Five redeeming things about the YouTube Music Awards

Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic

It was a noble experiment. The YouTube Music Awards commissioned director Spike Jonze -- the vision behind "Being John Malkovich," the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" video and Fatboy Slim's "Praise You" clip -- to produce its inaugural ceremony, which celebrated the video platform's musical element and was broadcast live on YouTube from Pier 36 in New York on Sunday.

The 90 minutes of musical chaos honoring superstars of viral videos featured eight "live music videos" as performed by Eminem, Arcade Fire, Lady Gaga, Tyler the Creator & Earl Sweatshirt and others, and was interspersed with variety-show-on-LSD-style antics. 

PHOTOS: YouTube Music Awards 2013 | Arrivals

Between performances, hosts Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts doled out awards for video of the year, artist of the year, response of the year (basically best cover song), YouTube phenomenon and more. Equally important, the pair helmed an unscripted mess of a show featuring crying babies, a winner's envelope embedded within cakes, a tear-stained Lady Gaga, a girls choir, a searing performance by Eminem and lots and lots of colored chalk.

It was, literally, a mess, as evidenced by Schwartzman's paint and chalk-caked face and suit at the end of the night. That's not necessarily a criticism, considering how blandly tidy most ceremonies are. In fact, the only bland thing about the inaugural YouTube Music Awards was Lady Gaga's dull performance of "Dope." More on that below, along with some other must-see moments from Sunday's action.

1. Lindsey Stirling exploded onto the YouTube charts with her stringed rendition of Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive," and she soared at the awards ceremony as she played violin during director Ray Tintori's live video. The cheesy dubstep-lite instrumental seemed crafted for either the Dungeons & Dragons or Renaissance Faire crowd, and Tintori's design suggested a dream sequence from the skyline set of Charlie Kaufman's film "Synecdoche, New York." It's worth watching -- with the volume down.  

2. Arcade Fire opened the show with a Greta Gerwig-led dance sequence to the group's song "Afterlife." Odd, but not terrible. The clumsy moment arrived later, though, when singer Win Butler fake-interrupted an acceptance speech from a bunch of Taylor Swift stand-ins (unsurprisingly, Swift wasn't in attendance). Butler's way too obvious Kanye West-style butt-in was one of many awkward-silence moments. 

PHOTOS: Concerts by The Times

3. Lady Gaga opted to slam on the brakes mid-ceremony with her ballad "Dope." The new weeper seemed to have affected the singer from the start. As the camera arrived on her face, she seemed already wet with a (suspect) tear. Dressed like a trucker who'd just hauled an 18-wheeler across the country, her delivery seemed contrived at best.  

4. As often occurs, actress Rashida Jones saved a scene when she appeared holding two babies during a mid-show banter session. Unfortunately, she left after handing them to Schwartzman and Watts. Bad idea. Both the kids started crying, to which Schwartzman, trying to comfort, quipped, "I know. This is a first for both of us." The hosts then announced Macklemore and Ryan Lewis as award winners, and as they arrived to accept, Macklemore delivered the funniest line when he wondered whether they'd get to keep the babies. 

5. Truth be told, the chaos was never boring, and any show with Reggie Watts' involvement is okay in my book. Honestly, it was refreshing to celebrate music by doing something truly weird on the fly; it felt like at any moment Andy Kaufman might show up to announce his resurrection. The history of YouTube segment hit the mark, and Eminem's performance of "Rap God" eclipsed by a mile his appearance on Saturday Night Live the night before.

Were the YTMA's hard to watch? Yes, but way easier to stomach than, say, the Billboard Music Awards.


Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World