Monday, September 13, 2021

Wait!? MTV Still Does Music Stuff?

As often happens nowadays, I had other plans for a post this morning until I logged in and read something on the internet. Or, in this case, two things. The first was an article on Pitchfork about the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards, which included a link to the full list of winners and nominees.

As I mentioned when I started my series on the Pitchfork poll for its readers' favorite twenty-five albums of the last quarter of a century, I love lists. 

Not the ever more necessary lists I write to remind myself what I have to do today nor yet the motivational lists of things I ought to do tomorrow if I want to become a better person, the making of which I occasionally see recommended by people who see more value in motivation by numbers than I do. Neither of those.

The kind of lists I like are those where people put things into a spurious sort of order by way of some nebulous and unproveable criterion like how "good" they are.

I particularly like lists that end up with some kind of vote where someone or something wins. I guess we usually call those "polls", when they're happening but later, when we go back to ponder the results, they're definitely lists.

I like those kinds of lists best when I've had a chance to vote in them myself but mostly that 's not going to happen. No-one's likely to ask me to submit my selections for the Oscars or indeed the VMAs. If they did, though, my lists would look a lot different to the ones we get, that's for sure, not least because the people who make it onto the real lists are so frequently people I've never even heard of, much less listened to or seen.

Or at least that was very much what I was thinking as I scrolled down the long, long list of winners and nominees for this year's VMAs. My impression as I scanned the names was that there were hardly any I knew at all. I was starting to feel my age a little or possibly just my cultural drift.

Snap impressions can be misleading. When I decided I was going to write this post I started with a quick count to see how just how many names I did and didn't know. I have this annoying thing for factual accuracy, sometimes.

Just as well. I didn't get quite the result I was expecting. 

In the Video, Artist, Song, and Group categories, I knew every name except 24kGoldn, Olivia Rodrigo and CNCO. Since two of those three were also nominees in Best New Artist (of which I knew none) that seemed forgiveable. Olivia Rodrigo won, by the way.

Carrying on down the list I recognized pretty much everyone in Best Collaboration, Pop, Hip-Hop, Rock and Alternative. (That's two separate categories at the end, there, and pretty much nothing I can tolerate in either of them.) In KPop I knew Blackpink and BTS and no-one else. R&B and Latin went 50/50 although one of the Latin nominees I recognized was Billy Eilish, which hardly counts.

Speaking of Billie, there she is again in the wonderfully-conceived "Song of Summer" category. Seriously, what a genius idea! Every year there's a handful of tunes that eponymize a particular summer for all time or there used to be back when I listened to the radio. Not that I can come up with the name of one right now, you understand, so maybe it's more of a platonic ideal than an actual thing that happens. It should, though.

For some arcane reason the Song of Summer category has sixteen nominees, which seems a lot. I've heard of eleven of the artists but I recognized the name of only one of the songs, that being, somewhat disturbingly, Megan Thee Stallion's Thot Shit. I did try to listen to that once but I just couldn't. 

Of the rest, nothing. Not even Billy Eilish, which surprised me. With her, I usually make an effort to hear at least the singles. I've listened to the disturbing Happier Than Ever now. Brilliant as it is, it wouldn't exactly be my choice for a summer song although the climax, which crescendos magnificently into what the video subtitles can only describe, helplessly, as "unintelligible screaming", certainly stays with you.  I'm not surprised BTS won but I know which of the two I'll be listening to again.


And I guess I should try to listen to rest of them at least once, too. And all the other winners and nominees. Not necessarily all the way through but at least far enough in to get a sense of what's considered culturally appropriate right now. Because I don't like not knowing. It feels weird.

I grew up knowing, intimately, music and movies and television that I despised. It was hard to avoid, then. Now, avoiding it is easy and not because I'm old or not only that. There are so many different cultures now. I guess there always were but instant global reach makes it so much more obvious. Ironically, slower communication meant it felt in some ways, growing up, as though the U.K. and U.S. cultures were much closer than they seem today. In other ways, I guess, they feel tighter than ever.

If you don't care to know that it's your choice. It's so easy now to find the things you like without having to go through the things you don't to get to them. That can be good because we all have only so much time and life is short but then if you only go to places you've already been you'll never see anything you haven't seen before. That's fine if it's what you want but it's not what I want so I need to look in some different places at least once in a while, even if I don't always much care for what I find there.

It's just so strange that these days those "different places" aren't always the dark, hidden corners. Sometimes they're right in the center of the stage where, apparently, everyone else is looking already. Weird huh?

Finally, before I switch tracks to part two of this post and leave the VMAs behind, I was just wondering if anyone knows what a Push Performance is? Or an Artist x Creator Collab? It's one thing not to know many of the nominees in a category but not to recognize the category itself suggests another order of magnitude of cultural ignorance altogether. I think I understand them both by context but it would be nice to be sure.

Also, what's with "Video for Good"? For good? What, there are also music videos "for Evil?" I can think of a few... Billie Eilish won that one with her "how the hell did she do that?" self-directed video for Your Power. She was also nominated for, but did not win, best director for the same video. Go figure. 

And what about U.S. Global Icon? Isn't that an oxymoron? Inaugural winners the Foo Fighters, by the way, a band I've spent thirty years trying to ignore. And avoid.

Leaving those important questions hanging, on to the other thing that means you're not getting my thoughts on Unmemory today. Redbeard left an enormously helpful comment on yesterday's post for which I'm very grateful. It reads, in full, "Sorry to hijack the post, but did you see Lana Del Rey is leaving social media?"

No! No I did not see that. You'd think I would have but I didn't. And do you know why? Because she announced it on her Instagram account which, surprisingly, I don't follow, because I am not on social media.

Or am I? Maybe I am, at that. Where did I hear the news, again? Remind me. Oh yes, that's right! In the comment column of my blog which is itself, correct me if I'm wrong, just another form of social media, albeit a highly inefficient one.

As soon as I heard I googled to find out what was going on and of course it was all over everwhere. All the straight news sites had it, all the music and celebrity gossip sites, even some financial sites carried it. When Mrs Bhagpuss came in and saw over my shoulder what I was reading she said "Oh, Lana del Rey. She just left all her social media, didn't she? She must have been copying me." (Mrs Bhagpuss left Instagram only a few weeks ago and clearly has delusions of grandeur.) 

Do you know who didn't mention it at all? Apart from Mrs Bhagpuss, that is, who I think might have thought to tell me...

Frickin' Pitchfork, that's who! Seriously guys? I even went back and scrolled down the newsfeed there to check and nothing! I thought you people worshipped Lana! Maybe they're all still in shock.


I can't say I am. Quitting social media seems to be a process not a declarative act these days. It's still a fresh phenomenon. Protocols aren't set, yet. Give it time to settle, a couple more decades maybe.

Since I don't follow Lana's own accounts you'd imagine it wouldn't make much difference to me personally if she closes them but it might. It will. She's long been in the habit of releasing snippets of work through various channels. It's part of the fabric. It feels different, the way she does it, to the old ways I knew. Better, I think, mostly.

If we're going back to programs of official PR releases through official channels I'd rate that a retrograde step. I find the looser, more porous trickle organic, natural, a little like a conversation. It's meant to be, of course, even if the conversation's happening between others and I'm just eavesdropping. It may be calculated but it doesn't always feel it.

I guess, though, if it's come to this I'd better find a more reliable intermediary than Pitchfork. Clearly they're not to be counted on in times of crisis. Perhaps I'll follow the NME again, like when I was fifteen.

As to Lana's reasons for leaving, they're as enigmatic as I'd expect and wish, especially the part where she talks about "going on different endeavors" and developing "some other skills and interests". Fly fishing? Non-contact martial arts? Beer pong? I bet it's acting. It's always acting with pop stars.

The video she put up on Instagram to say she was leaving Instagram had already left Instagram by the time I found out about it but of course someone had put it on YouTube so I watched it there. You can watch it right here on my mmorpg gaming blog, as it used to be. Isn't modern life wonderful? And strange.

I have to say it has a very different tone from the reported versions with their pull-out quotes, even though most of the reporting I read was neutral in tone and largely accurate and factual. Still, it does show the value of speaking directly, unmediated, to your fans and followers. Social media has enormous dangers but then so does allowing others to mitigate your words in the reporting of them.

She's still making music and writing, which is really all that matters, I guess. New album's out next month. It'll be interesting to see how radio silence (not literally - that would be a problem) works out for her.

I'd go on some more, I certainly have plenty more to go on about, but there are two Lana del Rey albums in the top three of my Pitchfork 25 so I guess I should probably save something for when I get to those. Social media, eh? Gotta keep feeding the beast.

Unless you stop.


  1. While on vacation we were flipping through the TV channels in the hotel and on hitting MTV, found a music video playing, which got us both to blurt out the usual comment about "MTV plays music?"

    1. Heh! I was still post-publish editing when your comment came in, which is appropriately on point for the "blogs are social media" theme! I used to love MTV back in the 80s when I watched it on cable at the home of my friend who ran our tabletop RPG sessions. He was the only person I knew with cable. I guess YouTube is our MTV now - or mine, anyway.

    2. My parents were selling our house and installed cable... I think maybe the buyer wanted it in early... so for the two months before we moved I watched a lot of MTV. That was in the spring of 1982, and I hadn't heard any mention of it, I just found it going through the channels. I think either "I want to be a Lifeguard" or "Dog Police," both obscure songs that got some quick fame because they had music videos when MTV was desperate to show anything that wasn't Rod Stewart (who somehow had a couple dozen music videos when the channel started), was the first thing I saw on MTV.

    3. I looked both of those songs up, and neither were on the air in 1982. My memory has been corrupted by time. I'll go with Pat Benatar as the first artist I saw then. I know she was there!

    4. Holy...! I have never seen or heard of either of those songs before and I kind of wish I could have kept it that way. That Dog Police video is genuinely disturbing in so many ways. The Blotto one is just to-curling. I could name a lot of really cheesy early 80s New Wave bandwagon jumpers but none of them could begin to compete with either of those for cheesiness or with Dog Police for straight-up exploitative cynicism. I can't say I'm surprised the guy behind Dog Police was in a Mothers of Invention style outfit - it sounds like something Zappa would have done, which in my book is never a compliment.

      Dog Police did come out in 1982 as a single apparently but the YouTube entry says "In 1983, the video was featured on MTV's late-night show Basement Tapes. The video played in light rotation on MTV through February 1984." I think it would have been 1983 when I started watching MTV, by when there was a steady supply of high-quality music videos coming on stream. I don't remember anything specific but I do remember we saw the same ones over and over but we didn't care - we were too awed by all-music TV existing at all to question the quality.


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