As the MTV Video Music Awards started Thursday night at the Staples Center, the expected parade of beautifully groomed celebrities, the gleam of bright lights and the buzz surrounding the ceremony’s anticipated winners were all present.
The annual event, which focuses on honoring artists who have crafted the most creative and acclaimed videos during the past year, had all of its usual glamorous elements. Despite being a first year, musically inept college student, I attended the event.
Each year, millions of young adults watch the stars congregate and celebrate together from home. According to MTV, their 2011 showing had an audience of 12.4 million viewers. This year, MTV’s Twitter Tracker showed that 12.8 million tweets were made about the VMAs.
Fans tune in to watch the stars glide down the red carpet dressed in the most elegant, expensive and often questionable attire. Their dazzling performances and impromptu speeches leave people talking for days, weeks and even years afterwards — just ask Kanye West. Seconds before the category winners are announced viewers sit on the edge of their seats, guessing who will be the recipient of each award. Cameras pan through the crowd offering glimpses of all the popular musicians.
Yet, the world of Hollywood stars and their award ceremonies, are very removed from the daily lives of the fans whose support they profit from. Though USC is located two miles from the Staples Center, the distance between the everyday realities of celebrities and college students are very removed from one another.
When I first walked into the Staples Center, I relished at the thought of being in the same arena as Pink, Chris Brown and Alicia Keys. The appearance of the Olympic gymnasts and, in particular, Gabby Douglas during Alicia Keys and Nicki Minaj’s performance of “Girl on Fire,” was stunning. The culmination of cultural idols brought me to my feet.
Still there was a void. I wanted to be closer and able to communicate with the artists.
Because MTV did not want to compete with President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, which aired live that same night, they ended the event early with a performance by Taylor Swift singing her catchy song “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” The abrupt end further showed the musicians’ inability to fully please their fans up close, in person.
Despite living in Los Angeles, being members of a generation dominated by innovative technology and cinematography and heavily contributing to the music and fashion culture, the relevance of the event is lost on campus. Artists have a significant role in students’ lives, but young adults do not have influence on theirs. The apathy USC students feel from the glamour at LA Live comes from this dichotomy.
The concept of the Video Music Awards ceremony, once dubbed the “Oscars for youth,” was rooted in the idea that winners represented the culture and opinions and interests of young adults. Today, the structure of the VMAs has ousted the initial intention and made it very insignificant to even the students that are closest to it.
Students listen to music in order to connect with the experience that the artist is singing about. Stars who are nominated for VMAs are the most skilled at creating this relationship with their audience.
Singer Frank Ocean had a noteworthy performance at the VMAs because he tapped into the universal feeling of heartache, missed opportunity and loneliness when he sang his hit single “Thinkin’ About You” to the audience.
The VMAs were highly successful last year because of the many opportunities viewers had to feel involved. When Beyonce presented her pregnancy to the world, people were let into her personal life and rejoiced with her and Jay-Z.
Similarly, Adele’s return to performing after her ordeal with medical problems, allowed everyone who tuned into the VMAs to share in her triumph. Those moments are most treasured because they offer viewers’ opportunities to explore the stars’ world.
Though viewers obsess about celebrities, when they are not given this chance to have a participatory role in the event, especially when they are physically close to them like USC students are to LA Live, it turns into a lackluster experience.
Young adults watch the VMAs year and year again to see the progression of their musical tastes. They hope to find relatable moments with the celebrities they adore. They wish to get a better view of their favorite artists’ personalities.
In the coming years, maybe viewers will be able to tune in and draw even more parallels between their own lifestyles and those presented in the award ceremony. But for now, we will all just be watching from afar.