Essay

How To Fix The YouTube Music Awards

By Chris DeVille / October 24, 2013

As Tom opined yesterday, the YouTube Music Awards, with its forward-thinking concept and Spike Jonze creation direction and exceptional list of performers, “could’ve flipped the entire awards-show concept on its head and chased all the little eddies and tributaries on the internet rather than just chasing the widest-possible viewership.” But it didn’t. Instead we got a list of nominations based on cold, hard statistics and lowest-common-denominator pandering (all the better to promote YouTube’s rumored subscription music service) with nary a glimmer of the glorious subjectivity that makes awards shows fun nor a wag of the long-tails that make the internet so bitchin’ for niches.

Like L.A. hip-hop cool-nerds Tyler, The Creator and Flying Lotus, we’re bummed out about this missed opportunity. You can’t argue with numbers, so if YouTube wants to go all Billboard Awards on us, we can’t really dispute their methodology. But who says the YouTube Awards have to follow Billboard‘s lead? We see no reason not to revise the categories in the name of real drama and a more intriguing field of nominees.

So that’s what we did. Below, find Stereogum’s tweaked versions of the pre-existing categories plus a few additional categories the show’s producers really ought to have included in the first place, each one replete with a revised slate of nominees. The ceremony is going down 11/3 at New York’s Pier 36, so it’s not too late for the folks at 901 Cherry Ave. to rethink this.

Video of the Year

Original criteria: “Videos with most fan engagement”

Original nominees (10): Miley Cyrus, “We Can’t Stop”; Justin Bieber (feat. Nicki Minaj), “Beauty and a Beat”; Lady Gaga, “Applause”; One Direction, “Best Song Ever”; PSY, “Gentleman”; Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (feat. Mary Lambert) “Same Love”; Girls’ Generation “I Got A Boy”; Demi Lovato, “Heart Attack”; Selena Gomez, “Come & Get It”; Epic Rap Battles Of History, “Barack Obama vs Mitt Romney”

Revised criteria: Fan engagement is a perfectly fine barometer in the age of social media. It means the video elicited a reaction from people, which is arguably the point of any artistic endeavor or self-expression. But it’s better suited to determine a people’s choice category than to dole out an award called Video of the Year. Interactivity means something, but it’s not everything. So we suggest something broader and more wildly subjective, just like the Grammy for Album Of The Year, the Academy Award for Best Picture, or the Emmy for Best Drama Series and Best Comedy Series — something eminently debatable.

Revised nominees (10):We Can’t Stop,” which is completely mesmerizing and accomplishes exactly what it’s supposed to, can stay. Also, even though “Gangnam Style” was released in July 2012, it’s nominated in other categories, so it doesn’t make sense that “Gentleman” is PSY’s entry here. “Gangnam Style” belongs here. As for the other eight entries, may we suggest: FKA Twigs’ surreal extreme closeup “Water Me,” Blood Orange’s ancestral African road trip clip “Chamakay,” Janelle Monae’s colorfully black-and-white-striped “Q.U.E.E.N.,” Just Blaze & Baauer’s Indian revenge odyssey “Higher,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ gorgeous Empire State Building performance clip “Despair,” Disclosure’s warehouse dance romance “White Noise,” David Bowie’s Last Supper rewrite “The Next Day,” and Foxygen’s charmingly retro “San Francisco.” If this was purely a video award and not a YouTube award, we’d also throw Kanye West’s “New Slaves” projections in the mix, but those subverted YouTube entirely.

Artist of the Year

Original criteria: “Most watched, shared, liked, and subscribed-to artists”

Original nominees (10): Eminem, Epic Rap Battles of History, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Nicki Minaj, One Direction, PSY, Rihanna, Taylor Swift

Revised criteria: Again, number-crunching is great for a pure popularity contest, but we think Artist of the Year would be a lot more exciting if it took artistic merit into account. So let’s redraw this category to recognize a musician’s overall body of work on YouTube this year.

Revised nominees (10): PSY and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis deserve to stay for yielding several of the year’s most memorable scenes. We’d also big-up Solange, Atoms For Peace, Bat For Lashes, Earl Sweatshirt, Disclosure, David Bowie, Janelle Monae, and Le1f. And really, you could easily come up with 10 more worthy candidates: A$AP Mob, Pusha T, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Knife, the Lonely Island, Mykki Blanco, Beach House, Major Lazer, Kurt Vile, and Sigur Ros. (And, if, it was up to Tom, G-Dragon.) Just no Eminem please.

Response of the Year

Original criteria, Response of the Year: “Best fan remix, parody or response video”

Original nominees, Response of the Year (5): Boyce Avenue (feat. Fifth Harmony) “Mirrors”; Jayesslee, “Gangnam Style”; Lindsey Stirling and Pentatonix, “Radioactive”; ThePianoGuys, “Titanium/Pavane”; Walk Off the Earth (feat. KRNFX), “I Knew You Were Trouble”

Revised criteria: We actually agree with the criteria here, just not the selection process. Acoustic versions of synthetic pop songs aren’t doing it for us, and especially not dubstep violin queen Lindsey Stirling and a cappella quintet Pentatonix covering motherfucking Imagine Dragons.

Revised nominees (5): “I Knew You Were Trouble” should be in this race, but the Taylor Swift goat thing, not the passable but unmemorable a cappella version that was nominated. Actually, Taylor + goats should win everything. We’re actually considering going back and adding it to the “Video of the Year” race. But if there must be other contenders here, why not the underwater version of “Harlem Shake”, or that job-quitting video set to Kanye’s “Gone” (and the company’s response), or the Hood Internet’s mashup of Alan Thicke’s Growing Pains theme song with son Robin’s nudie smash “Blurred Lines”? And who says an artist’s own re-imagining can’t crack this category? If so, Miley’s a cappella “We Can’t Stop” with Jimmy Fallon and the Roots should be a shoo-in.

YouTube Phenomenon

Original criteria: “Songs that generated the most fan videos”

Original nominees (5): “Diamonds,” “Gangnam Style,” “Harlem Shake,” “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “Thrift Shop”

Revised criteria: This category also makes sense, and its candidates are mostly on-point.

Revised nominees (5): Again, we bow in awe of “I Knew You Were Trouble.” “Harlem Shake” makes sense here, as do “Gangnam Style” and “Thrift Shop.” But we’d sub in Ylvis “The Fox” for Rihanna.

YouTube Breakthrough

Original criteria: “Artists with biggest growth in views and subscribers”

Original nominees: Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Naughty Boy, Passenger, Rudimental

Revised criteria: Seems like this category should not recognize the artists who experienced the biggest stats boost on YouTube but, you know, artists that actually broke through because of YouTube.

Revised nominees (5): Macklemore & Ryan Lewis stay. Despite some semblance of a career before “Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke should be here too. Ylvis, PSY and Y.N. Rich Kids also belong in this category.

Innovation of the Year

Original criteria: “Creative video innovations with most views, likes, shares and comments”

Original nominees (5): Anamanaguchi, “Endless Fantasy”; Atoms For Peace, “Ingenue”; Bat For Lashes, “Lilies”; DeStorm, “See Me Standing”; Toro Y Moi, “Say That”

Revised criteria: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but we should throw out the numbers and just honor the most dazzling innovations. We’re not that impressed with Anamanaguchi’s flying pizza, and we’re still scratching our heads trying to figure out how some of these videos qualify as innovative.

Revised nominees (5): From the original list we’d only keep Bat For Lashes’ “Lilies,” and you can sub in Atoms For Peace’s sandy “Before Your Very Eyes” instead of “Ingenue”‘s modern dance. Our frontrunner would probably be Cold Mailman’s track-happy “My Recurring Dream,” though Gesaffelstein’s harrowing “Pursuit” is tough competition. And what about Mykki Blanco’s creepy “Initiation” vid? (Hell is chilly, motherfucker.)

See? Much better! We also think YouTube is overlooking some obvious categories, so here are a few additions for good measure.

Director of the Year

How could they leave out the brains behind the cameras? Nabil is the obvious frontrunner here for a staggering body of work that includes James Blake’s “Overgrown” and “Life Round Here (Remix),” Just Blake & Baauer’s “Higher,” Poliça & Justin Vernon’s “Tiff,” Arctic Monkeys’ “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?,” Foals’ “Late Night” and, if we’re going all the way back to Sept. 2012, Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids.” But what about comedian/radio host Tom Scharpling (Kurt Vile’s “KV Crimes,” Ben Gibbard’s “Teardrop Windows,” Nude Beach’s “Some Kinda Love,” Aimee Mann’s “Labrador”). Floria Sigismondi (David Bowie’s “The Next Day” and “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors,” Sigur Ros’ “Leaning Toward Solace” short film) deserves a nod, as do Disclosure bud Luke Monaghan and Toro/Kurt Vile/Au Revoir Simone collaborator HARRYS. Honestly, we could go past 10 easily once you factor in Diane Martel, AG Rojas, Emily Kai Bock, Andrew Thomas Huang, Fleur And Manu, Phil Morrison, Grant Singer, Colin Tilley

Funniest Video

That Mumford & Sons self-parody “Hopeless Wanderer” was a legit knee-slapper, and we really enjoyed the kid dancing around in the National’s “Sea Of Love” video, itself a parody of this. We also cackled at Dizzee Rascal’s “Bassline Junkie,” Das Racist’s “Girl,” Ben Gibbard’s “Teardrop Windows,” Aimee Mann’s “Labrador,” and any of these three videos by the Lonely Island. And who could forget the FIDLAR video where Ron Swanson pisses everywhere?

Best Animated Video

This one isn’t as much of a “duh” as it might seem because the line between animation and live action is so blurry these days. But as for straight-up cartoons, we’d look for something from Teen Spirit, at least one of Queens Of The Stone Age’s five animated clips from …Like Clockwork, Young Galaxy’s immensely pleasant dream sequence “Sleepwalk With Me,” METZ’s junkyard rager “Get Off,” and King Khan & The Shrines’ claymation clip “Darkness.”

Cecil B. DeMille Award

This one goes straight to Ark Music Factory, the YouTube Award-iest of all production companies, no questions asked. Just don’t make us watch “Chinese Food” again.