Color me a curmudgeon if you must, but remember back in the good old days when you could count on awards shows to deliver top-notch music performances? Back in my day, the VMAs* and others of its ilk would consistently bring the pain with can’t-miss live numbers.
(*) ’91 VMAs: LL Cool J, Guns N’ Roses, Prince. ’92: Nirvana, Elton John, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Michael Jackson. ’93: Soul Asylum, REM, Neil Young/Pearl Jam. ’94: Smashing Pumpkins, Stones, Green Day, Beastie Boys, Snoop Dogg, Springsteen. Just to name a few.
Doesn’t happen anymore. Today we’re fed a steady diet of over-produced, needlessly extravagant lip-synched songs complete with fireworks and lame-ass preening to a carefully selected audience of diverse youngsters paid to jump around like lunatics, shot with about 60 handhelds that cut to a different angle every half-second or so.
And those are the good ones. The rest are medleys.
Yes, it ain’t easy to find a good music performance on TV these days. Sure, Austin City Limits delivers the goods every once in a great while. Elsewhere, you might find something of value on late night talk shows, but I don’t know because I, like everyone else my age, never watch late night talk shows. (If I want to watch celebrities joylessly answer rehearsed interview questions, I’ll flip to E.)
Luckily, I happened upon on a rare great performance the other day during a repeat showing of the 2009 MTV Europe Video Music Awards: Jay-Z performing “Empire State of Mind” with vocals provided by backup singer Bridget Kelly (who can wail; bet on her being a star soon). Great song, legit vocals, minimal production. I’ve embedded the video below so you too can enjoy.
It’s probably best to appreciate this performance for the rarity it is rather than hope it sparks a rejuvenation of great live performances. Sadly, those days are gone.