The YouTube Music Awards, which streamed last night, certainly weren't MTV's VMAs, but what were they exactly? A bizarre, yet fun tribute to the chaos that makes YouTube great? Or just a pointless, aimless exercise with no real viral moments? Critics are divided.
Airing last night at 6 p.m. EST, the awards, hosted by Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts, featured an odd array of "live music videos" (a.k.a. performances) and nonsensical bits— Schwartzman and Watts had to dig through cakes to find one of the winners, and Rashida Jones appeared with some babies. The creative director of the enterprise was Spike Jonze.
The unscripted nature of the show was intentional, but it made for some confusion upon viewing the show, which also suffered some technical difficulties. (Our feed would stall and sometimes repeat itself.) And, in fact, not that many people actually watched it live. By Time's count no more than 250,000 viewers were watching at any given moment. That's small potatoes in the YouTube world. And yet! Some thought the whole thing actually turned out pretty well for what it was.
While acknowledging the show's many problems, the New York Times' Jon Caramanica gave YouTube some kudos. The awards, he wrote, actually embodied the spirit of YouTube: "Like any number of artists with a webcam, a dream, and a bit of hubris, YouTube was entitled to screw up in full view of everyone - and after this bizarre but comforting experiment, it’s earned the right to try again next year." At Spin, Chris Martins deemed the show a "charming mess." He elaborated: "Exciting things are rarely tidy, and after it was clear that we weren't watching the Grammys, the imperfections and the unpredictable became reasons to keep watching."
Of course, others just threw up their hands. Jessica Gelt at the Los Angeles Times thought it all went "downhill" after the opening performance which featured Greta Gerwig and a bunch of ballerinas dancing to a new Arcade Fire track. As for the show's unscripted nature, she wrote, "Scripts, it turns out, were invented for a reason." Hilary Hughes for USA Today just thought the good performances were no match for the disorganized enterprise: "Unfortunately, it got distracted by its own gimmick, and the chaos overwhelmed the otherwise inspired performances and subsequent dance parties." And while (some) videos that are successful on YouTube are about spontaneity, Victor Luckerson at Time noted that the messiness of the show conflicted with how YouTube is trying to position itself in the music industry. "But the low-budget feel of the show — hosts Schwartzman and Watts bantered with each other as production staff and musical guests occasionally wandered in front of the camera — was in some ways at odds with YouTube’s increasingly important role on the professional side of the music business," he pointed out.
YouTube has now, obviously, posted videos of the event. See, for instance, the sketch performed by (among others) Vanessa Hudgens and acclaimed actor Michael Shannon written by Lena Dunham and set to Avicii.
Or the aforementioned opener featuring Arcade Fire and Gerwig.