make a long story short, my musical tastes, not to mention my life, began to change. I eventually discovered the dazzling Winnipeg punk outfit Propagandhi around the time that they released Less Talk, More Rock in 1996. 15 years and 3 albums later, they remain my favorite band. And Alanis Morisette, to whom I was once so faithful, is resigned to distant memory. Isn’t that ironic?
About a month ago, I was lounging around home when, by pure happenstance, the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) came on. It was the first time I had ever watched the VMAs and the following are five lessons I learned from my meticulous viewing.
1) Even though Jo Calderone is a stereotype of an Italian American if I have ever seen one, he delivers a pretty decent monologue which is worth (at least) an “OMG” from Katy Perry and a yawned “I’ve seen this before” from Russel Brand. It is also worth Britney Spears’ entirely groundless stupefaction and Katie Holmes’ obvious excitement at finally being able to legally attend the VMAs and actually see someone smoke on stage whilst in drag. And while rumors still inanely circulate amidst the fact that Lady Gaga has yet to publicly disclose herself as Calderone, I have to say that I think the world would more or less stay the same if Gaga was resigned to the same memory space as Alanis Morisette and if Calderone began a sideshow circuit of dramatic monologues.
2) Everything I said about departing from the harbor of mainstream popular music is a lie. I like Kanye West’s My Dark Twisted Fantasy (which, out of context from the title of his latest album, might make for interesting dinnertime conversation). Nevertheless, when Jay Z and Kanye performed the song Otis live from their album Watch the Throne, it was like watching some hyped-up school boys enjoying a free pass to Disneyland. Even more importantly, it was also about the worst sound mixing that I have ever heard in a television program, with both rappers’ vocals and “yeahs” totally obscuring the music and making for a clumsy auditory experience. I guess money can’t buy everything after all.
3) Katy Perry and Kanye West made for a good entertainment moment or two when they received their award together. For one, Russell Brand had to dutifully and singularly provide a standing ovation despite the boredom visibly dripping from his face. For another, Kanye’s expression of thanks to God only served to remind Katy Perry that she had totally neglected the Almighty in her own thank yous. This realization induced a blurted “yes, God!” mid-Kanye in order for Perry to ensure that the heavens smile on her next single, especially if another collaboration with Kanye is not so forthcoming.
4) Beyoncé’s performance of the song Love on Top was dynamite and in all honesty she’s probably the best vocal music stage act in the world today. To prove it, she pulled off four key changes and also effortlessly removed a microphone from its stand mid-vocal line. At the end of the song, she also dropped said microphone (which thanks to the excellent VMA sound technicians resulted in a noticeable thud) to rub her tummy and tell the world that she had just eaten. Or that she was pregnant. Whichever one it was sent Jay Z and Kanye West into a familiar school boy frenzy, with Jay Z in particular feeling proud that he had “done that.”
5) Justin Bieber’s journey to the podium after winning “Best Male Video” was an arduous one. He began with a hollywood smooch with his high school (literally) sweetheart, followed by a boyish nod to some musical wonders to his left. After this, if you watch closely, you’ll notice that his saggy red pants make for a difficult waddle up the celebrity stairs. It’s a shame that these same pants can’t be blamed for what ensued once he began his acceptance speech. His classic thank you “not only to God, but to Jesus” will go down in the books as either an embarrassing faux-pas or induce a wave of avant-garde theological reflection (Bieber’s mention of God may also cause Katy Perry to blurt another thank you or two heavenward). Like a teenage Martin Luther, maybe this pithy thank you was Bieber’s single thesis nailed into the bobbing consciousness of pre-to-mid-pubescent girls. Maybe his songs are actually honed commentaries on thousands of years of Christian tradition. Unfortunately, having read the lyrics for You Smile (the song for which Bieber won Best Male Video), I’m afraid that this is not the case. In fact, I tend to think his entire discography might be rather accurately sub-classified as “embarrassing faux-pas.” Ultimately, who cares. He’s 17. At most, he should have won Best Adolescent Video. And honestly, even that’s a stretch.
6) There is one figure who was noteworthy for his consistent poise, demeanor, and sophistication. This figure put all the other stars to shame by literally being a shining example for the duration of the show. This figure is none other than the Moonman statue, which is given to all award-winners at the VMAs. The statue is the only one who, upon witnessing the beginnings of MTV years ago, had the sense to don astronaut garb and attempt to take up residence elsewhere.
In conclusion, my foray into the world of the the VMAs, MTV, and mainstream popular music did not enlighten me to how such things are relevant to anyone over 15 years old. What a jagged little pill.