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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

The big winners and losers at the MTV Video Music Awards

The big winners at Monday night’s MTV VMAs (Video Music Awards) were established right away: Ariana Grande and fiance Pete Davidson, who may have received more camera time in reaction shots than even J-Lo.

Not that Jennifer Lopez didn’t try during her interminable Video Vanguard Award performance and acceptance speech, but the accumulated constant cutting to Arianidson must have approached J-Lo’s near half-hour, and if it didn’t, just tack on Alex Rodriguez’s second-place reaction shots and it’s over the top.

At least A-Rod finally got up from his seat, once J-Lo went on. Otherwise most of the nominees and celebs in the crowd--many unidentifiable for anyone over 40--seemed pretty sedate in comparison with the upfront shills with their outstretched arms who turn these shows into mindless pep rallies.

But really, there was little to get excited about. Opening performer Shawn Mendes’s listless performance of “In My Blood” drew very little of it, even as it was inappropriately accompanied by the also typical swiftly flowing cloud/fog effects, here climaxed by an onstage rainfall that further diluted the song while leaving those beyond the shills nonplussed.

But Mendes fared no better in his speaking spot, when he presented J-Lo with her Video Vanguard trophy and had to talk over an uninterested crowd behind him bent on a bathroom break. Then again, he did fare better than Madonna, who’s been justly condemned for her self-centered memorial “tribute” to Aretha Franklin, though in fairness to Madonna, she claims it was never intended to be a tribute to Aretha Franklin, and in fairness to the rest of us, most definitely wasn’t.

That might make Madonna the night’s biggest loser, or maybe it was Aretha Franklin herself, whose only other recognition came when “Respect” was played during the show’s closing credits--her 1967 signature hit recording being far and away the night’s best musical performance, Aerosmith’s token rock closer, even buttressed by Song of the Year VMA winner Post Malone, notwithstanding.

But no, MTV and the VMA Awards were the biggest losers. Nielsen estimated yesterday that the show drew only 5.23 million viewers on MTV and simulcasts on several other Viacom networks--an all-time low since it began tracking VMA viewership in 1994. Said Rolling Stone: “More people literally decided to watch the news than the event that was once proclaimed the most exciting evening in music--and is now largely thought of as another stale parade.”

Indeed, the VMA format in production and performance values has been so widely imitated that all awards shows have become exercises in little more than celebrity worship at the expense of artistic quality and diversity. Luckily for the originators, though, this means that followers, most notably the Grammys, have plenty of room to honor Aretha Franklin even more ingloriously.



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