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Commentary: Do we really need the iHeartRadio Music Awards?

iHeartRadio Music Awards

Iggy Azalea performs “Team” at the iHeartRadio Music Awards on Sunday at the Forum. 

(Chris Pizzello / Invision )

Since its inception in 2014, the iHeartRadio Music Awards has struggled to distinguish itself in a crowded landscape of second-tier telecasts aiming to be the meme-inducing, social media-driven alternative to the prestigious Grammys.

And after three shows, it still hasn’t found its edge — or really anything that makes it worth dedicating three hours of Sunday viewing.

In the year ahead of Sunday’s show, the fledgling fan-driven ceremony underwent a number of changes that upped the ante on its ability to deliver spectacle.

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There was a move to a bigger venue — shifting from the vintage Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles to the fabulously renovated Forum in Inglewood.

An exhaustive expansion of award categories added more than 20 categories. Alt-rock, hip-hop, R&B, Latin and regional Mexican music would now have a presence as well as artist categories and trophies for film songs and, keeping in line with the show’s heavy emphasis on social media, most meme-able moment.

The show also ditched broadcast television for cable, leaving NBC for a simulcast on TBS, TNT and truTV.

At least one of these changes should have given the telecast a massive push towards relevancy, but that wasn’t the case on Sunday.

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Instead viewers at home and the thousands of screaming fans that packed the Forum were treated to safe, predictable spectacle.

Taylor Swift and her many reactions. Another Justin Bieber medley. Chris Brown dancing for his life, but delivering a boneheaded speech. Forced collaborations (Demi Lovato and Brad Paisley?). It was all there on Sunday.

But what’s the point, really?

After its inaugural telecast, I wondered if it would figure out how to matter after working out all its kinks. Three years later, the question still remains. 

What continues to seem to plague iHeartRadio’s spectacle is that it is devoid of a narrative, or driving purpose.

Often, these shows pick irreverence over awards. And that’s perfectly fine. It makes for great TV and if you’re in the audience downing free cocktails, it’s a fun night in L.A.

Somehow, strangely, iHeartRadio has failed to capture any flash of surprise. 

From the beginning, iHeart has pushed its production as the destination for superfans who mine social media for their favorite acts and stream and download their music at insatiable levels.

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They even turn to fans to vote for categories such as best lyrics, collaboration, biggest triple threat and fan army (which gets especially nasty on Twitter and Instagram, with fans often fighting for their favorite acts by sending death threats and hurling homophobic and racist comments toward rival fanbases).

So it should have been no surprise that on Sunday some gobsmacked teenage girl was asked to speak on behalf of all of the Beliebers (Bieber’s fiercely loyal fanbase, for the unaware) while accepting the award for fan army. It was a laughably ironic moment considering Bieber just canned his tour meet-and-greets, leaving fans to pose with a cardboard cutout.

However, for a show that claims to be about the fans, they almost certainly don’t matter beyond standing on their feet for hours in the audience (calluses aren’t the worst price of admission for getting to watch Swift breathe).

“Tonight is all about you, the fans, and you’re here because you love music — good music,” host Jason Derulo said in his opening monologue.

Though Sunday’s show didn’t deliver many surprises or shock or edge, what it did do was solidify itself as the forgettable, watered-down version of all of these other shows that showcase the same artists and hand them the same awards.

Unsurprisingly, Swift continued her streak as awards show centerpiece.

She was handed the night’s first award, female artist of the year, and was honored by Justin Timberlake, who presented her with the inaugural tour award for her blockbuster “1989 World Tour” in a lengthy tribute. Every single one of her reactions was caught by cameras and fed to those of us at home. It’s not her fault; it happens when you’re the biggest star in the room. 

Everyone loves Swift, dearly, but do we really need to see her win album of the year again?

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Do we really need yet another place for Brown or Bieber to try to make good on their disappointing behavior by offering multi-song medleys?

Do we really need another show that claims to be “for the fans” but overlooks up-and-coming acts that fans, not radio, are breaking on social media?

Do we really need a show that would dedicate airtime to beamed-in performances from Pitbull and Maroon 5 performing hits from two years ago

Do we really need a show that wants to be inclusive to many genres but not feature many on its actual show? 

Do we really need another music telecast that’s just going so hard to try to be like all the rest — and has the audacity to be three hours long?

No, we don’t.

For more music news follow me on Twitter: @gerrickkennedy


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