VMA Moments and Memories: It’s Still All About Miley, and Beyonce

There was no “Miley Moment” akin to last year’s foam finger twerking brouhaha, so it turned out to be a tamer night at the 31st annual MTV Video Music Awards, held August 24 at the refurbished Forum in Inglewood as Lorde, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Iggy Azalea, Cyrus, Nicki Minaj and Gwen Stefani all performed, presented or took home the coveted Moonmen.

Oh, unless you count the moment where Cyrus sent a homeless man on stage to accept her VMA for “Wrecking Ball,” which won for best video. The idea was for 22-year-old Jesse Helt to call attention to youth homelessness in this generation’s version of Marlon Brando sending a Native American woman to accept his Oscar in 1973.

Clearly nervous, while Cyrus looked on tearfully from the audience, Helt encouraged viewers to go to her Facebook page to learn more about the cause and to donate money to help homeless youth find jobs, housing and education. “I’ve survived in shelters all over,” he said. “I’ve cleaned your hotel rooms. I’ve been an extra in your movies. I’ve been an extra in your life.”

Turns out he’s also wanted on a probation violation in Oregon which stem from a drug-related burglary attempt.

The VMAs always seem to capture memorable pop culture snapshots, although this year the show and its ratings didn’t quite live up to past glories. While still this summer’s most-watched cable telecast, viewing numbers fell to 8.3 million from last year’s 10.1 million for the original airing. Yet factoring in simulcasts on other MTV networks and Logo, plus repeat airings, viewing levels hit 13.7 million.

And the VMAs were a social media hit, generating 12.6 million tweets and 259 trending topics according to Nielsen Social. The VMA All Access Live Stream delivered 6.5 million streams, making it the second-most-watched MTV digital live stream of all time.

The show got started with a medley culminating in a “Bang Bang,” Jessie J’s record featuring Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande, who had emerged from a spaceship for “Break Free,” before Minaj appeared to prevent a wardrobe malfunction during her twerk-fest for “Anaconda.”

As usual, the awards seemed almost secondary to the performances which included British soul sensation Sam Smith performing a straightforward, riveting “Stay With Me,” Taylor Swift doing her new single, “Shake it Off,” Usher and Minaj pairing for “She Came To Give It To You” and Maroon 5—in their first-ever VMA appearance–on an outdoor stage performing “Maps” as planes came in for landings at nearby LAX.

Otherwise, real life only intruded when Common called for a moment of silence to remember Michael Brown, the teenager shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. earlier this month.

No mention was made of the previous night’s shooting of former rap mogul Suge Knight at a Sunset Strip nightclub during a pre-VMA party where Chris Brown was performing. A host like Kevin Hart would have gone to town with that, bad taste or not.

With no one playing host, Jay Pharaoh of “Saturday Night Live” filled the comedy aspect by popping up with impersonations of Jay-Z and Kanye West. West’s real-life wife, Kim Kardashian–who introduced Smith’s performance – appeared to love it, while Beyoncé got 15 minutes in the spotlight during a medley of numbers from her “On the Run” tour, culminating with the real Hova and their daughter, Blue Ivy presenting her with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award.

–Hillary Atkin

MTV Returns to its Roots With an Artist-Focused Initiative

More than three decades after its debut created a seismic shift in the pop culture landscape, it can be very easy to forget that MTV still stands for music television.

 

That also makes it surprising to learn that 1,200 hours of music videos are aired each week across the Viacom family of networks, including MTV, CMT, and VH1 that reach 100 million homes in TV-land and 60 million online via digital and social screens. It’s a universe that encompasses MTV Hits, MTV Jams, MTV Buzzworthy, MTV Hive, VH1 Soul, VH1 Tuner, CMT Pure, CMT Edge and Palladia.

 

That is the framework upon which the network is trying something new – by going back to its roots and focusing on musical artists across a broad spectrum of genres and levels of experience.

 

It’s a concept called the artist opportunity hub that has been percolating in soft launch/beta mode since the VMAs last fall. Basically, artists could come in and create platform pages for themselves on artists.mtv.com, artists.vh1.com or artists.cmt.com– an “inside” network that has already received significant traffic and engagement with videos without any real marketing.

 

But now the model is kicking into a new phase and includes access to many other large-scale opportunities to reach a broad audience and to generate revenue.

 

First and foremost, there is the opportunity for artists to get their videos aired on the networks, which has always been a tricky process in the past involving record labels, managers, publicists, or other music industry connections who have traditionally operated the star-making machinery.

 

MTV, VH1 and CMT’s music teams will evaluate videos based on the velocity of fan engagement on each artist’s page. Selected artists will receive an email that their video has been viewed and then notified when and where it will go into video rotation.

 

Much like the blind auditions on NBC’s “The Voice,” where it’s all about unfiltered talent, the process is much more egalitarian than “who you know.” It means that music fans, especially tastemaker fans that rally around emerging artists will play a critical role helping identify artists that are strongly resonating within different fan and genre pockets.

 

In a digital sense, it still is about who you know, as Shannon Connolly, the SVP of Digital Music Strategy for Viacom Music and Logo Group explained to us.

 

“The more you drive people to your content, the more we listen to you and that’s how you get into our programs,” she says. “If you can mobilize your fan base, that’s how we notice you.”

 

And it’s not just about playing music videos. It’s about having songs chosen that go into popular shows like “Awkward,” thus providing another platform from which emergent talent can grow.

 

If that sounds like what happened with some unknown bands whose music was featured in commercials and elevated their careers, yes, there is also an advertising element that will come into play as the concept evolves.

 

“With the launch of this hub, we have the potential to work with brands to help find the artist that best suits their needs and goals and then create custom campaigns with tremendous scale that could play out across all of our platforms and screens,” Connolly says.

 

Although the hub launched without a sponsor, she says having the “right” brands connect– and you can imagine there are a slew of them – is a huge part of the strategy.

 

“We believe it will be a primary part of the revenue stream for artists in the next 5-10 years. We have the platforms and scale to integrate artists into campaigns, and it becomes a really powerful opportunity,” says Connolly.

 

At the same time, she says that Viacom wants to stay focused on the artists, wanting them to feel there’s someone behind the curtain, that they’re not submitted into a black hole.

 

The corporate philosophy, Connolly explains, is that artists should get paid and participate in the revenue.

 

“The rev share model percentage of Spotify, YouTube and some of the others doesn’t really yield payouts to artists that are meaningful. The industry purposefully is taking a rev share approach that isn’t sufficient,” she says. “Because we’re advertising-based, we have other ways of making money. We will have a tip jar that allows fans to leave tips to artists. As for commerce, they’ll be able to sell merchandise on our page. For us, it’s about creating success stories.”

 

As for the fans, they will have several participatory opportunities coming up shortly that will demonstrate the digitally democratic nature of the new venture.

 

They will get to determine three acts who will then be secured a spot to play for 10-12,000 people at the three-day Hangout Music Festival in Alabama in mid-May, which boasts a lineup including Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Stevie Wonder, the Black Crowes, the Shins, Public Enemy, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Kings of Leon.

 

Similarly, the opening act for country music artist Hunter Hayes at his New York City show in June will also be crowd-sourced. The list of potential opening acts will be narrowed down to ten, with the Grammy-nominated Hayes then personally selecting the opening act artist.

 

“The vetting process may change, but the intent is to be very valuable to the artists,” Connolly says. “We’re going to learn as we go.”

 

A mobile app for the artists’ platforms is planned to launch this summer. Sounds like sweet music to the ears of artists–and their as yet untold audiences.

–Hillary Atkin

 

 

 

Bey-by! It’s the Best Moment at the 2011 VMAs

 

MTV’s Video Music Awards are known for generating zeitgeist pop culture moments– like Kanye West’s infamous onstage interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech in 2009– and this year’s edition was no exception.

The buzziest moment– which generated a record number of tweets, measured by Twitter at 8,868 per second– was pop singer Beyoncé’s big pregnancy reveal, unbuttoning her purple sequined jacket and rubbing her tummy at the end of her performance.

Despite coping with Hurricane Irene on the East Coast, ratings were record-breaking with 12.4 million viewers, making it MTV’s most watched telecast ever, according to the Nielsen Co., up 9% over last year’s show.

But what this show really lacked was a host to stitch together some of its big and unexpected moments, like Chris Brown’s Cirque du Soleil-esque performance, Britney Spears almost kissing in-drag Lady Gaga or Katy Perry’s peculiar cheesehead ornament.

The show started off with a bizarre monologue by Gaga as her male alter ego, a chain smoking Jo Calderone, with slicked back Jerseypompadour hair. It was hard to tell which direction that was going, making for a rocky opening. But props to Lady G for remaining in character all night without resorting to the insanely over-the-top get-ups she usually sports. Meat dress, anyone? Not this time, although Perry took up the slack by doing four costume changes.

Little-known actor/comedian Kevin Hart followed Calderone/Gaga at the top and during the not very funny monologue, continually made references to the fact that he wasn’t hosting, but if he did, he would say whatever he was saying differently. That went over like a lead balloon.

It soon became apparent that there would be no host after all, a departure from years past when personalities including Chris Rock, who was absolutely hysterical multiple times, to Jimmy Fallon, Dennis Miller, Ben Stiller, Jamie Foxx, Shawn and Marlon Wayans and last year, Chelsea Handler who handled the emcee duties.

But having a host-less show was not unprecedented. The VMAs, which date back to 1984 with inaugural hosts Bette Midler and Dan Aykroyd, also went rudderless in 2007 and 2004.

With this year’s material including tributes to the recently departed Amy Winehouse and honoring Britney Spears with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, the guiding hand of a host would’ve been appreciated. Not to mention laughs that might have ensued at appropriate moments.

 

Russell Brand, who received widespread exposure in theUnited Stateswhen he hosted the VMA’s in 2008 as a little-known comic and actor, and was brought back in 2009 to further acclaim, was obviously available.

As the high-profile husband of multiple nominee Perry and called upon to begin the Winehouse tribute with his reminiscences of her in London about which he’d written, Brand seem to rush through the rather poignant material, perhaps miffed that he didn’t get the hosting gig—or given a cue that the show was running long.

Still, it lurched along and provided other hot-button moments: Chris Brown’s aerial moves along with other performers during a medley of songs that unexpectedly included Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” West and Jay-Z taking the stage to perform. Adele’s emotional rendition of a song that wasn’t the lauded “Rolling in the Deep.” Young the Giant’s debut VMA appearance with a mosh pit crowd of fans from theirCaliforniahometown. Best new artist recipient Tyler the Creator, giving an expletive-filled acceptance speech geared toward kids. Gaga’s performance of “You and I,” for which she was joined by Queen guitarist Brian May.

In the end, it was the announcement of Bey’s bey-by that will be remembered. Yes, that unborn offspring of musical royalty was, to coin a Gaga phrase, born this way.

Battle of the Network Parties

Breeziest red carpet ever: Fox's beachfront bash

 

It’s that time of year again when the television networks preview their fall programming for TV critics in a 10-day confab known as TCA Summer Press Tour, headquartered at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

 

After the daily panel sessions– where critics watch clips and then hammer  executives, producers and show talent with questions– it’s time to party and, um, network some more.

Here is our rundown, and it being the television business, our rating of how the bashes stacked up, with a 5 Mojito award the top tier:

Fox

Where: Gladstone’s at the beach, Sunset and PCH

Star Power: Emmy host-to-be Jane Lynch, Jonah Hill, Charlie Day, Jaime Pressly, Kevin Reilly, Seth McFarlane, Lea Michelle, Danny DeVito, Paula Abdul, Cloris Leachman, Dylan McDermott, Zooey Deschanel, Nicole Scherzinger, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, Christian Slater, Cory Monteith, Dianna Agron, Elijah Wood

Highlights: The thematic beach motif started at the Hilton with containers filled with seashells on ocean-blue tablecloths, then continued with the latticework red carpet, which, unlike the typical step-and-repeat, showcased the beautiful Pacific Ocean intermixed with the Fox logo.

The SBE group had quietly taken over this touristy hotspot last summer and the evidence of its upgraded cuisine was evident everywhere from the platters of raw seafood to the baked crab rolls being prepared by sushi chefs from Katsuya. An ice cream bar featured 21 flavors like sea salt caramel and cappuccino chip and there was a homemade lemonade stand serving up several flavors in Mason jars.

As for the bar–friendly, fast bartenders serve up your drinks of choice in plastic ware.

Rating: 4.5 Mojitos

                                        NBC Universal

Where: SLS Hotel

Star Power: Christina Applegate, Elle McPherson, Nick Lachey, Anna Kournikova, Chevy Chase, Sharon Osbourne, Hank Azaria, Ed Helms, Kathryn Hahn, assorted Housewives, Ken Jeong, John Krasinski, Aimee Teegarden

Highlights: New NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt obviously pulled out all the stops– and the corporate checkbook– by buying out all the public areas of the hotel and going full-out with items featured on the four-star menu from Jose Andres’s Bazaar. Crowds gathered at the caviar bar where chefs painstakingly topped crème fraiche-filled miniature cones with the miniature eggs before moving on to sample from huge platters of paella and a buffet that featured an absolutely addictive guacamole-filled appetizer. A flip photo booth and temporary tattoos added to the fun. Some complained about long lines at the bar and how dark, crowded, hot and noisy it was. They were called party poopers. Others found those attributes very appealing–and realized that all the elements added up to a very special evening that announced: NBC is back, big time.

Rating: 4.8 Mojitos

Red carpet traffic jam at NBC’s SLS event
CBS transforms a parking lot rooftop

                                                  MTV
Where: Poolside at the Hilton

Star Power: Director Doug Liman, cast members of his new show “I Just Want My Pants Back,” Jake Busey and other castmates from the new animated series “Good Vibes,” plus Beavis and Butthead–kidding

Highlights: Hanging out by the pool on a warm summer’s eve heading into the sunset, a situation made more enjoyable by a killer raw bar loaded with oysters, mussels, shrimp and crab legs. If your fish fix wasn’t sated, there was the sushi bar featuring spicy tuna rolls, salmon, tuna and yellowtail. The downside: it started early and ended early.

Rating: 4 Mojitos

                                       CBS, the CW and Showtime

Where: Rooftop of the former Robinson’s May parking lot

Star Power: Emmy nominee Melissa McCarthy, Les Moonves & Julie Chen, Chris O’Donnell, Claire Danes, Emmy Rossum, Sela Ward, Kristen Bell, Dr. Drew Pinsky, Sarah Michelle Gellar, J.J. Abrams, Johnny Galecki, William Macy, Jason Segel, Kat Dennings, Rachel Bilson, Lisa Kudrow, Gary Sinise, Kevin Dillon, Patrick Wilson

Highlights: The area atop the parking structure was dominated by a festive, large red pagoda, and the food was Asian-themed: shrimp spring rolls, an array of dim sum and delicious glass noodles were on the menu, served from stands set up around the perimeter of the grounds. Downsides: porta-potties, no champagne or prosecco at the bar and if you don’t like Asian food, you were pretty much out of luck. But the homemade ice cream stand, where bars were hand-dipped in chocolate and rolled in toppings of your choice, was pretty sweet.

Rating: 3.5 Mojitos

                                           ABC

Where: Hilton Beverly Hills Ballroom

Star Power: Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross, Christina Ricci, Jennifer Morrison, Madeleine Stowe, Penny Johnson, Chad Lowe, Dana Delany, Elisha Cuthbert, Jeri Ryan, Cheryl Hines, Robert Carlyle, Benjamin Bratt, Brenda Strong, Teri Polo, James Denton

Highlights: As the last party ofTCA, it was a rather low-key affair in the hotel’s smaller ballroom. Specialty cocktails included Charlie’s Angels vodka, tonic and lime, Revenge martini and the Lying Game sparking punch. Guests lounged on white furniture as they dined on items from the carving station, the pasta bar and a selection of sushi. A photo booth put you in your choice of shows including Desperate Housewives and The View.

Rating: 3.5 Mojitos