Wednesday, August 16, 2017

We Watched the 2004 VMAs

There was a boring party at our house on Sunday, and we were looking for something to do. So we dug through our big crate of tapes once again. With all the 2017 VMA announcements throughout August, we decided to settle on one that said "2004 VMAs" in big red letters. The tape begins in the middle of a Real World re-run that aired just prior to the red carpet pre-show and continued with the original commercials for the next six hours.

As the show progressed, we recalled when the Geocities version of TMK thoroughly covered this show, originally aired on August 29th of that year. Have our opinions changed over the past 13 years?

#1 The Death Count

The death count was way less devastating than in '95 or '99.

- Adam Yauch presented an award with the Beastie Boys.
- Although Proof didn't say anything, he presented an award with the rest of D12 (minus Eminem) along with Benji and Joel from Good Charlotte.
- Linkin Park unexpectedly won the Viewers' Choice award for "Breaking The Habit." Mike Shinoda and Joe Hahn accepted the award and seemed very surprised, although Chester Bennington was not present.

#2 Highlights

All the highlights were frustratingly fleeting compared to those within the VMA shows we watched last summer.

- None of the musical performances were thoroughly dope. Kanye West came closest, although poor Chaka Khan's cameo sounded like she had zero access to a proper monitor mix and was just rolling with it. Her singing is so gratingly off-pitch that it's actually pretty funny:

- Beastie Boys' last two VMAs appearances were in '98 and '99 when they bravely spoke at length about uncharacteristically un-fun topics. Although the shows had grown joylessly contrived and less spontaneous since '99, B-Boys seemed to be having a fun time. Ad Rock briefly said something to the effect of "There's something we need to let you guys know about," and a lot of people might have thought they were due for another heavy-handed lecture. But instead he said, "We wanna introduce the newest member of the band. Sasquatch, come on out here!" And then a Sasquatch came out and stood behind them while they presented the MTV2 Award to Yellowcard whose acceptance speech was basically upstaged by Sasquatch and the Beasties.

The Sasquatch moment wasn't necessarily spontaneous, but at least it was unexpected to the viewers at home. MTV tried out a few other similar "surprise" moments: Wayne Coyne approached the podium above the crowd in a giant transparent bubble; Matt Lillard literally crowd-surfed to the podium on an actual surfboard. Good effort on MTV's part, but it was a lot more fun during the '90s shows when the biggest surprises were unrehearsed.

#3 Other Notes

- It wasn't a bad VMAs, but it was pretty boring compared to '97 or '99. It sucks that the spontaneity and excitement from only five years earlier had diminished so rapidly. The atmosphere felt comparatively desperate to hold the viewers' attention with A.D.D. tactics - way more exhausting than fun. Camera shots were rarely held for longer than a full second. Every performance consisted of shortened songs, medleys, collaborations and multiple guest appearances. The only exception to this was a 3-minute performance from The Polyphonic Spree (satisfying the show's final oddball/WTF performance in the tradition of Fatboy Slim, The Edge lipsyncing to "Numb," and The Leningrad Cowboys).

- There were many noticeable issues with audio-mix and more live-TV mistakes than in previous shows.

- This might have been the first host-less VMAs. Dave Chappelle turned down their offer but had two brief monologues in the show's 2nd half. More Chappelle presence could have easily saved the entire show.

- We were bugged by the introduction to Alicia Keys' performance. Christina Milian and LL Cool J read from a teleprompter that she was prepped to be this generation's Marvin Gaye (lmao). Equally annoying, Sway loudly announced "You just witnessed history" after the special guest for her set was revealed as Stevie Wonder. Chappelle would have nailed moments like these.

- The emphasis on hiphop and r&b was appreciated and properly reflected the singles charts of that summer. The three rock performances of the night (Jet, Hoobastank and Yellowcard's trifecta of suck) were stuffed into a 7-minute rapid-fire rock block within the show's first 40 minutes. The Darkness or Slipknot would have been much better choices. (Later in the night, Jet won the "Best Rock Video" for "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" and no one cared.)

- It was the first show without Eminem or Britney Spears since 1998 even though "My Band" and "Toxic" were both nominated for "Best Video."

- Marilyn Manson and Mandy Moore were a great match. If they got married and swapped names, they would be Marilyn Moore and Mandy Manson.

- "Pieces Of Me" by Ashlee Simpson is one of the all time greats. Sung without lip sync, the pre-show's version sounded less than desirable. Two months later, her lip sync performance on SNL made headlines. By January, she was getting boo'd during the Orange Bowl. Poor Ashlee just can't get a break.

- Outkast's grand finale performance suffered the most from MTV's ADD-restrictions. It began amazingly with only one verse and one chorus of "Prototype," an '04-nostalgia jam for sure. But after 60 seconds, the groove rudely and awkwardly transitioned to "The Way You Move." Within 45 seconds, Bentley Farnsworth upstaged Big Boi with very intense dance moves during about 60 seconds of "Ghettomusick." Andre then returned seeming un-enthused. During a 5-second pause, he says, "for the millionth time goddamnit, here's 'Hey Ya.' One, two, three, EH."

Surprisingly, the song "Hey Ya!" closed the show in its entirety, but not until after two really annoying things happened:

#1. Sway interrupted the song right around the "What's cooler than being cool? Ice cold" part to speak into the camera and say "Thanks for tuning into the VMAs" or some similar completely unnecessary farewell message that could have been saved until after the song was over. (This reminds us of a similar event 10 months later during MTV's Live 8 simulcast when VJ's were instructed to interrupt Pink Floyd's first reunion performance in over 20 years.)

#2. MTV's Gen Y pandering centered the event around unrelenting Choose Or Lose branding. This wasn't just a few innocent "get out and vote" PSAs. This was self-righhteous and grossly soulless market-tested condescension. By the time Outkast closed the show, it was probably the 19th time Choose Or Lose was getting stuffed down the viewers' throats. Red, white and blue balloons and huge "Choose Or Lose" posters covered the stage. The paid-audience members were handed picket signs covered in vague "vote" messages. And the grossest part of all, dancers were choreographed to dance their way in and out of voting booths that were placed on stage.

We were very bothered by all of this in 2004, and our take has clearly deepened with time.

As for "Hey Ya!" we agree with Andre that it had grown annoyingly inescapable by August 2004. But thirteen years later, it feels weirdly absent from recent pop canonization (despite receiving near-perfect scores when it came time for end-of-decade lists in 2009). Even in the bizarrely irritating VMAs context, "Hey Ya!" feels irresistible, and we totally miss it.

Previous entries from our VMAs Summer Series:
| We Watched The '95 VMAs |
| We Watched The '97 VMAs |
| Oh Shit We Watched The '99 VMAs |

For more 2004: 2000 Jams from the 2000s: Part 5 (2004)

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