31 Years Later, We're Still Watching the VMAs

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The older you get, the more you begin to ask questions about whether or not things matter. Someone asked over the weekend if people still watch wrestling (yes). I’m sure someone is going to ask within the coming weeks whether or not people still watch The Simpsons religiously. And someone is going to ask you this weekend whether or not people watch MTV; in particular, whether or not the MTV Video Music Awards are still important.

As long as MTV has existed, so have music videos. The television part of its platform has long since shifted to a slate dominated by reality TV and original programming. But MTV has also opened the floodgates for smarter writing about music, about people and (quaintly) about the people who make said music. Thanks to being under the Viacom umbrella, the most genius stroke they’ve done in years involved making VH1 Classic into MTV Classic. Old episodes of Road Rules? Yes. The Real World back when it was the greatest reality TV show imaginable? On it. Yo! MTV Raps, MTV Jams, etc? Perfect.

The VMAs come this weekend at an odd time and in an even odder position. It used to be a prime-time, middle-of-the-week staple. For one Thursday night every September, MTV dominated our attention spans. Now the show is being wholly underpromoted on a Sunday night, the last Sunday before college football returns to wreck our Saturday plans and two weeks before our sports heroin, the National Football League, returns for 20 consecutive Sundays.

"Do we even care?" is the question?

Well, I’ll give you an analogy. The Olympics just ended. The Men’s Basketball portion of Team USA happened to be missing some obvious stars — LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, the list goes on. We ended up sending a virtual B-Team to Rio with a few A-Players on it, and won the gold medal going away. Now, would it have been more fun if we rolled out the same Death Machine we used in London? Of course.

Did we still watch Team USA bludgeon Serbia by 30, in the name of patriotism? Of course we did. And that’s what the VMAs have become, part of our yearly mass watch cycle. The prestigious aspect of the show has died in recent years but still, its the MTV award show that means something. The original alternative to the Grammys has now existed for 31 years. And there’s far more maladroit in saying, “I won this award but lost a MTV VMA.”

Thanks to Twitter, something is going to happen that we’ll consider interesting. Maybe Drake is going to get onstage and say something. Maybe he’ll gyrate on Rihanna while she’s accepting her Video Vanguard award and look sheepish about it. Maybe Beyoncé will perform for an entire hour and MTV will merely move away from the production buttons and let her work. Apparently they’re giving Kanye West four uninterrupted minutes to do whatever he pleases. That’s dangerous in itself. Not because Kanye is dangerous, but because Kanye could re-create the “Famous” video live onstage and creep us out. And the big hanger to let you even consider watching if you’re not a Kanye or Beyoncé fan? Britney Spears is performing for the first time since 2007.

Wrestling, much like pop culture, has been riding this wave of “anything can happen." The VMAs have held this theory to the fire for years now. It gave us Robin Thicke’s career crashing like the Hindenburg while grinding on Miley Cyrus in a Zoot Suit. It also gave us Miley Cyrus purposefully flashing the audience before a commercial break. Britney Spears and Madonna kissing happened. Diana Ross lifting Lil’ Kim’s breast in 1999 happened. Taylor Swift becoming America’s Victim for the next seven years happened.  Ol’ Dirty Bastard telling the world, “Wu-Tang Is For the Children” didn’t happen at the VMAs but you thought it did, didn’t you?

Thing is, all of the super interesting about this year’s VMAs will have already been removed and erased. Taylor Swift probably won’t come since it’ll put her in a room with the Wests for the first time since July’s "Kim Exposed Taylor"party happened over “Famous." Katy Perry won’t be there. Since Adele isn’t performing, I doubt she will either. An Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj performance won’t move the needle, nor will Nick Jonas performing “Bacon."

Look, all of the nominees and categories all scream “smart” choices and obvious winners. Beyoncé is going to win the Breakthrough Long Form Video award for Lemonade and Best Collaboration Video for “Freedom." Nobody knows why Bryson Tiller is up for Best Hip-Hop Video for “Don’t,” but Drake’s “Hotline Bling” will probably win that one. The categories that serve up the best arguments? Anyone where Adele and Beyoncé are going up against one another. That means Best Pop Video, Best Female Video and Video of the Year. Rihanna may not win a single one of those awards yet she’s getting the Lifetime Achievement Award, which is such a cold game.

Know what I’ll be doing Sunday night? Probably watching and live-tweeting the VMAs. Why? Because it’s become programmed in my brain to do so. You don’t miss award-show television because award show television usually gives us the absolute best (and worst) of social media.

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