MTV is just awful. Just completely awful. And for the last 10 years or so, I have avoided it like the plague because its quality has been on a consistently rapid decline every year.
The running joke with MTV has always been that they don't actually play music anymore. And it's true. Now, the channel focuses on offering its interpretation of reality TV, which consists usually of throwing a handful of attractive people in a room (who need way too much attention) and either feed them scripted lines, lots of booze or artificial drama. (Somewhere along the way, the Real World changed from being a pioneering reality show that shed light on serious issues in our culture to a drunken orgy of the ignorant and vain.)
But I can't blame MTV's suckiness totally on reality television, given that every network has cashed in on offering low-budget, low-brow reality programs that suck. What I can blame their suckiness on is when they actually do have programming based on music.
The teen in me remembers the MTV Video Awards show for being the best in the business. Diverse, unpredictable and liberated from the usual awards show stuffiness. I remember watching a member of Nirvana having a guitar knock him in the head. I remember seeing the lead singer of Garbage have a wardrobe malfunction way before Janet Jackson's Superbowl incident. I remember seeing Run DMC dominating the stage with a great performance. So, every year, when the MTV airs the awards event, it sucks me back in and I find myself glued to the TV to see if MTV will ever regain its form. But every year it gets progressively worse and I'm left disappointed and annoyed that I wasted two hours of my life.
So, I thought I'd offer some advice to MTV on how to be less sucky when it comes to producing an awards show:
1. Stop Trying to Make Stars and Start Discovering Them
This last awards show dedicated 100% of its performances to Pop or Rap artists. No alternative music. No rock bands. No electronica. No decades-long rock idols. Apparently, the MTV music world stops at Rihanna, Brittney Spears, Chris Brown, the hottest boy band of the time (Jonas Bros) and whoever has the catchiest song of the year...in this case Katy Perry. In fact, they had not one, but two performances featuring Rihanna. What used to make the show great was seeing the best of the best in all genres...not just the two.
2. Cut Down the Shameless Self Promotion
Why must every awards presenter have a movie or album coming out within the next few weeks? This awards show gave time to LL Cool J...which would be great if it were 1984. But he spent some of his time pushing his album release. What's wrong with having interesting people at the awards show who aren't using their time on camera as a commercial ad? And are CDs now parachuted out of a plane to the nearest record shop now, given that every artist says his/her album "drops" next week.
3. Mix in Some Ugly People
Music is supposed to have some ugly people in it to give it that grit. Can you imagine the Sex Pistols looking like the Jonas Bros? Or the Ramones looking like N'Sync? Music represents the rare occasion that American's embrace ugliness in their entertainment. We have loved Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Michael Stipe, Neil Young and Steven Tyler for decades, despite them all resembling something more of an alien life form than a human being. But all MTV offers is shiny white teeth, runway model types with great smiles and even better record producers to hide a lack in talent. I'm looking at you Taylor Swift.
4. Nix Rap Artists Who Sound Awful Live or Feature 37 Back-up Rappers on Stage
This is not a dis to rap music, rather it's a dis to live rap performances, nine out of ten of which sound completely horrible. Whether the artist holds the mike up to close to his/her mouth, speaks to loudly in the mic or has a posse sloppily rapping along with the artist, it all just sucks. The only live rap performances that I've seen that sounded as good or better than the recording was Outkast, Run DMC and Eminem. If MTV insists on having rap artists who can't perform well live, I would recommend having them lip sync to their songs like Christina Aguilerra did this (yes the stinky one).
5. Even Retreads Get Old
How many years in a row do we need to see Brittney Spears? How many times can you award Michael Jackson for something? How about trying to get somebody with a real, significant contribution to music be your retread if you insist on having one. Is it really that hard to come up with a new idea?
I suppose that since MTV is more of a corporate entity than anything, it shouldn't be surprising to see them so blatantly sell out every year. But what they've failed to understand is that most of us have stopped buying. We all enjoy some empty calorie candy every now and then, but eventually, we grow up and prefer actual real sustenance.