It seems that after the trainwreck of a VMA’s from 2007, MTV learned from their mistakes and decided to actually work toward improving for the 2008 show. For one, they decided to actually bring in an official host; a relative British unknown with no filter and wild hair who I will get to discussing momentarily. They reinstated most of the classic categories we knew and loved, even though some of them (Best R&B Video, Best Group Video) would remain retired for some reason. They also decided that maybe a hotel in Vegas would not be the ideal venue for such an extravaganza. They decided to upgrade location this time by moving the VMA’s…..to a movie lot. Did MTV just get allergic to actual theaters and stuff around this time? There had to be some reason why they decided to go from hosting the VMAs in a hotel to hosting the VMAs at a movie lot. I’m just saying, you don’t see WWE deciding to host WrestleMania in a school gymnasium and deciding that one or a few of the matches should take place in the campus parking lot. But chances are MTV would find a way to make it work and not create a raging dumpster fire of an award show two years straight. Let’s see if that’s what happened.
The first VMA promo I saw for 2008 ended with the announcer asking “Who the f*** is Russell Brand”? That was my reaction too, because I had never heard of the guy before this. His sole source of American exposure at the time was Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where he played an over-the-top, creepy, but honestly not-that-bad rockstar. I didn’t see that movie for the first time until that following December, so I didn’t recognize him for that. But after his hosting stint, no one would forget his name as he caused quite a stir with his risque humor. Tackling his own physical appearance and lack of fame in America, the 2008 presidential election, and the Jonas Brothers‘ virginity, his brand of comedy did ruffle some feathers. But for that, I’d say he was the best VMA host they had since Chris Rock. Remember when I said Diddy hosting in 2005 was pointless and Jack Black’s comedy in 2006 was lame? Well, Russell was more interesting than both Puffy and Jables put together at hosting the VMAs. Even if his brand of humor wasn’t for you, you still probably felt something from what he was saying. Me personally, I actually laughed hard at a number of his jokes. Maybe him being British made people disregard his opinion on U.S. politics (which he has injected into his stand-up), but speaking as an American who also wouldn’t trust George Bush with a pair of scissors, I felt like he was preaching to the choir. I don’t know or care if this is an unpopular opinion: I liked Russell Brand as a VMA host in 2008. I’ll let you know in tomorrow’s review whether he could recreate the magic.
Fun Fact: 2008 actually marked the VMA debut of Taylor Swift. Most people probably forget this since 1) she was still very much a country singer at the time, though some of her singles like the nominated “Teardrops On My Guitar” and my eternal jam “Our Song” started crossing over to pop radio, and 2) so many people love going along with the assumption that Kanye West is the one who made Taylor Swift famous, but if she was famous enough to appear on (and be nominated for) the VMAs the year BEFORE that whole situation, B.S. must be called on Kanye’s claim. But I’ll get to that tomorrow. Taylor introduced the Jonas Brothers, lest we forget she and Joe Jonas were an item at the time before things went south. Speaking of couples, Ashlee Simpson and Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz were on the show and had their own Michael Jackson & Lisa Marie Presley moment before pulling a Michael and Lisa Marie months later by separating. Also, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon left a stamp on the show as the cast of High School Musical 3 (Zac, Vanessa, Corbin, & Ashley) and Drake & Josh (Drake Bell & Josh Peck) all made their VMA debuts by presenting on the show. The cast of Twilight also debuted to present Paramore, and they were just as awkward as you would expect a cast including Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson to be. Russell Brand trying to talk over them did not help.
This year, they at least tried to make being a VMA presenter fun again. They had Miley Cyrus present P!NK‘s performance by first having her play Guitar Hero with Tokio Hotel and had Ciara and Lindsay Lohan present with one of the teams from America’s Best Dance Crew. Plus, Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor threatening to beat down Christopher Mintz-Plasse for having the guts to come on their stage is still priceless to me. One of the more memorable presenter moments was Jordin Sparks standing up against Russell Brand’s mocking of purity rings; her words got misconstrued by some, but it’s obvious she was just standing up for a person’s right to pledge virginity until they’ve found the right one for them. Healthy message and it actually kind of made Russell Brand’s hosting stint more interesting if you ask me. But easily the most talked about presenter was Britney Spears, who was on the road to recovery after her devastating roller-coaster ride of a 2007. She didn’t present an award; she just welcomed us to the show, but it was just nice to have a Britney who was getting her life back together again.
Though there are some exceptions to this, I usually hate when MTV decides to hold VMA performances outside the main auditorium. I think I made that clear with yesterday’s review; I prefer music artists actually take the stage you’ve provided in front of the audience in the room. Spreading stuff out seems a bit unnecessary and extra sometimes. But for 2008, I actually strangely didn’t mind them taking advantage of the Paramount lot for performances. The fact that they’re on a movie lot allowed performers the chance to be even larger and grander with their performances rather than being condensed and limited like the suites the previous year. And for the most part, I liked the performances on this show. Rihanna kicked things off right with an unforgettably theatrical performance of one of her best singles, “Disturbia”, with a little “Seven Nation Army” thrown before the bridge. Paramore‘s VMA debut was probably my favorite parts of the night; they gave a thunderous performance of “Misery Business”, complete with a twist ending that would’ve been a surprise had Russell Brand kept his mouth shut before the performance. I even liked Lil Wayne‘s performance, though his wardrobe was such an absolute mess that T-Pain would’ve been the best dressed in the performance if Leona Lewis got axed out.
Lil Wayne (still sagging) would return later that night to back up Kid Rock on “All Summer Long”; it was OK. Unless you’re one of the many people who felt like he desecrated “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Werewolves of London” with that song, in which case you should not click that link. One performance I wasn’t really a fan of was the Christina Aguilera medley. If you’re one of those people who hated precious little Dove Cameron‘s recent cover version of “Genie in a Bottle for the Descendants franchise, all I gotta say is that the Liv & Maddie star’s version is Grammy-worthy compared to the awful “Genie in a Bottle” remix Christina debuted here. That remix sounded as bad as Christina’s lip-syncing looked. But just to prove that I’m not an X-Tina hater, I do really love “Keeps Gettin’ Better”,the second song she lip-synced to, and the song almost saved the performance for me. Almost. We also got P!NK delivering the best backlot performance of the night, The Jonas Brothers keeping their dork cred performing “Lovebug”, Kanye West entering his auto-tune phase a year after claiming he’d never return to MTV again, and T.I. & Rihanna unleashing one of my all-time favorite songs on the world. “Live Your Life” still bangs to this day.
Now we get to what I felt was the weakest link of this ceremony: the actual winners. While I’m glad the old categories were reinstated, I got my nitpicks with the winners. But it’s not like my bar was set that high anyway because if you thought music videos nowadays aren’t that interesting with their Beats product placement and reliance on sex appeal, I’ll definitely take the videos of now over most of the videos at the time. I totally understand why MTV had the fans vote on the nominees this year; it was so MTV themselves didn’t have to choose from such an unremarkable palette. And leading that unremarkable palette was “Piece of Me”, which won Britney her first three VMA’s ever: Best Pop Video, Best Female Video (continuing Mariah Carey’s still on-going VMA losing streak), and Video of the Year. And that’s just sad. “I’m A Slave 4 U” didn’t win any VMAs. “Baby One More Time” didn’t win any VMAs. “Toxic” didn’t win any VMAs. “Oops, I Did It Again” didn’t win any VMAs. Hell, “Everytime” was never even nominated. All of those videos are lightyears better than “Piece of Me”, but MTV really wanted to jump on the Britney Spears comeback train. But granted all those other Britney videos at least had competition, which “Piece of Me” undeniably didn’t. “Forever” is one of Chris Brown’s better videos and I really liked “Shut Up and Let Me Go”, but I wouldn’t dub them Video of the Year. And I feel like the only reason Jonas Brothers got nominated is because their fangirls voted “Burnin’ Up” into the slot. No way it would’ve gotten in otherwise.
And speaking of fangirl votes, who saw Tokio Hotel winning Best New Artist coming? Should I remind you who they beat for that? Katy Perry. Miley Cyrus. Taylor Swift. Jordin Sparks. Three of these girls are now huge superstars who went on to win VMAs at future shows, and Jordin Sparks looked to at least be on her way there at the time. Yet they all lost to a German band who was largely unknown outside the mainstream who’s lead singer had porcupine hair. It was almost as much of a mystery as trying to figure out why an obvious rock band such as Tokio Hotel was also nominated for Best Pop Video alongside Danity Kane. (I’d say the same for PanicNoExclaimationPoint At The Disco, but “Nine in the Afternoon” was an admittedly poppy song.) As for the other winners, Chris Brown’s “With You” won Best Male Video over Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop”, which itself would beat the likes of Kanye West and – no joke – Mary J. Blige for Best Hip-Hop Video. “When I Grow Up” winning Best Dancing in a Video (which is different from Best Choreography…..how?) gave Pussycat Dolls their 2nd VMA and made them the last girl group to win a VMA for six years, but we’ll address Fifth Harmony‘s moment of glory in the 2014 review. The Best Rock Video field was packed with Slipknot coming in fiery against Paramore‘s desert performance, Fall Out Boy‘s Michael Jackson cover, and the Foo Fighters‘ war against what I assume to be a SWAT team. But it was Linkin Park who prevailed with their third Best Rock Video win. And though I like “Shadow of the Day”, either Paramore or Slipknot would’ve gotten my vote. You can’t hate Hayley Williams rocking out in the desert or the masked men of Slipknot attempting to scare the Beelzebub out of you.
For an award show that took place on a movie lot, this is the best VMA’s I’ve reviewed so far. Certainly not the best VMA’s of all-time; maybe not even in the Top 10. But it’s certainly replayable compared to what I’ve seen so far in this series. I love most of the performances on this show, the guest list is alright by me (aside fro Heidi & Spencer, who I wish stayed home and narcassistically watched themselves on TV instead), and Russell Brand was an entertaining host; I don’t care who disagrees. And again, I wasn’t keen on some of the winners, but I can overlook since that year in music videos was average at best anyway. I can definitely appreciate this show for what it is. It feels nice to end this review on a positive note, because tomorrow, I’m gonna have one huge, ego-driven, un-killable elephant to address. Taylor Swift fans and Kanye West fans both might wanna sit down for that one, because one of those two groups will hate what I have to say.