Saturday night, I sat — for six hours — in the pouring rain at Wrigley Field while a string of vintage punk rock bands — Urge Overkill, Naked Raygun, and Cheap Trick — intro’ed for the Foo Fighters, playing the sold out stadium on their Sonic Highways tour. The Foo Fighters themselves played for a straight two and a half of those hours, with an emotional Dave Grohl giving a determined and stellar rock performance to honor the city that first showed him the value of a good amp and a loud guitar.
Sunday night, I sat through what seemed like six hours of Twitter bickering.
I expected to show up this morning and pen a thousand words on the “controversial performances” and “nipple slips” and “terrifyingly inaccurate stereotypes of the Catholic Church” that rolled over my screen between bouts of strobe lighting and angry political outbursts, but all I could think, as I watched Miley Cyrus twerk around, arhythmically, in what looked like a suit made of giant plastic M&Ms, was… when did “rock stars” get so boring?
First, a rundown, in case you missed it. Before the show, a parade of people who could only be loosely described as “celebrities” walked down a partially-red carpet wearing what appeared to be the remnants of a decomissioned dinette set. Miley Cyrus decorated her ladyparts with a nice chandelier, Taylor Swift wore a sequinned running suit that she clearly stole off a woman on a Rascal scooter in an Atlantic City casino, a lot of people wore jumpsuits because the 1970s “are back” (though without any of the better aspects of the 1970s, like acid), we learned that Aubrey O’Day is still alive, and that people who made inane YouTube videos now constitute a “red carpet star.”
The VMAs stellar highlights are supposed to be the performances, but they were best described, last night, as “confusing.” Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift performed together, patching up a two-week-long Twitter spat that the Internet finally realized was very good guerilla marketing for a joint performance where they buried the social media hatchet that was likely a marketing construction to begin with. In an effort to ensure her continued relevance, Nicki Minaj then declared war on the night’s host, Miley Cyrus, because if there’s anything the world cares less about than a Nicki Minaj/Taylor Swift rivalry, it’s a rivalry between two people who cannot manage to understand the concept of clothing.
Also, Justin Bieber performed and cried, which was all very Chris Brown circa 2010, post beating up Rihanna. Justin Bieber is sorry, world. But not sorry enough to spare you his continued involvement in the music industry. But he’s resolved to change his life. Or at least his haircut. He’s going with “side bangs” now. As for the purpose of the tears, well, that’s just a mystery. One journalist at CNN suggested he might have missed naptime. His favorite binkie might be missing. He might have been thinking of how high his insurance rates skyrocketed after that last Lamborghini drag race. He might even have been thinking about how ridiculous it is that he’s been reduced to knocking off Chris Brown.
The most shocking revelation of the evening was that Kanye West, who you may remember as “that guy who stole a VMA from Taylor Swift several years ago,” seeing as he’s done little except marry a Kardashian and design a line of very fancy bodystockings since then, intends to run for President in 2020, which he declared at the end of a long, rambling, “Dada-esque” thank-you speech for his Video Vanguard award (presented by Swift) that might have been philosophical had it also been coherent. He didn’t give details, like which party he’s going to be running as part of, or why he chose a supposedly “mid-year” election to run in, or whether he has a ground game in Iowa (honestly, Kris Jenner could probably run a hell of a campaign), but suffice it to say, Kanye West’s mind has been made up, and America he will be your leader. And you will be required to wear those bodystockings.
Those, however, could hardly be called highlights, at least compared to VMAs of yore. We’ve seen Miley Cyrus’s genitalia so many times over the years we could all identify it in a lineup. The most controversial thing about Taylor Swift is her choppy bob. Kanye West hasn’t uttered a full sentence in almost a decade. And the closest anyone got to referencing the Catholic Church was Selena Gomez’s positively Puritanical red carpet gown, which could easily have doubled as the habit for a number of religious orders.
Nothing about the 2015 VMAs was shocking, controversial, or outrageous. News organizations had to settle for a couple of introductory blunders and fighting over the proper spelling of “The Weeknd” (no “e”). The youth, it turned out, are going to be okay. Less okay than I was going to be growing up, when Madonna was making out with teenaged pop stars and Tom Commerford was scaling the scenery. There was the time Michael Jackson gave himself his own award. The Beastie Boys once rushed the stage. The cops showed up looking to arrest Snoop Dogg that one time. The bassist for Nirvana tried to throw his instrument in the air during “Lithium” and ended up knocking himself out cold.
Now everyone is vegan. Their scanty outfits are “exclusives” designed by “avant garde fashion artists.” People show up to the VMAs sober. They leave sober. They make YouTube videos while at the VMAs about being sober. Kardashians are invited and not ridiculed. No one’s been hit with a musical instrument in over a decade. The biggest fights are on social media, and heavily orchestrated. In recent years, the most “controversial” performance came from Beyonce who… announced she was pregnant.
I could end by saying that “this is why the terrorists hate us,” but that’s not true. If anything, people watching MTV on a satellite dish in the wilds of the Pakistani desert are bound to feel sorry for us — that in two thousand years of civilization, we’ve managed to rebirth Western culture with controversy over and over, until, in some self-immolating burst of popular culture, we managed to saddle ourselves with whatever Miley Cyrus is.