First YouTube Awards provide a throwback to old-school MTV


Michael Shannon (L) and Vanessa Hudgens perform onstage at the YouTube Music Awards 2013 on November 3, 2013 in New York City


“This is live. Don’t be nervous,” said Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler after their performance of “Afterlife” at the first ever YouTube Music Awards (YTMA). It was an intense way to begin the show and pretty evocative of the breezy tension that made the YTMAs so interesting to watch.

On Nov. 4, the inaugural YouTube Music Awards promised a night that could have potentially gone anywhere. Watching the YTMAs felt like a one long stream-of-consciousness spectacle, featuring the Internet stars of today. It was the type of awards show where anything could happen.

Fans voted for award winners by sharing official YTMA videos via Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. Around 60 million votes were cast.

The YTMAs were streamed live at the Pier 36 warehouse in New York City. The 90-minute ceremony, directed by Spike Jonze, was hosted by Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts.

The pair made clear very early in the night that this ceremony was not like the others. It was unscripted. Their formless delivery was sometimes endearing, like their spazzy jam sessions between awards, but sometimes cringeworthy, like when Rashida Jones randomly handed Jason Schwartzman two infants.

But if you could make it through the casual absurdity, there were actually some cool moments that happened.

There was a medley of the history of YouTube music, K-Pop group Girls Generation basically upset everyone and took home Video of the Year and a Lena Dunham penned Avicii video ended in a choose-your-own-adventure tragedy.

Musical performances were both raw and exciting, as artists created music videos during the show.

Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, the Creator captured the energy of their Odd Future shows, Lady Gaga’s performance of “Dope” was dope, M.I.A. performed under a neon funhouse and Eminem showed face, even though he was a bit late.

It was pretty evident that YouTube was going for something reminiscent of early MTV, a cultural phenomena that was initially sloppy, but still an important hallmark for popular culture, introducing the world to the music video.

And since YouTube is supposedly launching a premium, on-demand music streaming service, it is pretty obvious that YouTube is trying to be the wackier, second-coming of MTV.

Well, they definitely tried it.

There was a number of distracting technical glitches and horrendous moments of utmost awkwardness. Regardless, the most interesting part of the YTMAs was how self-aware they seemed in comparison to other award ceremonies.

In the early ‘80s, young people were basically riding on the curtails of the technological wave. A newfound youth culture was being constructed, discovered and shared through MTV; in the same way, a generation of kids grew up on the Internet and YouTube.

As I watched the YTMAs, it seemed pretty clear that it would have been more exciting to actually be there.

Even though the YTMAs only reached a peak of 220,000 simultaneous live-streamers, the fact that the ceremony was the first of its kind somehow validated the messy happening.

All in all, the YouTube Music Awards were pretty punk, albeit frequently smothered by its own invention.

Maybe more of a soft punk, perhaps?