Gregg DeGuire, WireImage First Mark Wahlberg, then Backstreet Boy Howie…
- Posted on Jun 20th 2011 2:30PM by Joshua Ostroff
AP | The Canadian Press
If so, then the outdoor celebrity spectacle known as the MuchMusic Video Awards certainly had the requite power brokers on hand with the likes of Lady Gaga, who opened and closed the MMVAs, co-host Selena Gomez and her alleged-but-totally-true boyfriend Justin Bieber (who coyly asked her for a date onstage to the concurrent sound of teen screams and breaking hearts), Drake, Snoop Dogg, Avril Lavigne, Simple Plan, Bruno Mars and in a textbook a case of one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other, the Black Keys.
Surrounding the series of stages erected around MuchMusic's famed Queen Street headquarters was a sea of controlled chaos -- ecstatic teens, curious bystanders, small kids, big adults, baggy pants'd boys and club-gear'd girls. Police pushed pedestrians out of the way of limos racing to the red carpet. Hollywood actors chatted up VJs. Oh, and they gave out some video awards.
It was hard to tell, considering about half were doled out on the red carpet before the show even kicked off with a relatively tame Gaga performance of her new single 'Edge of Glory,' including best pop video (!) for journeyman Can-pop star Shawn Desman. All to make room for the visiting U.S. dignitaries who have taken over this supposed celebration of Canadian music videos.
The 2011 MMVAs were as big as they've ever been. But better? That's a more complicated question. A few months after the 40th Juno Awards -- hosted by Drake, with big prizes going to Arcade Fire, Bieber, Neil Young, Shad and Caribou -- made clear Canadian music needn't take a backseat to its American cousin, the MMVAs turned 22 with barely an askance look at its own nominees, many (if not most) of whom walked the red carpet before the TV cameras went live.
That disconnect was made crystal from the opening intro, which was soundtracked to Broken Social Scene's 'Stars and Sons' as the boldface names scrolled past: Bruno Mars! Far East Movement! Colin Farrell! Ian Somerhalder! David Guetta! But no Kevin Drew?
Don't get me wrong, City and Colour, Fefe Dobson and Down With Webster were also announced upfront, but not counting Bieber and Drake -- who somehow tied (gasp!) on the already-ridiculous category 'Best International Video by a Canadian' -- the U.S. stars sucked up most of the red carpet and stage time.
"[It's] a leg up for Canadian artists to be on the same stage as a lot of the American acts, which, unfortunately in Canada, we bow down to more than we should," says Ryan Malcolm, singer of alt-rockers Low Level Flight and inaugural winner of 'Canadian Idol' in 2003, at The Field's annual Pre-MMVA party. "I wish it was more about the Canadian bands because we have so much talent in our own right that it's kinda sad to have to go south of the border to get our hosts and headliners."
"I didn't know who Selena Gomez was until last week," admits Shad, the Juno-winning rapper whose 'Rose Garden' video lost last night to Classified, standing amidst the pre-party industry power players. "It speaks to how fractured everything is now. I work in music, it's what I do, and I had no idea. But she's obviously massive, right? I appreciate that MuchMusic is willing to play my video for their audience because I don't write music for 14-year-olds."
The MMVAs began their idiosyncratic ways in 1990 on a cross-country train trip. It soon set up shop at MuchMusic's Queen Street HQ, but remained an all-Canadian event throughout much of the 1990s and established a reputation as the biggest party on the music industry calendar as artists, press, industry players and invited guests took over the TV station's office for a legendary annual throwdown.
"I've been going since the second year, when they would celebrate the local happening bands, and I've watched it change," recalls Yvonne Matsell, iconic Toronto club booker and co-founder of the NXNE music festival, which took wrapped up Sunday night as well.
"My son used to come, and he had the thrill of his life to meet Geri Halliwell [in 1999]. That was the year when it started to become obvious -- they had Destiny's Child, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, and seemed to be going for bigger and bigger acts. Then a couple years ago I didn't get an invite -- that was the year they tightened everything up and it became for corporate sponsors only and they were doing [the show] more for the kids.
"So yes, it's changed massively. I'm sure the kids who wait in line think it has much to offer, but it seems to be mostly international stars now. And that's, in a way, a sad thing because it was a celebration of the local scene."
MuchMusic also killed its own party, ending the building-wide bacchanal and instituting a near-fascistic level of wristband access where once almost all were free to roam the warren of office and studio spaces. The media were now escorted by security into a literal holding pen where there was no way to actually experience the show except, ironically, on TV. Few stars deigned to come backstage and even bathroom breaks required a security escort, lest reporters interact with the few remaining invited guests who, by the by, also couldn't see the show.
These changes have been concurrent with MuchMusic changing hands from the indie-esque Citytv to the major Canadian network CTV, which became enveloped by the telephone-based corporate behemoth Bell Media.
The new regime has sent the show's production values skyrocketing and there's no reason why the money once spent entertaining insiders shouldn't be instead spent on the show itself. Still, it would be nice if there was some middle ground -- hells yes, book Lady Gaga, but why not, say, pair her up with Toronto's own gender-bending boundary-pusher Diamond Rings or get Black Keys to join forces with the Sheepdogs? (Though at least Gaga's Best International Video winner 'Judas' was co-directed by local lenser Laurieann Gibson.)
The afterparties turned out a nicer mix of north and south. Though they didn't collaborate, the Black Keys did show up to watch the Sheepdogs shred at MuchMusic's staff party at the Horseshoe Tavern while Snoop and Ottawa-raised rapper Belly co-hosted a hip-hop throwdown at a nearby nightclub LIVE. Last Gang Records co-hosted their own party in hipster bowling alley the Ballroom where the Arkells, Young Empires and Freedom or Death performed, and Billy Talent's Ian D'Sa and Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning spun records as artists ranging from Metric to the Pharcyde knocked back drinks.
The most frustrating part of the 2011 MMVAs is that it comes as MuchMusic has been bringing back it's music cred with the revival of long-dormant genre shows 'RapCity' and 'The Wedge' -- the latter an indie-oriented show hosted by F---ed Up's Damian Abraham.
"They hopefully bring back some of that love that we had when we watched music videos and expose kids to something different," says Shad. "It only make sense, as well, when you look at how indie has gotten so much bigger and crossed over -- and if kids are watching Odd Future videos online anyways, then you better play it on TV. I saw weird stuff on MuchMusic growing up -- I remember Beck performing 'Debra' live, and he was writhing around on the floor singing falsetto. I thought it was the coolest thing I'd seen my life.
"What [reviving 'The Wedge' and 'RapCity'] says is that, 'Hey, there's different kids out there, there's kids that want to listen to whoever is charting and there's kids who want to see Chad VanGaalen videos.' It reflects what's actually going on."
So it's great that MuchMusic once again reflects that. Maybe next year, the MMVAs might, too.