One Direction, at the closing ceremony of the London Games, is up for the… (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty…)
The best new artist category at this year's MTV Video Music Awards is evidence of a weird conundrum for music videos today. Almost all the nominated artists got famous from their music video presence -- but almost none of them needed MTV to get there.
Early favorite One Direction was a cult hit in U.S. teen-pop circles before it even had a proper single to push; Carly Rae Jepsen's breakthrough was a fuzzy clip of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez freaking out to "Call Me Maybe." Def Jam punted on Frank Ocean's debut for years before his Odd Future affiliation (and his brave, generationally revealing bisexuality) made him perhaps the year's most significant artist.
So as we ramp up to the ceremonies, of which Pop & Hiss will cover live Thursday night, the machines that make a best new artist have changed more in the last five years than they have in the last 50 -- and that's changed the purpose of making music videos. Here's how that might play out for this year's nominees.
Carly Rae Jepsen, "Call Me Maybe."
This was the undisputed song of the summer, which is always a nice thumb to have on the scale going into a teen-centric awards show. And as a video, it's become fairly iconic for its good-natured gay-twist-ending. Her only problem is that although the song is ubiquitous, the artist isn't -- subsequent tunes haven't caught anything close to the wildfire of this single, and Jepsen doesn't quite command a devoted fanbase of her own yet.
Frank Ocean, "Swim Good"
The sleeper pick in this race, Ocean has perhaps the most serious audience in this category and owned the pop-music news cycle all summer. He also benefits from an old fashioned virtue -- his album of digitally devastated R&B, "Channel Orange," is far and away the best of the lot here, and the Nabil Elderkin clip is spooky and visually ravishing. In a year where there wasn't a five-headed hydra of amazing British hair to contend with, Ocean might have been the feel-good story of the year here.
fun. "We Are Young (Ft. Janelle Monáe)"
An early favorite for 2012's defining single, this song had a strong, visually minimalist video and an unexplainable potency across radio formats (and, er, other Formats). fun. makes good use of programming and digital tropes in its mixes, but it has the same problem all rock bands do here -- it's a rock band, and that's a liability in teen-pop-land today.
One Direction, "What Makes You Beautiful"
If Harry and the gang don't stomp all over this category, I promise to prostrate myself on an altar of post-adolescent follicular brilliance and admit permanent defeat. The band's got a world-crushing single, a pop-cultural fan-phenomenon and no signs of slowing -- One Direction just booked a third night at Staples Center ... for the middle of 2013.
The Wanted, "Glad You Came"
The lecherous, ravey, gap-year version of One Direction is under Scooter Braun's tutelage, but its ascent has a slow burn at best. Maybe when America is ready to don neon bodysuits and wake up in a Croatian resort-town public restroom will we finally accept the Wanted into our hearts. But that day is not today.
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