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MTV Video Music Awards: When to watch and what to watch for

September 06, 2012|By Todd Martens
  • Frank Ocean will perform at the MTV VMAs tonight.
Frank Ocean will perform at the MTV VMAs tonight. (Vegard Grott / AFP / Getty…)

The go-to-place for music videos MTV is not. Yet the   MTV Video Music Awards tonight are not about videos. This is a show about a promotion, a 120-minute teaser trailer for the fall's big albums, with appearances by  Alicia Keys, Green Day and Taylor Swift, among others, here to sell. 

And make no mistake, MTV remains brilliant at generating headlines for nonstories. As the destination for music videos has shifted to the Web -- the word "Video" remains in the "Video Music Awards" title more for tradition than anything having to do with the telecast -- the network has honed its craft at the fine art of promotion.

PHOTOS: Memorable moments from the MTV VMAs

Witness this week, when news outlet after news outlet has published stories stating that MTV had moved the VMAs to 8 p.m. from its more typical 9 p.m. time slot so as to avoid running at the same time as a speech by President Obama at the Democratic National Convention. Most stories even contained a statement from an MTV spokesperson. 

One problem: MTV has been touting 8 p.m. as the start time for this year's VMAs since May. The DNC may have indeed been on the minds of MTV execs, but the show's start time was never shifted to avoid the political coverage; it was explicitly scheduled at 8 p.m. because of it.

Besides, saying the telecast is running an hour earlier is unfair, anyway, as it's become impossible to discern MTV's pre-coverage, what with its celebrity antics and musical performances, from the actual show. Nevertheless, the stories have tied MTV with politics and have allowed the network to regain its position as an influencer of the youth vote, at least in the minds of the media, as MTV can pat itself on the back for avoiding the president's speech.

On the West Coast, the point is moot regardless. The Democratic convention is aired live and the VMAs are broadcast on a tape-delay, so anyone wishing to see the president's speech will be able to watch it before the VMAs even start at 8 p.m. Those with political interests will have to skip the VMA pre-show, which features Demi Lovato performing outside  Staples Center and is set to start at 7 p.m.

Pop & Hiss will be covering the extravaganza this evening. Look for a post on the show's opening musical numbers to go live shortly after the MTV VMAs begin at 8 p.m. Eastern time. The proceedings, held at Staples Center downtown, are tape-delayed for the West Coast, so Pop & Hiss will begin posting a little after 5 p.m. -- as fast as this writer can write (a safe estimate would be 5:30 p.m.).

Regardless of the time zone, here are some burning music questions heading into the MTV VMAs: 

Can Green Day begin to justify why the band is releasing three albums this fall and winter?

Early singles "Oh Love" and "Kill the DJ" don't exactly inspire confidence that Green Day's trio of albums -- "¡Uno!" arrives Sept. 25, while "¡Dos!" arrives Nov.  13 and "¡Tré!" will round out the threesome on Jan. 15  -- will be filler-free. "Oh Love" recalls the tepid Green Day of 2000's "Warning," when the band seemed to settle for mid-tempo pop and suddenly showed signs of actual boredom, a topic the band once sang about with passion.

"Kill the DJ" packed a little more fire and saw Green Day ripping off its punk heroes the Clash, but the message, if there is one, is diluted by repetitive lyrics that place the emphasis on the chorus rather than song craft. The rock band will be inescapable in coming months, even scoring its own "Angry Birds" game, but the band has yet to offer any hint that its new albums have the ambition of "American Idiot" and "21st Century Breakdown."

Where's the excitement for Pink?

Her latest single, "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)," is a slick little pop-rocker number, falling between Katy Perry's "Part of Me" and Swift's "We Are Never Getting Back Together" in this year of musical kiss-offs from female pop stars. The song tries to walk the line between bubblegum and tough, and laces its cherry beats with a bevy of curse words. 

Yet after debuting high on the pop charts in July, "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)" has fallen off, and heading into the VMAs, most of the talk is surrounding Pink's high-risk stunts. She's shown off her acrobatic skills at previous award shows (see "Sober" at the 2009 VMAs or "Glitter in the Air" at the 2010 Grammys), and no doubt she'll feel the need to give fans something to talk about Friday morning. Pink, however, is the rare artist who can mix boldness with pop smarts, so here's hoping it's the song and not the stunt that wows.

Is this the moment for Frank Ocean to truly lift off?

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