Bloody Bizarre: The 2010 MTV VMAs

Last year, I used the unfortunate blight that is the MTV VMAs to rant about the state of music television. This year, it turns out, has produced fodder of a different kind. Sure, I could still rant about the lack of quality in music videos and MTV, but that’s not really top of mind after viewing the awards show on Sunday night. I’m not quite certain what it was that made this year’s show so surreal; it could have been a combination of the incessant Twittering and texting running along the bottom of my screen (I watched it via MuchMusic in Canada, but it could have very well been happening everywhere), or the long line of live airing debacles (the Kanye West outburst didn’t even seem quite as strange as the general malaise and/or bewilderment throughout the rest of the show).

The show kicked off with yet another Michael Jackson tribute (I had to watch just to see what the institution that really created him would come up with), and it was…boring. For an artist who based most of his career on spectacle, the performance was bizarrely pedestrian. I had expected several celebrities to make an appearance (hey, people like Usher and Justin Timberlake made a living off imitating him), but instead it was a long line of generic dancers doing a few of Jackson’s routines against a backdrop of the music videos. And these dancers weren’t even all that good – during the gravity-defying leaning move at the end of Smooth Criminal, one of the dancers ended up being rather conspicuously bent over like a coat hanger instead. Then Janet Jackson made her appearance during Scream in order to dance in-sync with her brother on the screen behind her – she fell out of step somewhere and ended up lagging slightly behind like a satellite feed. The quality control on the man’s memory was about as good as the quality control on his public image during the last fifteen years.

Then there was the odd, less-than-exciting cover version of We Will Rock You by Katy Perry and Joe Perry, which inexplicably summoned Russell Brand to appear as host for the second year in a row. (I suppose the fact the MTV VMAs never seem to have a specific theme to run with contributes to the lack of coherence in these shows.) There are times that I find Russell Brand funny. There are times when I really don’t (loads of puerile sex jokes). This was of the second variety, which is wearing very thin. He, himself, seemed out of step more than usual (granted certain types of British humour don’t always make much of an impression on North American audiences, especially of the award show type, but Brand seemed to lose the plot a whole lot more than last year). His one decent comment was about American health care, and then he seemed to be relegated to the fringes for the rest of the night.

And then the part of the show that interested me the most was the Lady GaGa performance, which you can view above. Essentially, she parodied a tragic opera, which saw her strung up and bloody by the end. Perhaps what interested me even more than the performance itself was the reaction from MuchMusic VJ, Devon Soltendieck, who was manning the airtime before and after the live feed would cut in from New York. He stood there as though someone had just ran past him and slapped him in the face with a fish. Then he inserted the remark, “When is too much too much?” I found this a bit puzzling. Too much? MTV Awards? Without trying to be too punny, the comment kind of hung there.

I’d be the last person to rush to Lady GaGa’s defence about anything (I don’t listen to her music if I can help it), but there’s no doubt that her performance was a spectacle in the spirit of pushing boundaries of taste and adolescent rebellion, which I had assumed MTV always stood for. She made this year’s awards show memorable, and when, let’s face it, the majority of the music MTV promotes is disposable pop, the way it is performed comes to matter even more. We’re not expecting groundbreaking music or art on MTV; we’re expecting a channel that parents would cringe at, and style prevailing over substance. I’m not even particularly interested whether Lady GaGa’s performance represented her view of paparazzi and privacy; to me, it was a conversation piece that stood out from the other very standardized, predictable acts (oh, Green Day, you’re so dangerous inviting fans on stage with you). From what I gather, Lady GaGa has seemingly attracted loads of publicity for her costumes, her performances, her bisexuality, and the rather fascinating accusations of hermaphroditism. Russell Brand made reference to the latter charges in a set-up for one of his opening jokes, questioning why a woman couldn’t be strong, successful and sexually aggressive without being called a hermaphrodite. Obviously Brand’s comment simplifies things, but it does pose a good question regarding gender, sexuality, performance and social taboos, including suicide, disability and insanity.

Why did Soltendieck, amongst many others, including anti-suicide advocates, find Lady GaGa’s performance so unsettling and/or offensive, but don’t mind rap artists glorifying violence and sexism, including a chainsaw-wielding Eminem (who looked very subdued during this year’s VMAs)? Lady GaGa was different because she portrayed violence turned inward, not outward. Another thing that struck me about Lady GaGa’s gory performance was the implication of insanity – she was wholly absorbed in her role, right down to the mad, vacant eyes. Mental health issues can scare people much more than violence; ever since the seventeenth century, madness has either been treated as a freakish spectacle or as something to be institutionalized, literally sectioned from the rest of society. She also brought disability into it by supporting herself with crutches and having a girl spastically dancing in a wheelchair. To most, those things don’t belong on the stage at a pop awards show. Nor amongst sexily-dressed dancers. Is it allowed to sexualize disability? It makes you question what society deems appropriate where.

I also wonder why it is completely okay for Katy Perry to prance about in scant clothing singing about kissing girls and liking it, but Lady GaGa gets branded a she-man. I think it’s because Perry stays within the acceptable boundaries of gender and sexuality; she’s transparent and non-threatening, she still dresses like a pop tart pin-up should and kisses girls to titillate others, she’s an object, not a subject. Gender is a performance; in fact, identity itself is a performance. Lady GaGa represents an exaggeration of that truth and a stubborn refusal to stop performing. It’s why she was so offputting to Jonathan Ross months ago on his chat show; her facade never broke. People focus on the outrageous costumes and stage shows and often quite brutally attack her gender and sexuality because they find her challenging and/or disturbing; it’s easier to reduce her to a caricature than deal with someone who will not play everyone else’s game. I suppose she didn’t write a song called Poker Face for nothing.

Sexy antics are easy and not so provocative – rolling around in a wedding dress just doesn’t mean much anymore, nor do lesbian kisses between heterosexual women. I don’t find what Lady GaGa did very bizarre, but I do find the reactions to it to be quite strange, indeed. I have to give it to her – Lady GaGa actually found a way to shock the masses in a world where nothing supposedly shocks. When the Michael Jackson tribute didn’t deliver, she did.

A Strange Day – The Cure

Is It Really So Strange? – The Smiths

3 Responses to “Bloody Bizarre: The 2010 MTV VMAs”

  1. September 19, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Great article. I missed the VMA’s this year as to be honest I just lost interest in MTV and the VMA’s. Lady GaGa’s performance was awesome especially the end with that dark stare in her eyes.

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Gigs Attended

Arcade Fire w/ Bell Orchestre + Wolf Parade (2005)

Arctic Monkeys w/ Reverend and the Makers (2007)

Austra w/ Young Galaxy + Tasseomancy (2011)

Big Audio Dynamite (2011)

Billy Bragg w/ Ron Hawkins (2009)

Billy Idol w/ Bif Naked (2005)

Bloc Party w/ Hot Hot Heat (2009)

Buzzcocks w/ The Dollyrots (2010)

Damo Suzuki (2012)

David Bowie w/ The Polyphonic Spree (2004)

Diamond Rings w/ PS I Love You + The Cannon Bros. (2011)

Diamond Rings w/ Gold & Youth (2012)

Dragonette w/ Ruby Jean & the Thoughtful Bees (2009)

Frank Turner w/ The Cavaliers (2010)

Frank Turner w/ Into It Over It + Andrew Jackson Jihad (2011)

Franz Ferdinand w/ Think About Life (2009)

Gang of Four w/ Hollerado (2011)

Good Shoes w/ The Moths + The Envelopes (2007)

Hot Hot Heat w/ The Futureheads + Louis XIV (2005)

IAMX w/ closethuman (2007)

IAMX w/ Coma Soft + The Hourly Radio (2007)

Interpol (2007)

Janelle Monae w/ Roman GianArthur (2012)

Joel Plaskett Emergency w/ Frank Turner (2012)

Jonathan Richman (2011)

Keane w/ Lights (2009)

Lou Reed w/ Buke and Gass (2011)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Fear of Music (2007)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Bear Hands (2009)

Manic Street Preachers at Wanaja Festival (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Old Folks Home (2009)

Mother Mother w/ Whale Tooth (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Hannah Georgas (2012)

MSTRKRFT w/ Felix Cartal (2008)

Muse (2004)

Nine Inch Nails w/ Death From Above 1979 + Queens of the Stone Age (2005)

of Montreal w/ Janelle Monae (2010)

Owen Pallett w/ Little Scream (2010)

Patrick Wolf w/ Bishi (2007)

Prince (2011)

Pulp w/ Grace Jones, TV on the Radio, The Hives, The Horrors, Metronomy, Devotcka, Vintage Trouble (2011)

Rufus Wainwright w/ Teddy Thompson (2010)

Snow Patrol w/ Embrace (2005)

Snow Patrol w/ OK Go + Silversun Pickups (2007)

Sons and Daughters w/ Bodies of Water (2008)

Stars w/ Thurston Revival (2006)

Stars w/ The Details (2008)

Stars (2010)

Steven Severin (2010)

Stroszek (2007)

The Antlers w/ Haunter (2012)

The Flaming Lips w/ Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (2010)

The Jesus and Mary Chain w/ Nightbox (2012)

The Killers w/ Ambulance Ltd (2004)

The New Pornographers w/ Novillero (2008)

The New Pornographers w/ The Mountain Goats (2010)

The Ordinary Boys w/ Young Soul Rebels (2006)

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart w/ Suun (2011)

The Rakes w/ The Young Knives (2006)

The Raveonettes w/ Black Acid (2008)

The Stills w/ Gentleman Reg (2009)

The Subways w/ The Mad Young Darlings (2006)

Tokyo Police Club w/ Smoosh + Attack in Black (2008)

TV on the Radio w/ The Dirty Projectors (2009)

Yann Tiersen w/ Breathe Owl Breathe (2011)

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave


So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun


Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head


Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away


Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners


Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away


You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender


I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding


You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black


Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side


Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb


Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape


Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah


And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning


My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it


Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love


We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's


Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south


Running on


As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different


LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell


Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are


You must let her go

She's not crying



Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times



Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone


Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't


So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need


The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest


Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know


No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more


All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids


Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome

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