If video really did kill the radio star, MTV may have in turn killed its own creation: the video. For years, of course, the network has seemingly been video-phobic, devoting nearly all of its time to reality shows, scripted dramas and other programs that beg the question of why the letter "M" still appears in its name. Once a year, though, MTV remembers that videos still exist (even if they air primarily on other cable networks and internet sites) and celebrates them.
But if 2014's show is any indication, the party is over.
The Video Music Awards have become a halfhearted, one-dimensional, and quite frankly inexplicable use of airtime, and in the post-TRL years have become about as relevant and vital as the music video itself. Once an important date on every celebrity's calendar, the VMA broadcast has outgrown its purpose. TruTV doesn't blow the cobwebs off of old Court TV shows once a year, so why does MTV continue pretending to care about its legacy by holding an event that celebrates the videos it no longer even shows? Here are five reasons why, as its 2014 broadcast showed, the Video Music Awards no longer matter.
1. Lack of interest. MTV's biggest night of the year kicked off with a high-octane performance by Nicki Minaj that featured a lot of booty-shaking, crotch-grabbing and floor-grinding, but perhaps more shocking than any of that -- because let's face it, what part of that hasn't been done on the VMAs before? -- was the wide shot that revealed a large number of empty seats in the Forum's lower level. True, some fans were still filtering in from outside when the show started, but the fact that they were in no rush to get to their seats only shows how missable this show has become, even for live attendees. Plus, the Forum was hardly a sellout -- the day before the show, plenty of seats were still available through Ticketmaster, including entire rows. Even MTV itself seemed to not care that much -- as soon as the live show had ended, the network immediately showed it again. No post-show interviews, no analysis of the winners, nothing. The next day, entertainment giant TMZ had hardly any VMA coverage that didn't involve a pre-party shooting that had occurred the night before.
2. Lack of diversity. Among the biggest knocks on MTV's early years was that, until Michael Jackson broke its unspoken color barrier with "Billie Jean," the network was almost exclusively a celebration of rock music. In 2014, the closest that the VMA broadcast came to the network's flagship genre was what it teased as "a rockin' performance" from Australian boy band 5 Seconds of Summer, which turned out to pretty much be a ballad that happened to feature a couple of guitars. Still, they should be commended for at least playing something -- other than Maroon 5 and Usher (who briefly held a bass that he may or may not have actually even been playing), none of the night's performers even touched an instrument. On a night when current or former judges from The Voice, American Idol, and The X Factor appeared as presenters or performers, MTV showed that the only type of musician that still matters is the female pop vocalist who can sing while backed by a prerecorded track and scores of dancers.
3. Lack of credibility. The only thing weaker than the field of nominees in some categories were the winners themselves. Drake picked up a Moonman for Best Hip Hop Video for "Hold On (We're Going Home)," a song that features no rapping and, since the show doesn't offer an award for R&B videos, was probably better suited for inclusion in the Pop category. (See number one above for why Drake didn't even bother showing up to accept his award, despite having a four-day hole in his tour schedule.) Best Rock Video, meanwhile, went not to a legitimate rock nominee like Linkin Park or the Black Keys, but rather to Lorde's "Royals," which is the 2014 equivalent of Jethro Tull defeating Metallica for the Grammy for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance. And the Artist To Watch trophy, as voted on by fans -- at least those in the nation's time zones that saw the show live -- went to Fifth Harmony, a Simon Cowell creation that, based on the response by the crowd inside the Forum every time the award's nominees were shown, were only a fraction as popular as fellow nominees 5 Seconds of Summer or Sam Smith.
4. Lack of celebrity. The Video Music Awards used to be a huge event that drew not only the biggest names in music, but also hip, young stars from film, TV, standup comedy and sports. In 2014, among the non-music stars who appeared on stage were nearly 40-year-old comic Chelsea Handler and nearly 60-year-old actor Jeff Daniels. Sure, they tried to shoehorn Robin Williams into the show, but his tribute segment was so arbitrary and awkward, it might as well have not been part of the broadcast at all. Hey MTV, want to pull in more TV stars? Don't hold your broadcast the night before the Emmys.
5. Lack of purpose. Short of serving as a glorified twerk-off, what did the 2014 Video Music Awards actually contribute to popular music? Is anyone discussing the show's winners? (Is anyone discussing the show at all?) Self-promotion was a big part of the evening: presenters Jason Derulo and Demi Lovato used their stage time to mention their own upcoming concert tours while introducing Maroon 5; Miley Cyrus, meanwhile, won the once-coveted Video Of The Year award for "Wrecking Ball," and allotted her acceptance-speech time to someone who spoke about homelessness, which was admirable... until he got to the part about having to go to Miley's Facebook page for more information.
Celebrating music videos should have been the purpose of the show, but Beyonce won the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award -- named for a guy who not only carved out a spot for African-American musicians on MTV, but also revolutionized the music video itself -- and gave a nearly 20-minute concert, yet made no mention of the videos that won her the award to begin with. Worse, "Single Ladies" -- the song that served as the basis for what Kanye West infamously proclaimed during the 2009 VMAs as "one of the best videos of all time" -- wasn't even part of her medley of hits.
If MTV were to set aside even an hour or two of its daily schedule for airing videos, the Video Music Awards might still have a chance. The landscape has changed, however, and while there is still a need for a fun music-awards show that can balance the uptight Grammys broadcast, the VMAs are no longer it.
Follow Mark Carpowich on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mcarpo