Cutting edge isn’t usually applied to a show 30 years in, particularly awards shows, but little about the MTV Video Music Awards is usual.
The 30th VMAs will be celebrated live Sunday, Aug. 25 from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Some, like Kelly Rowland, will present an award because she wants to be part of it. Kanye West will make a record seventh appearance at the VMAs.
“I always love those things because it’s like an old high-school reunion,” Robin Thicke tells Zap2it. Thicke’s sexy video “Blurred Lines,” which was holding onto No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart longer than any other song of 2013, took three nominations.
“I just told [director] Diane Martel I wanted to do a funny, silly video, and she came up with funny, silly ideas, and came up with a version clothed and a version naked, and she put it all together,” Thicke says.
Despite the controversy over the video’s sexual themes, there’s an old-fashioned Rat Pack vibe to it.
“That’s what happens when you are drinking Scotch,” Thicke says. “We were all old friends, T.I., me and Pharrell.“
He acknowledged the criticism of the video and says, “We had no ill intentions.” Fans vote for the VMAs, and artists use social media to push the vote.
To commemorate the network’s beginnings, winners will receive a re-imagined Moonman statue, an iconic image to MTV.
“The very first moment MTV went on-air, it was with a countdown,” says Dave Sirulnick, an MTV executive vice president. “And at 1, a rocket blasted off — it was the Saturn V NASA rocket that went to the moon- - and cut to an image of Buzz Aldrin on the moon planting the flag. And instead of the American flag it was the MTV flag.”
Among those who could take home three Moonmen is Jared Leto. The actor (“Requiem for a Dream”) and lead singer of Thirty Seconds to Mars is up for best rock video, best art direction and best cinematography for “Up in the Air.”
“It is like going on a journey, one that is filled with a lot of creative discovery, a lot of hard work,” Leto says of creating his video.
It’s a post-impressionistic, visually stunning piece.
“I have been making these videos for about eight years now, and each one is completely different, and they teach me a lot,” Leto says. “And this one in particular was really unique because I threw out the idea of narrative. When we make projects, oftentimes I try to find the logic. I kept trying to remind myself not to pay attention to that voice and be more impressionistic and rely on my gut and instinct. This is an homage to everything I love about art and design. It was a really rewarding experience.”
Originally, Leto thought he would become a visual artist, and his work is infused with the elements of someone who understands the graphic nature of video. It’s also trippy in a spiritual, mind-bending way, as a lion lopes about and other animals come into the frames.
“The show is a circus,” Leto says of the awards.
And it’s one he has thrived on, having grown up watching MTV.
“MTV had a tremendous influence on me when I was a young kid,” he says. “I am the MTV generation.”
The VMAs, the first awards show to use social media, is a movable feast.
Over the years, the awards have been held at New York’s Lincoln Center, on the waterfront in Miami Beach, in a Las Vegas casino and in a Los Angeles arena turned into a black box theater.
“To this year in Brooklyn, what we are saying is let’s utilize the inspiration and culture that is pulsating in Brooklyn to create our environment,” Sirulnick says.
Involved with the VMAs since 1987, Sirulnick reflects on some of the show’s wonderful moments. Beyonce opening her jacket and letting everyone know she was pregnant – which MTV executives did not know was going to happen — while husband Jay-Z beamed, topped Sirulnick’s list.
Despite that and other memorable moments — Lady Gaga’s meat dress, kisses between unlikely couples and Britney Spears’ Burmese python — this year’s VMAs are going to remain vibrant and current and not a retrospective.
“To us, the idea of turning 30 is a great accomplishment,” Sirulnick says. “It is a testament to the audience that they have embraced the show from the beginning with Madonna and Michael Jackson and Kanye West and Green Day and all the way up to Lady Gaga and the new. They are expecting the new and the reflection of the year, and for us to put the right people in the room. For us, it is the right mix of creativity and the right mix of clever.”