TV Recap: The 2014 MTV Video Music Awards


The MTV Video Music Awards were once the high point of the cultural calendar. They were the show that saw music’s biggest acts rip it up, where once-in-a-lifetime jam sessions would occur and where, most importantly, music mattered. When “music” was in essence no longer important to MTV, the awards show evolved into a social media “moment maker” where the network would produce outlandish segment after outlandish segment to pop Twitter and the social media universe. While it was weird, awkward and not really about music, it was still a fun show.

The 2014 VMAs were…well…dull. Performances ranged from awful to decent-at-best. Presenters, the musical ones, focused more about promoting themselves instead of getting the names of the nominees correct. The actors who were brought in to present (outside of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels) were wooden and showed their lack of stage presence. And worst of all there were distasteful disingenuous “real, emotional, socially conscious” moments that were just pathetic.

The Opening Sequence – Ariana Grande, Nikki Minaj and Jesse J: This was a pretty high-energy opener, and this where the show peeked in terms of performances. Arianna Grande reminds me of Natalie Portman with two-mile long hair extensions. Her performance was very Katy Perry-esque, but she proved she’s got some decent pipes. Then came the train wreck that was Nikki Minaj and “Anaconda.” I hadn’t heard the song yet, but HOW DARE SHE sample Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” HOW DARE SHE. The song was barely audible, but what I did get from it, is that “Anaconda” is about a guy with a big penis. It was a subtle homage to big male junk, but I caught it. Then came Jesse J, who I’ve always found entertaining. She’s extremely impressive as a singer and she meshed with Ariana Grande on “Bang Bang.” Then came Nikki Minaj who obviously had a wardrobe malfunction and spent the song lip synching while holding her supa bass from making their television debut.

In a Segment Meant to Pop Every Parent Under the Age of 45 Watching the Show: Snoop Dogg and Gwen Stefani came out to embarrass themselves. Actually, Snoop was Snoop so he was fine. You expect him to be kinda corny. But Gwen Stefani, we expect more from you. Gwen sounded like a mom who was once hip attempting to be hip by dropping “cool phrases” from 10 years before. She also seemed to be practicing her Veronica Corningstone-esque “non-regional diction.” Gwen came off as a total fool here. This was extremely cringe-worthy.

Best Female Video: Beyonce vs. Lorde vs. Katy Perry vs. Ariana Grande vs. Iggy Azaela — Winner Katy Perry. So, Katy Perry’s date for the night is Riff Raff and they’re wearing matching bedazzled Canadian tuxedos. If they had a tag team name it’d be “Team It Burns When We Pee”…yikes. If I’m that venue, I’m burning those seats after they leave.

In The First Jay Pharoah’s Going to Be Ridiciously Unfunny Segment: Jay Pharaoh makes a lot of terrible jokes…no one laughs.

In the WTF Presenter Segment: Lorde, wearing her pajamas, loses all street creed by telling people that Taylor Swift is her BFF. All the good will you won performing with Nirvana at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction has been lost.

In a “Oooh People Gonna Haaaate This” Segment – Taylor Swift Performs: Yup, we go right for off-key controversy as T. Swift performs “Shake It Off.” Wow, was she really, really off during this performance. Swifty tries to sell the “I’m sexy and I dance awkward but I don’t care so I’m shaking it off” thing” but it just doesn’t translate well at all. I’m sure Taylor Swift fans will disagree. Then there was the “shoot” promo where she didn’t want to jump off the huge 1989 set into the arms of her dancers and then made some insider jokes about people getting bit by boa constrictors. Ugh, just stop it Taylor.

Best Male Video: John Legend vs. Pharrell vs. Eminem vs. Sam Smith vs. Ed Sheeran — Winner: Ed Sheeran. While the song sounded like something from Justin Timberlake’s first record…he had puppets in this video. And if there’s one fact about life — puppets always win. ALWAYS win.

In The 2nd Jay Pharaoh Isn’t Funny Segment: He comes out dressed as Jay-Z. He sounds a lot like Jay-Z. But he says absolutely nothing funny.

In The One Segment I Enjoyed: Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels came out and sing Sia’s “Chandelier” then docked around for five minutes. The two of them did not care what they said or who laughed at them and I loved it.

Best Pop Video: Ariana Grande vs. Pharrell vs. Avicii vs. Iggy Azaela vs. Jason DeRulo — Winner: Ariana Grande featuring I-GG-Y. This isn’t a terrible song, the beat and hook are very entertaining and I-GG-Y always slays. Note to Ariana’s stylist, don’t give a 4 foot tall woman three-foot-long hair extensions.

Sam Smith Performance: This is was your standard R&B performance — pronounce half the words, overdo the falsetto, have dramatic lighting throughout the venue. I don’t get why he’s so popular. I mean he has a solid voice, but are we desperately trying to make Smith the new Adele?

In A Moment That Just Pissed Me Right Off: Common comes out and you know right off the bat this is going to be about Ferguson, Missouri. When has Common not taken a public forum to uncomfortably address social issues? And sometimes it’s necessary to make things uncomfortable to get the point across. But this, this was downright despicable. After extolling hip hop’s virtues of being the “music of the revolution” he calls for a moment of silence for Michael Brown. Less than five seconds into the moment we here him say, “And now the nominees for the best hip hop video are…”

Are you serious?

This was despicable. If MTV gave two shits about Ferguson, they’d fade slowly to black and send to commercial, really driving home the point that violence like this is a serious social concern. It’s not a massive statement, but at least it shows a sense that this is a serious matter being taken at least somewhat seriously. Instead, this came off like an obligatory “Okay, we have to say something about Ferguson” moment that rang so disingenuous and hollow. Shame on MTV and shame on Common who should’ve fought MTV to make this segment mean more. Highly disappointed and angry that this situation happened.

Okay, rant over.

Best Hip Hop Video: Childish Gambino vs. Kayne West vs. Wiz Khalifa vs. Drake vs. Eminem — Winner: Drake. People love Drake. I don’t get it. I don’t consider him on the level of any of the other artists nominated here — he sings more than he raps and when he does rap he’s basically impersonating Lil’ Wayne. Am I right? Maybe I’m not. Maybe I’m just an old fart. The VMAs are a popularity contest and people love them some Aubrey.

In the Third Jay Pharaoh Isn’t Funny Segment: Pharaoh continued his streak of being unfunny, this time as Kanye West. Oh, but don’t worry about it, he made a terribly unfunny ALS joke to make this segment even unfunnier.

Usher’s Performance: Usher tried to do his best Michael Jackson impersonation here and failed miserably. First, the audio was terrible as the band was so much louder than the vocals so Usher had to scream to over compensate. Yeah…that wasn’t awkward. Then “The Human Trainwreck” Nikki Minaj comes out and we get our weirdest moment of the night as Usher repeatedly slams his head into Nikki’s ass while playing the bass. What the hell is going on with this show?

Best Rock Video: Imagine Demons – The Black Keys – Arctic Monkeys – Lorde – Linkin Park – Winner – Lorde.

Dear MTV….Fuck you.

Fuck you on so many levels.

First off, TREY SONGZ presenting for best rock video? Really? Really?

Second, this is the only category you don’t show any videos for and the show ran 15 minutes short…why?

Third, someone either had a teleprompter typo or Trey Songz is a moron because it’s definitely The Black Keys not the The “Black Eyes.”

Lastly, LORDE? LORDE? Wait…LORDE? She’s “rock” now? Are you serious? Holy shit, this is just utterly ridiculous. You don’t have to play an instrument or have an instrument in your song in order to win a “rock song” category? My God, MTV you may be in touch with certain aspects of pop culture, but you have no clue when it comes to rock music. Listen, I understand this is a popularity contest and no one really cares about the music on MTV, but that doesn’t mean something like this doesn’t infuriate me.

5 Seconds of Summer Performance: So these guys actually aren’t terrible. For a mega-popular boy band, they actually play some decent, middle-of-the-road, pop-rock. It reminds me of the mid-90s post-grunge alterna-pop which of course does not mesh with their “punk” look. This was a fairly harmless, but also fairly unmemorable too.

Jay Pharaoh Returns in His Final Segment to Present The Artist to Watch Award: Schoolboy Q vs. Fifth Harmony vs. Sam Smith vs. Charli XCX vs. 5 Seconds of Summer –Winner – Fifth Harmony. I thought Dannity Kane broke up? Awww….too soon? I was so pulling for Schoolboy Q to win and make things weird. But honestly, I thought Sam Smith would win because the guy is just everywhere these days. But, this Simon Cowell-produced girl-band took it home. They’ll be forgotten in due time. And in due time I mean tomorrow.

In Another Terrible “Emotional” Moment: A random slide show of Robin Williams photos was the show’s “moving tribute” to the late actor. This was so hollow and forced.

Iggy Azaela and Rita Ora Perform: I was hoping these two could save the show, but this was pretty middle of the road. The matching “black widow” outfits made them look like a tag team from the WWF in the 1980s and that beat, wow did it remind me of Goldust’s music. Wrestling references aside, I-GG-Y was very uneven in her performance. At times she looked so bored at being at the VMAs, until the song called for her to put some fire and charisma into her rhymes and man did she deliver — if only the rest of the performance had been that way. As for Rita Ora, she sings well, but she’s so interchangeable with every other R&B singer out there right now.

Maroon 5 Performs: So, Demi Lovato and Jason Derulo spend the intro for M5 plugging their tours. Classy. This performance was the most “well that was expected” performance of the show. Maroon 5 played the way you’d expect and did nothing to blow anyone away.

Hey It’s Jimmy Fallon: Jimmy Fallon dancing to “Cotton Eye Joe” was the highlight of the night hands down.

Video of the Year: Sia vs. Pharrell vs. Beyonce vs. Miley Cyrus vs. I-GG-Y — Winner: Miley Cyrus. Well, in a very genuine moment, Miley Cyrus had a young man, a real-life runaway, take Miley’s acceptance speech time to do a PSA for people to donate to charities that help runaway youth. I have to say for all the ridiculous shit Miley Cyrus has done in the past year this was a truly classy moment. Kudos, to her. In a night full of hollow gestures and inflated egos, I have to really point out that this was an awesome moment for the show.

Video Vanguard Award – Beyonce: Another underwhelming performance from an underwhelming show. Maybe that’s being rough, Beyonce gave a solid performance, but we’ve seen Bey bring the fire in previous VMAs including her famed “baby bump” reveal. Here she seemed like she was doing a revue of her current tour which was fine, but if this is the “Video Vanguard” award, which celebrates her entire career, shouldn’t be bringing out some of those “oh shit” throwback jams? Where’s “Crazy in Love?” Where’s “Singles Ladies?” Where’s “Girls (Run the World)?” Where’s anything from Destiny’s Child? This seemed more like a promo for her tour, record and upcoming HBO special than a celebration of her career.

Was it a nice moment when Jay-Z brought Blue Ivy on stage to be with her mom? It sure was. But there wasn’t any magic here. It seemed like “meh” moment that was given no real hype or sense of importance.

Overal, the 2014 MTV VMAs proved that MTV is on auto-pilot right now when it comes to music. This is a network that is solely about reality and scripted programming. Music is a distant third on this network.

The VMAs are certainly a spectacle and the team who produced and designed the show should be congratulated. But, as an awards show? This once cultural high point has devolved into a lazy, self-congratulatory, self-promotional vehicle that people like me try to hold out hope for. We hold out hope that this show will have cultural relevance and that MTV will take music seriously again. But alas, we’re given a half-hearted party of celebs high-fiving each other while we sit at home tearing our hair out. Guess, who the fool is in this situation? That’s right, the guy typing this review.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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