YouTube is a surer bet for music videos than MTV is these days, so it’s no surprise the video-sharing giant finally got around to hosting its own music awards. And perhaps taking its cue from its own inherent weirdness, tonight’s inaugural YouTube Music Awards ceremony was probably the oddest such event we’ve ever seen. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The Spike Jonze-directed production was webcast live from Pier 36 in New York, where hosts Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts tried their best to wrangle the event’s obvious confusion into something watchable and, more relevantly, tweetable.
Jonze’s goal was purportedly to create “live music videos” on stage, which explains the chaos surrounding performances by the likes of Lady Gaga, Arcade Fire, Eminem, and Avicii, whose particularly messy performance included a starring role from Vanessa Hudgens. Why? Likely for no better reason than the fact that YouTube—unlike glossy major networks like CBS and MTV, who are responsible for the Grammys and the VMAs—exists in direct opposition to traditional broadcasting’s old-school stodginess.
As awards shows become increasingly irrelevant as measures of cultural cachet and achievement, they are greatly indebted to the Internet. The resulting live-tweets, rebloggable gifs and memes, and reaction videos—content created by the public, like YouTube—are time and again more interesting than the awards ceremonies themselves. And that’s precisely the upper hand that YouTube must take advantage of as it prepares to further establish itself as a broadcaster that is as powerful as television.
In the name of viewer engagement, the awards were voted on entirely by the public, meaning Eminem’s unexpected Artist of the Year win and K-pop group Girls’ Generation’s win for Video of the Year for “I Got A Boy” were the result of the voting by their fans. However, while the voting was interactive, YouTube missed the mark by not integrating viewer discussion. As vile as YouTube comments can be, they are a core part of its ethos and represent an organic form of engagement that television networks will never be able to muster up.
“We’ve been given a lot of room to make a mess,” Jonze told the New York Times ahead of the event. “Hopefully, it’ll be a fun mess.”
It was just the kind of mess YouTube needs.