The Good News About the Video Music Awards

Mark Tapson, a Hollywood-based writer and screenwriter, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He focuses on the politics of popular culture.


cyrusIf you missed MTV’s annual Video Music Awards show last Sunday night, then you missed all the joy of witnessing the already morally and artistically bankrupt music industry sink to a new degrading low. You may also have missed witnessing the beginning of America’s boredom with and rejection of that bankruptcy.

Even if many conservatives, fed-up with the music biz’s hypersexualization of children and its celebration of gangsta culture, happily missed the show and the aftermath, much of the rest of the country didn’t. The news, social media, and water cooler talk in the following days were all dominated by the tragicomic spectacle of former Disney child star Miley Cyrus (now 20) in the unsexiest bikini ever designed, crotch-grinding, tongue-wagging, and “twerking” (you don’t want to know) her anorexic, nearly-naked way through an hallucinatory stage performance featuring dancers with giant teddy bears strapped to their backs. CNN deemed the display important enough to put at the top of its website Monday morning (and was hilariously ridiculed for it by the satirical Onion.com).

The expected outrage from the usual suspects ensued. The Parents Television Council, for example, condemned MTV for marketing “adults-only material to children while falsely manipulating the content rating to make parents think the content was safe for their children” (the show was approved for viewers as young as 14). “How is this image of former child star Miley Cyrus appropriate for 14-year-olds? How is it appropriate for 14-year-olds to see a condom commercial and a promo for an R-rated movie during the first commercial break?”

This is at least partly the reaction that the show’s producers and performers were aiming for, to confirm their “edgy” status (yawn) and to boost ratings. According to The Hollywood Reporter and MTV’s own website, which has Pepsi ads splashed all over it featuring the sad new slogan “Live for Now,” last Sunday’s show garnered a total audience of 10.1 million viewers — a 66-percent increase over last year’s show — making it cable’s top-rated entertainment telecast of the year among viewers aged 12-34 [emphasis added]. It earned a 7.8 rating in the same demographic, a 47-percent increase over last year’s show. Of course, that increase was largely due to the centerpiece act – superstar Justin Timberlake and the reunion of his “boy” band ‘N Sync, now in their late 30s – and the Madonna-spawned circus act, Lady Gaga.

But it was Miley Cyrus who stole the show, and for all the wrong reasons. Cyrus’ awkwardly bizarre prancing and tongue-lolling hit their nadir in a medley with singer Robin Thicke and his misogynistic hit “Blurred Lines,” and set a social media record for most tweets per minute – 360,000, if you’re curious. The two-hour telecast generated 120 national and worldwide trending topics on Twitter, and 1.2 million Instagram likes, if you’re keeping score.

VMA performers and winners naturally benefitted from all that exposure. Timberlake’s entire oeuvre saw a 1,876 percent increase in sales on iTunes. Cyrus’ upcoming album got a boost in pre-sales, and she will likely have two singles at once in the Top 20 next week. So no doubt she and her record company team would consider this a win in her column.

They would be wrong. Temporary sales boost aside, her appearance on the show was a Pyrrhic victory. She has secured her reputation as an object of ridicule and effectively put her career on shaky ground if not a downhill slide. Even better, and more importantly, she almost singlehandedly may have set the music industry and/or its audience on a positive new course.

It’s easy to denounce the VMA as Sodom-and-Gomorrahesque, which it was; it’s easy to see the show as a sign of our cultural degradation, which it was; it’s easy to deride MTV’s and many (but not all) of the performers’ naked desperation for ratings and relevance. But outrage over all that was not America’s dominant reaction; there was also plenty of just plain revulsion and embarrassment – for Cyrus, the event itself, MTV, and the music industry as a whole.

But the primary reaction to the VMA’s attempt to shock long-jaded audiences and to push an already gaping envelope was not titillation or shock but boredom. I have yet to hear or read anyone defend Cyrus’ sad display as sexy; far from it. Most viewers seem to have found her and the show’s sexual excesses unsexy and boring, and nothing and no one in the entertainment biz can survive being both unsexy and boring.

(Contrast this with the Country Music Awards. I’m not personally a fan of country music, but I readily acknowledge that the genre features likeable, down-to-earth stars who actually sing and play their own instruments and who understand that sexiness has little or nothing to do with how much skin or tongue they’re baring. Country performers not coincidentally also tilt politically right.)

America may finally have reached a point where shock value has no value. Sunday’s VMA may have proved that not all publicity is good publicity, to paraphrase the old saying. Is it possible that the culture of the music industry – which is more degraded even than Hollywood, the usual target of conservative disgust – may have bottomed out, if you’ll pardon the pun?

Short of actual pornographic acts performed live onstage (and I’m not ruling out that possibility yet), there’s nowhere for American music culture to go now but up. Miley Cyrus exposed it as desperate and empty – something conservatives have known for a long time, but which even young fans may now be awakening too as well. It will take a while to work its way out, perhaps even years, but the ludicrousness of much of last Sunday night’s Video Music Awards may have finally driven people toward the recognition that an oversexed culture is a boring, empty, joyless culture.

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  • cheechakos

    Cyrus was trying to one up her competition who are already trashy,tacky,tasteless and tedious.
    Like Gaga,Madonna,JLo,Beyonce,Pink,Rihanna,Brittney,Kesha – none of whom rise above the level of cheap strippers in their shows. I’m sure someone enjoys their antics, probably the same people who watch porn 24/7 but do music lovers really want to watch them prance around in underwear or hear them sing?
    Cyrus wasn’t just boring,she was creepy.
    Just like Gaga’s “little monsters” who send people death threats,Beyonce whipping her fake white women’s hair ,Brittney’s drugged out performances and their obsessive ,desperate need to show us their body parts – it all screams extreme narcissism and mental illness. They do it more for their gratification than the audience’s enjoyment .

  • Area52

    “Short of actual pornographic acts performed live onstage (and I’m not ruling out that possibility yet)” That’s the only way they can go to keep their demographic interested and, really, what does someone like Cyrus have to lose?

    • Bob Wills

      Her soul!

  • kokomambo

    You’re missing the point Mark. Cyrus’ PR aim was to gain notice in the media. You write about her- you play her game.

    • Mo86

      Absolutely right.

    • myrna652

      what Jacqueline said I didnt know that some people can earn $9996 in one month on the computer. dig this w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  • http://libertyandculture.blogspot.com/ Jason P

    Tastelessness isn’t new. Nor is raunchy sex. The pron industry survives on crude sex. And it’s huge. Popular culture has long ago disintegrated.

    Driving home yesterday while listening to Mozart on the only classical music station, I was thinking how music of such stature, subtly, sensitivity and beauty isn’t being written today. I realized that no one expects otherwise including lovers of great music. I wondered why.

  • Mo86

    Why do we keep giving pigs like this woman and the rest of them more attention?

    That’s what they want! And we just keep obliging! Enough already!

  • prbrown60

    IF I was Billy Cyrus, i would definitely be ashamed of her, Of course Madonna and Britney followed the same path, and now are nothing more than nameless blonde pretty faces in a sea of forgotten sea of ‘use-to-be’s”. Before long Miley will be forgotten and a new pretty blonde face will emerge, and the cycle begins again! When she proclaimed, “She wasn’t Hanna Montana anymore” she was right! Just another pretty face with no real path to follow. It is said that most child divas have no direction once they are grown.

    • Carrie

      Miley tweeted that he father told her he would have done the same act if they’d had those props in his day.

  • NCMountainGirl

    The real entertainment professionals in the live audience seemed embarrassed for her because the theme was highly derivative and the performance looked forced. I was reminded of something an old time comic once said about the need for restraint – Slipping on a banana peel is funny. Slipping on five banana peels is not five times as funny.

    Ultimately the problem is that once the shock factor has worn off sex really isn’t very interesting as a spectator sport.

  • http://www.clarespark.com/ Clare Spark

    “Hyper-sexualization”: what does that mean to you? See how the second wave of feminism fed into that, whatever it may be: http://clarespark.com/2012/11/15/female-genitals-as-red-flag/. “Female genitals as red flag.” I for one am not in the Anti-Sex League, but there are other problems with the sexual revolution of the 1970s.

  • CowboyUp

    You watch, next year she’ll have poles on stage.

    • Carrie

      She already danced with poles when she was underage. They made it look like an ice cream cart with a huge pole on top of it. It was crude and inappropriate then, and it’s crude and inappropriate now. Another auto-tuned, talentless, exhibitionist, like Granny Madonna.

      • CowboyUp

        I should have known. I couldn’t tell you if she had any talent, and I’ve never bothered to watch the MVA. I’ve never seen her perform that I know of, though I don’t know what Disney films she was in, and I just may not have recognized her. From the pics I’ve seen accompanying the stories, I’d add childish to the crude.

  • Digli

    So the point of your article is that we have to hit our heads with a hammer because it feels good when we stop?

  • cathy

    Dear daughter, let Miley Cyrus be a lesson to you
    Aug. 27, 2013
    http://roadkillgoldfish.com/2013/08/26/dear-daughter-let-miley-cyrus-be-a-lesson-to-you/#comments

    Dear son, don’t let Robin Thicke be a lesson to you
    August 28, 2013
    http://themattwalshblog.com/2013/08/28/dear-son-dont-let-robin-thicke-be-a-lesson-to-you/

  • ridesdressage

    Feminism and liberalism does not equal intelligence….

  • ridesdressage

    If you are all sick and tired of the untalented people in Hollywood and music today – take a look at this and weep – Look at what we are all missing out on :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBb9hTyLjfM

    Talent, talent, talent, and more talent without any sexual reference and they are all fully clothed

  • UCSPanther

    All I see with Miley Cyrus is something that is painful to look at and no more than just glamorized gutter trash…

  • JacksonPearson

    Don’t let your hearts be troubled, because Milley’s going to twerk her way, all the way to the bank.

  • http://www.commieblaster.com/ Barry Sucks

    Next up Miley Cyrus will have sex live on stage with a dog on national tv.

  • Steveng

    It’s time to go back to real entertainment – the musicals of the thirties, forties and fifties.