Monday, September 14, 2009

Video Award Stupidity

If you follow music entertainment news at all (and probably if you just casually follow the news at all) then you are no doubt already aware of the uproar caused yesterday when Taylor Swift won the MTV Video Music Award (VMA) for Best Female Video and hip hop star Kanye West jumped on stage,took the mic from her, and basically announced that someone else (in this case, fellow hip hop star Beyonce) should have won instead. I was going to write a post denouncing this tactless, boorish behavior, but then I continued reading. My conclusion was: What's the point? I have denounced Kanye West in the past - he is a no-class loser and he insists on demonstrating that fact almost every time he goes out in public - but music fans as a whole are so much in arms that they really don't need one more cheer leader. Besides, I found something else in those comments to attract my attention.
While most people who have commented on this topic have been very angry or disappointed with West's behavior (most depending on where their emotional/fan state started from), there have been some defenders of West who state that he was "just speaking the truth". I would put those people in the same "no-class loser" category as West, but they're not really my point here. If you aren't clever enough to know that, truth or not, dashing on a young lady's (a young lady who is almost universally considered to be one of the nicest, sweetest people in modern entertainment, no less) special moment instead of waiting until a more appropriate time is not acceptable, civilized behavior, no amount of words from me is going to fix you. Actually, that "just speaking the truth" part of the story is my point here.
See, I'm confused. I - unlike some of these other people, apparently - completely understand that entertainment is mostly subjective, not objective. It is mostly about personal tastes and opinions, not about measurable, empirical data. Some of it, however, is objective. You can objectively tell whether or not a person knows how to play a piano with skill, regardless of your opinion on the particular songs that person might choose to play. I don't know, I hope you can. That seems to me to be a pretty simple thing, but this is where I'm confused.
There are three classes of comments that are the cause of my confusion. There is the already mentioned "just telling the truth argument" but there is also a related argument from the other side. That argument says, "Obviously Beyonce's video was better, but Kanye shouldn't have done it that way." And finally - and this one goes back to the Kanye defenders - there is the argument that says "Taylor Swift has no talent anyway."
I'll take them in reverse order because that will be easiest. That's purely objective.
You cannot honestly make the claim that Taylor Swift has no talent unless you are completely oblivious to reality. You can easily claim that her particular talent is not to your taste, but that's not the same thing. Just because you don't like the particular, specific results of her talent does not negate the talent itself. As a whole, I dislike the rap genre. Over the last 20 years I can probably count the number of rap songs I've actually enjoyed on one hand, two if I'm feeling extra generous. (Here's a funny Full Disclosure for you: Kanye West actually has one of those songs.) I still recognize the talents involved with certain artists despite the fact that I don't personally care for the results of those talents. So you don't like country music. This prevents you from recognizing the talents of a teenage girl who writes most of her own songs, directs many of her own videos, and - at 19 years old - has a career that many senior entertainers would envy? I'm sorry, that's just blind stupidity.
I can handle the other two arguments in one blow because they're really the same argument, just the polite version and the rude version. That argument says that Beyonce's video was obviously better than Taylor's and "everyone knows" that Beyonce should have won that award. Here's a clue for you people: that's a subjective opinion and cannot be proven one way or the other. Sure, you can pile up objective facts about the videos - technical features like use of lighting, videography, photography quality, editing, etc. - and, if those facts carry a significant amount of weight, you can probably lean toward an objective statement of which video is better. In certain extreme cases you might be able to make an objective statement - for example, if I were to make a music video, you would probably have no trouble objectively stating that either of these two ladies' videos was better - but in the end it still comes down to one person's opinion of how well those facts came together to form a whole versus another person's opinion. It's still subjective. You cannot objectively state that Kanye West was "just telling the truth" and that Beyonce's video was "obviously better".
Shall we compare objective facts about the two videos? I actually sat through them both to form my own opinion, so I would find such a comparison worthwhile. Swift's video is a classic story video, with characters acting out roles per the lyrics of the song. There is no dialogue in the video, so it's all physical acting and I didn't see any significant problems there. The girl opposite Swift could have been better but she was also supposed to be a stereotype, so that may have been intentional. Lighting, editing, sound, etc. all seemed to be of the expected professional caliber. Beyonce's video was black and white and featured three women dancing in bathing suits on a featureless stage with shifting lighting effects. I'm not being facetious here. That's literally all there was. Again, there were no glaring technical issues. The lighting effects were put to good use and the women demonstrated the expected dancing talent. I personally found the dance to be somewhat repetitive and not able to hold the attention for the length of an entire song (unless of course you're looking at the women and not actually watching the video as a video), but that's my own subjective taste. If you prefer your music videos to have something to do with the song then the preponderance of the evidence would be in Taylor's favor. If you prefer dancing videos then the preponderance of the evidence would be in Beyonce's favor. If you truly believe that the bulk of the music video watching audience is specifically one or the other then you need serious psychological help.
In short, label me as one of those who actually does believe that Taylor had the better video and deserved the award (at least between those two - I didn't watch the others since they weren't the argument), but I accept that as a subjective statement. If you believe that Beyonce had the better video, that's your subjective opinion and you're welcome to it. What you're not welcome to is the claim that there is some objective standard by which you are right and I am wrong. Beyonce was not ripped off. There were simply people who didn't agree with you and their subjective opinions carried more weight.
I almost feel like I should thank Kanye for giving me something amusing to write about outside of politics but, instead, I'll just offer some free advice. Get some help. You are obviously spinning out of control and when that leads to being an obnoxious bully toward a 19-year-old girl and destroying a memory she'll never get to have again, I'd say you've crossed a line.
Congratulations on your VMA, Taylor. And, for the record, Beyonce too Video of the Year, so congratulations to her as well.

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