A Thorough and Barely Necessary Dissection of the VMA Nominations

Three Beyoncé videos and no "XO"? Great hooks propping up garbage songs? Hard-rockin' Lorde? Believe it or not, the MTV Video Music Awards nominees left a LOT to be discussed.

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Sure, we've already reported on this year's MTV Video Music Awards nominees. A just-the-facts rendering of MTV's picks for the year's best "music videos," which are an artifact of a bygone era that we pretend still exist exactly once a year (and then whenever Beyoncé makes one).
But this is an awards show, after all. One that actually mattered at one point in the 1980s and '90s (honest). And so when we sat down to the ballot and discovered, to our surprise and dismay, that we had several strong opinions about the way MTV has decided to conduct their awards business, our mission became clear. It was time to crosstalk.

Fealty to the Queen

Reid: So obviously we have to lead with Beyoncé.
O'Keeffe: As we all do in life, really.
Reid: I guess choices had to be made when it came to which of the music videos from the visual album would be recognized.
O'Keeffe: Well, that's the thing. There's a weird "singles only" rule at the VMAs, so even if a video exists, it must be tied to a single release. Because of that, we have "Drunk in Love" competing for Video of the Year when I would call it one of the least artful videos on the album. Songs like "***Flawless," "Jealous," "Ghost" – they all have better videos, but they got left out in the cold because they're not singles. Which is a bizarrely radio-centric way to approach a video award show.
Reid: Is it weird that I thought "XO" was going to be a slam dunk?
O'Keeffe: Not at all! And that's the one single that didn't get any recognition, which is crazy. That video is fun and super watchable and joyous. The only nominated video that I think is better is "Pretty Hurts," but I would've absolutely nominated "XO" over "Drunk in Love." (Don't get me started on "Partition.")
Reid: "Pretty Hurts" is phenomenally over-the-top and hilarious and wonderful (Harvey Keitel!), but we can get into that one more when we talk Best Socially Conscious Video. The fact that there are zero categories where Bey is up against herself is both a bummer and really draws an arrow to how constructed this ballot seems.
O'Keeffe: It's like acting categories at the Oscars: you get one entry each. But I will say that although it's nice she has eight nominations – it would have been embarrassing if she didn't lead the board after the visual album – I do think that count is a little low.
Reid: Right? Maybe our Beyoncé expectations are too high.

Category Fraud and the VMAs

Reid: Okay, while we're lingering on Video of the Year, my first (of many) pet peeves: four female solo artists are nominated for Video of the Year. Only one of those videos ("Fancy") shows up in Best Female Video. (Beyoncé is in both categories, but for separate videos.) I know expecting integrity out of MTV is pretty adorable, but still. I think what I'm mostly trying to say is that if you liked the Sia "Chandelier" video that much (and you should have), just nominate it twice. Though I guess how else were they going to throw Katy Perry a pity nomination for "Dark Horse" without bumping Sia out?
O'Keeffe: Without petitioning Congress for an inquiry into the MTV VMA nomination process, I'd say we're just gonna have to accept that they are even more brazen than the Golden Globes in getting the stars they want to the show. Of course Katy Perry is getting a pity nomination. The VMAs are made for Katy Perry. Frankly, I'm surprised we didn't see a left-field Lady Gaga nomination.
Reid: Weirdly, I feel like MTV has more of an investment in propping up Katy Perry than they do in propping up Lady Gaga, but that is a whole other conspiracy-laden discussion. For now, I have some more category bullshittery to call out. Like how both "Dark Horse" and Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea's "Problem" are in Best Female Video and Best Collaboration. Same thing with Eminem and Rihanna's "The Monster," in Best Male Video and Best Collaboration. Which one is it, MTV? Which one is it?
O'Keeffe: I actually have way more of a problem with "Dark Horse" and "The Monster" getting away with category fraud than "Problem." Even though that is a collaboration, both the artists are female, so that still washes. The other two are ridiculous. The success of "The Monster" is hugely owed to Rihanna, though I know we're gonna get into that more later. (Though really, "Dark Horse" succeeds despite Juicy J, not because of him.)
Reid: But nothing trumps the category-based hilarity that is Lorde as a nominee for Best Rock Video for "Royals."
O'Keeffe You mean you don't know of hard rock goddess Lorde, Joe? Where have you been? Yes, that nomination is absurd. There's no way that classification could ever work. And what's strange is that everything else in that category is fair and valid. It's like they couldn't find room for Lorde elsewhere, like in pop. Which is also absurd, because I have so many problems with that category.
Reid: Well, "pop" has always been frustratingly nebulous to define, which is why I usually reserve my anger for things that involve me being able to count how many people are performing a song.

Playing Hooky

Reid: But we're going back to Rihanna, because here is a stone-cold TRUTH about music in 2014: "The Monster" is an average-to-below-average song with an A+ hook; haven't we progressed far enough as a society to be able to honor great hooks and leave their earthbound platforms safely behind? What I think I'm saying is, we're all too good to pretend Eminem still matters.
O'Keeffe: I'm going to put my issues with pop aside as soon as I say this: When you have defined categories for hip hop and rock, you can't just use pop as a catch-all third category. Avicii is dance or electronic. If Macklemore can be considered hip hop, then Iggy Azalea is certainly hip hop. Jason Derulo has no place here and should swiftly go away. Okay, rant over.
Back to hooks: Here's the issue with the VMAs. We're here to honor videos, not songs. That makes it difficult when something like "The Monster," which has a solid video and an amazing chorus, does well. Because I really don't like "The Monster"! Seven nominations for it is absurd at any awards ceremony! But on this weird little planet known as the VMAs, it somehow kinda sorta makes sense.
Reid: Oh, right, the thriving art form of music video!
O'Keeffe: Hey, Beyoncé is trying. She can't do this alone.
Reid: But, okay, indulge me. Best Hook in a Music Video, 2014. "The Monster." Kesha on "Timber." Fill me out here. (Featured artist hooks preferred.)
O'Keeffe: Well, I would say Charli XCX on "Fancy," but we disagree there.
Reid: We do. Team Not-"Fancy."
O'Keeffe: I strongly dislike "Fancy" too, mostly because there's no good reason it's our Song of Summer instead of Iggy and Ariana Grande's vastly superior "Problem," but I do think the hook is solid. I'd also say "XO" has a great hook, and I'm a fan of the "Timber" chorus. That's hard for me to say, because I want to universally hate anything Pitbull is attached to (sorry J. Lo, pick better collaborators next time), but the power of Kesha compels me.
Reid: While I totally understand why people hate Pitbull, I ... kinda like his and J. Lo's "Dance Again" sorryNEXTQUESTION.

Turn Down for Tech

Reid: Are we happy that "Turn Down for What" is dominating the below-line categories (I'm calling them the "techs," because Oscar is in my blood), or should it have gotten more love in the top categories?
O'Keeffe: My roommate in L.A. was obsessed with "Turn Down for What" when it came out, so I heard it a lot. It is not a good song. But it is a great video! It is, in fact, arguably the best video of the year from a technical standpoint. I'm actually kind of perplexed it didn't get Best Editing or Best Choreography nominations. The Best Direction nomination is one of my favorites, though, because you have to be near-mad to come up with such an insane, wonderful concept. Are you a "Turn Down" apostle or agnostic, Joe?
Reid: I like it. I'm in favor of its Song of the Summer spoiler campaign (though I'll happily vote for "Problem," the John Kerry to its Howard Dean, which, yes, makes "Fancy" the George W. Bush, which I stand by).
O'Keeffe: That makes MAGIC!'s "Rude" Dick Cheney, and I stand by that comparison too.

Best Video Where Beyoncé Wants to Grow Up to Be Happy

Reid: Can we now finally talk about Best Video with a Social Message? Specifically "Pretty Hurts"? Whose social message appears to be "Beyoncé wants to grow up to be happy"? Defend this, Kevin. DEFEND THIS.
O'Keeffe: I'm a huge "Pretty Hurts" stan. I love that damn song. I love the video. I love the little "ah-AH-ah" sound Bey makes at the beginning. I love when she sings the hook – also an A+ hook – a cappella at first. It's perfection (which is the disease of the nation, pretty hurts, pretty hurts).
But I actually like it from a sane person's standpoint, too. I think the idea that Bey opened this incredibly daring, risky album with a bold statement – "Everything you see me do on this album, all the beauty, all the glamour, all the Flawless, is incredibly difficult" – is laudable. It's also kind of revolutionary in Beyoncé's canon: She's been vulnerable with us before, but she's never let us think that being perfect was anything but easy. Everyone can gain something from the thesis that striving to be perfect is actually unhealthy. Even for a superwoman, perfection is painful.
Plus, "Same Love" won last year. So this winning would be an improvement.
Reid: Fine, you sold me.

Who Do You Love?

Reid: So who should win these damn moon-man statues that I somehow hold residual reverence for, dating back to my teenage years (Smashing Pumpkins "Tonight Tonight" 1996 respect!)?
O'Keeffe: My favorite nomination of all is "Fancy" for Best Art Direction, and I know exactly how snooty that makes me sound. But what a perfect tribute to Clueless. You can tell that the person who put that video set together knew that movie like the back of their hand. It can almost help you forget what a bad song it is.
That said, the one win I want to see most in the top-of-the-line categories is "Problem" for Best Female Video. #Justice4Problem
Reid: So long as "Turn Down for What" wins the MTV Clubland Award, then I'm good, because jk jk jk what even in the world?
O'Keeffe: It's almost as good as the MTV Artist to Watch Award, or as it's otherwise known in the rest of the world, "Best New Artist."
Reid: I want Eminem to win nothing. I want "Wrecking Ball" to win something, just not anything for Terry Richardson. I want Beyonce to beat Lana Del Rey for Best Cinematography. 
O'Keeffe: Not appreciating your Lana Del Hate, to be honest.
Reid: Lana Del Hate is my roller derby name, so that's fine. I would like for Sia to win Best Choreography for "Chandelier." I would like for Pink's "Try" to have won Best Choreography last year. Now I want "Royals" to win Best Rock Video (and it might!).
Best Pop Video: "Problem." Best Male Video: Sam Smith's "Stay with Me" (my early prediction, actually). And Bey's gonna win the rest anyway, and I will be fine with that. I will be happy.
O'Keeffe: It kills me to say I don't want "Drunk in Love" to win Video of the Year. It goes against everything I stand for not to support Beyoncé above all others. But I'd go for Sia's "Chandelier." Actually, considering she wrote "Pretty Hurts," Sia stands a chance of making a killing here.
Reid: Ah-AH-ah.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.