2011 Video Music Awards – Video Of The Year

I got a nice response in 2010 when I attempted to review the nominees for MTV’s Video of the Year.  People seemed to like my breaking away from the normal movie and DVD reviews I provide and it was nice for me to shift focus towards a cousin to sorts to the films I love – the music video.

As I touched on with last year’s column, the music video has likely seen its heyday on broadcast television.  My wife joked with me that its pretty great that MTV still has the Video Music Awards when they steadfastly refuse to air music videos when anyone can ever watch them.  Nowadays, the music video is an Internet phenomenon, with YouTube and VEVO delivering tens of millions of hits for artists beginning, maintaining, or breaking out in their careers.  Remember, this is the format that made Rebecca Black’s “Friday” a Top 60 hit on the Billboard charts this year.

Last year, when sitting down and poring through the six Video of the Year nominees, I remarked that one video was cinematically impressive (30 Seconds To Mars’ “Kings And Queens”), another saw the arrival of a breathtakingly exciting new talent (Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over”) as well as one of the greatest music videos of all time eventual winner Lady Gaga for “Bad Romance”.  Other clips from Eminem, B.o.B. Featuring Hayley Williams, and Lady Gaga Featuring Beyonce were far from terrible and in totality, it was a nice mix of clips to chew on and think about.

So, what did I find with this year’s nominees?  Well, a mixed bag honestly, with one nominee providing anything truly memorable…and frightening…and confrontational…and challenging.  There is also a clever throwback video that plays to the oldest of music video fans, and well…then there are the rest.

Let’s dive into this year’s selection for what MTV’s nominating committee selected as the Best Videos from August 2010 through July 2011.  Again, these are reviews of the VIDEOS and not the songs, though I am sure I will offer some thoughts on the track as well.  Now, with that said, let’s grab the envelope and see what we have competing for the prestigious VMA for Video of the Year…

Watch the videos and see my analysis after the cut!

ADELE, “ROLLING IN THE DEEP” (3:53) (dir. Sam Brown)

For starters, I…love…this…song.  Even after hearing it 25 million times this year, it still gets me.  Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” is the mainstream breakthrough for an extraordinary vocalist and artist who many forget is already a 2-time Grammy winner, winning the prize for 2009’s Best New Artist.  In many ways, 2011 is Adele’s year.  She has seen her second album, “21”, return time and time again to #1 and sell more than 3 million copies in a day and age where the biggest selling pop stars can barely move more than a million units.  There is no debating that Adele is a tremendous talent.

The music video for “Rolling In The Deep” is a conundrum of sorts – a hybrid of symbolism reflecting a once-perfect emotional utopia now left broken and destroyed.  Complimentary to the song, Adele sits in a vacated house, tearfully condemning the man who stole and trampled her heart.  Broken dishes are crushed in a heaping pile of rubble in one room, walls are primed but not painted, dropcloths are everywhere, hundreds of glasses of water pulse to the building block cadence of the beat, and we have the beautiful dance of a woman in a white powder filled room.  But as striking as the images might be, I cannot find a whole lot of meaning here.

Director Sam Brown seems lost in delivering symbolic images of control, order, and calm.  And I will never understand why Adele is sitting down for the entire video.  After watching it numerous times for this article, all I can decipher is that the intent and meaning is simply over my head.  Adele’s video seems to be a bit overthought, with memorable individual moments that do not add up to the power and emotional catharsis found in the music those images accompany.  Oh well, Adele is still incredible.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 


Nominations: 7 (Video of the Year, Best Female Video, Best Pop Video, Best Direction, Best Art Direction, Best Editing, Best Cinematography)

BEASTIE BOYS, “MAKE SOME NOISE (EDIT)” (5:21/29:48)  (dir. Adam Yauch)

Although Kanye West landed 11 total nominations, he missed out on a Video of the Year nomination perhaps because his duet with Katy Perry, “E.T.”, was passed over for Perry’s solo single, “Firework”, and this throwback clip from the returning Beastie Boys seemed more enticing a pick than West’s other multiple nominated clip, “All Of The Lights”.  While “Lights” was largely relegated to the professional categories, the comedy and outright fun of “Make Some Noise” found a pathway to the top prize of the night.  While West can, for once, make a fair complaint for not being nominated for Video of the Year this year, I have to admit that I am thrilled that MTV found a slot for these iconic hip-hoppers from Brooklyn.

Younger audiences may look at this clip and scratch their heads, but The Beastie Boys always deliver an intriguing video and “Make Some Noise” is a pretty entertaining short film in its edited form.  Excised from a nearly 30-minute short film, made in honor of the Boys’ 25th anniversary, the truncated “Make Some Noise” picks up immediately from where their breakthrough 1986 single and video, “(You’ve Got To) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” left off.  Stumbling out of that memorable and rankerous party found in that classic clip, the Boys emerge in the same gear, but are now portrayed by Elijah Wood, Seth Rogen, and Danny McBride.

After stealing some beers from a locked down quickie mart, the Boys’ doppelgangers deliver near perfect rap syncing and embody King Ad Rock, MCA, and Mike D pretty impressively.  Since the clip/film is a tribute to the Boys, made by the King Ad Rock himself, Adam Yauch secured more than 30 celebrity cameos for the project and many of them are featured in the shortened version.  This is all a great deal of nostalgic fun, but will fail to resonate with those who have never heard of the Beastie Boys or view them as old rapping dad-types trying to be hip and/or cool.  Luckily, the Boys are too self-aware to devolve into self-parody and “Make Some Noise” restores the Boys’ relevancy once again.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 


Nominations: 2 (Video of the Year, Best Direction)

BRUNO MARS, “GRENADE” (4:10) (dir. NABIL)

The tremendously talented Bruno Mars lays his heart bare in the soul stirrer, “Grenade”, which has inspired countless shower performances and heartfelt odes to the air on a jog or in the car.  Mars has cornered the market on the big hook pop/soul ballads of the last year or so and “Grenade” is simply unavoidable with its emotional heft and delivery.

Of course, the protagonist of the single is nothing short of certifiably insane and perhaps worthy of a restraining order with all of his lamentations of sacrificing self and body for the love of his ex-girlfriend or ex-wife.  Some have even theorized the song may not be about a woman at all, but metaphorically referencing fame and success.  Still though, Bruno would catch a grenade, jump in front of a train, impale his hand on a blade…because, you know…people do that.  The music video sadly features only one of these moments, although if you actually watch MTV or VH1 for your music videos, you will likely never know which one Mars successfully accomplishes because of gunshy editing on the networks’ part.  I get the sincerity and high school opining that Mars is selling here, but the video, where Mars drags a piano all through town only to find his girlfriend in the arms of another (what was he expecting actually?) is a bit goofy and silly.  Bruno Mars can sing the hell out of anything and is likely someone who will be with us for years to come, but this video is just a nonsensical and wacky mess.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 


Nominations: 3 (Video of the Year, Best Male Video, Best Pop Video)

KATY PERRY, “FIREWORK” (3:54) (dir. Dave Meyers)

If you want to challenge the notion that this is the Year of Adele, then I will listen to the argument that this is the Year of Katy Perry.  She not only recently became only the second artist ever to score 5 #1 singles from one album (the other…Michael Jackson), but she simply cannot miss right now.  Perry scored 10 nominations this year, and scattered those out among 4 different clips – “E.T.” (5), “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” (1), “Teenage Dream” (1), and this clip for her equality anthem, “Firework”, which nabbed three nominations.

And oh “Firework” how you vex me so.  I’m all A+ on the message but honestly lukewarm on Katy Perry’s song and video here.  I am admittedly a fan and find her to be an artist I simply find impossible to dislike.  She is a captivating celebrity, acutely smarter than people give her credit for, and it is no secret that perhaps short of Lady Gaga and Pink, no A-list pop star has been more out front on the movement for gay rights and equality.  So, “Firework” shouldn’t miss right?

Well…here’s the thing – I have seen this “Firework” video so many times already in so many different ways, that nothing looks or feels original here.  Okay, when you accept yourself and love yourself for who you truly are, fireworks blast out of your chest and your colors burst.  Okay.  Sure.  And at the risk of angering the countless Katy Perry fans out there, I kind of expected more from Katy with this song and clip.  “Firework” just strikes me as so safe and homogenized; shockingly disingenuous in places.  In full disclosure, I feel bad bagging on this because, once again, I’m completely on board with the message being delivered here.  I just wish Perry had been more willing to take a risk.  Unfortunately for me, “Firework” may be a massive #1 hit single and video, but rings up as a missed opportunity to be the brave and galvanizing action item it cautiously hopes to be.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 


Nominations: 3 (Video of the Year, Best Female Video, Video With A Message)

TYLER, THE CREATOR, “YONKERS” (3:05) (dir. Wolf Haley a/k/a Tyler. The Creator)

Before I dive in to my thoughts on Tyler, The Creator’s “Yonkers”, let’s go back to the basic role of a music video.  Introduce the artist, sell an image, sell the music, and sell the artist.  Sometimes this is achieved through performance clips, in other instances a novel concept of a video informs us as to what we’re getting with a particular performer.  And in other instances, the entire package is something compelling, captivating, and leaves us curious and thirsting for more.

Acknowledging that the above clip is off-putting and bizarre and will likely induce an eye roll, laughter, groan, and/or a gasp with its heavy-handed conclusion, “Yonkers” is the breakthrough clip from rapper Tyler, The Creator.  Positioned as the de facto leader of the Los Angeles hip hop collective of teens and young adults known as Odd Future, or Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, “Yonkers” is simply stunning.

Hip hop music, always controversial, has taken a dark turn in terms of what is being produced and passed around on the underground scene.  Artists like Odd Future deliver their lyrics and music with a menacing energy and urgency, fueled by distrust, vulnerability, and bottled up rage.  Odd Future embody those characteristics completely with their chilling and unpredictable lyrics, stage shows, and music videos.  Of all places, I first learned of the group via NPR, as they reported on this new movement of disenfranchised young hip hoppers trying to get their voices heard by more mainstream audiences.

Which brings us to “Yonkers”, a mesmerizing clip that leaves your jaw on the floor and then, just as you are closing your mouth, leaves you struggling to figure out what exactly is going on.  Shot in black and white, this video is minimalist and remarkably disconcerting.  An unfortunate cockroach, a nosebleed, and blackened out eyeballs all cross in front of you in 3 captivating minutes, leaving you spellbound until Tyler takes it completely over the top with the “What did he just do??” conclusion.  If you are struggling with the imagery, the lyrics offer little comfort.  Genius puns and analogies line up alongside obtuse references and horrific violent threats against Bruno Mars, rapper B.o.B. and singer Hayley Williams.  Drugs and a disheartening malaise punctuate every moment of “Yonkers” and the entire experience is troubling and fascinating at the same time.

If you watch it, you will never forget it.  And in all honesty I am not entirely sure whether I like, love, or loathe the clip.  But if we buy into the notion that the music video’s mission is to introduce the artist, then sell the image, sell the music, and sell the artist, then Tyler, The Creator should shock the world with a moonman for Best Video of the Year.

Rating: ★★★★½ 


Nominations: 2 (Video of the Year, Best New Artist)

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So what are your thoughts?  Have I completely lost my mind in selecting Tyler, The Creator’s video as the clip that I think is the best of the group?  Am I too harsh on Katy Perry’s heartfelt ode to equal rights and self-worth?  Is this Adele’s VMA to lose?

The VMA’s are Sunday, August 28, 2011 and we will find out together.  I, for one, cannot wait!