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.
Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift and Demi Lovato were all part of the iHeartRadio Music Awards at The Forum.(Left - Rich Polk/Getty Images / Center - Jesse Grant/Getty Images / right - Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
JinJoo Lee, left, Joe Jonas, second from right, and Cole Whittle, right, of DNCE perfom “Cake by the Ocean” and “Le Freak” with special guest Nile Rodgers.(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press)
Recording artist Justin Bieber accepts the award for Best Male Artist.(Rich Polk / Getty Images for iHeartRadio / Turne)
Recording artist and producer Pharrell Williams(Rich Polk / Getty Images for iHeartRadio / Turne)
Iggy Azalea performs “Team” at the iHeartRadio Music Awards on Sunday at the Forum.(Chris Pizzello / Invision )
Recording artist Zayn Malik performs.(Rich Polk / Getty Images for iHeartRadio / Turne)
Demi Lovato, left, and Brad Paisley perform “Stone Cold.”(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press)
Recording artist Justin Timberlake introduces Taylor Swift.(Jason Kempin / Getty Images for iHeartRadio / Turner)
Taylor Swift accepts the award for best tour.(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press)
Rapper Fetty Wap performs.(Jason Kempin / Getty Images for iHeartRadio / Turner)
Selena Gomez accepts the award for triple threat for her career as a singer, actress and dancer.(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press)
Meagan Goode introduces a performance by Meghan Trainor.(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press)
Meghan Trainor performs.(Jason Kempin / Getty Images for iHeartRadio / Turner)
Meghan Trainor poses with her backup dancers backstage.(Frazer Harrison / Getty Images for iHeartRadio / Turner)
Justin Bieber performs “Love Yourself” and “Company.”(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press)
Recording artist Jason Derulo strikes an angular pose.(Jason Kempin / Getty Images for iHeartRadio / Turner)
Demi Lovato arrives at the Forum.(Richard Shotwell / Invision / Associated Press)
Julianne Hough, left, and Derek Hough, Taylor Swift and Chris Brown.(Left - Richard Shotwell/Invision/Associated Press / Center - Jesse Grant/Getty Images for iHeartRadio / Turner / Right - Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Wiz Khalifa, Cheryl Burke, Diplo and Meagan Goode.(Left - Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP; 2nd left - Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for iHeartRadio; 2nd right - Frederick M. Brown/Getty Image; right - Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for iHeartRadio)
Actress Keke Palmer takes a selfie with TV personality Mario Lopez.(Jonathan Leibson / Getty Images for iHeartRadio / Turner)
Cody Simpson, Jhene Aiko, Chris Daughtry and Bethany Mota.(Left - Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for iHeartRadio / Turner; 2nd left - Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images; 2nd right and right - Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Musician Pete Wentz(Frazer Harrison / Getty Images for iHeartRadio / Turner)
Iggy Azalea, Selena Gomez, Jason Derulo and Big Sean.(Left, 2nd left and right - Richard Shotwell/Invision/Associated Press; 2nd left - Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for iHeartRadio / Turner)
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.
Instead viewers at home and the thousands of screaming fans that packed the Forum were treated to safe, predictable spectacle.
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.
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.
Everyone loves Swift, dearly, but do we really need to see her win album of the year again?
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.
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