When the nominations were first unveiled for the MTV Video Music Awards this year and Britney Spears made the lineup for "Piece of Me," my first impulse as an awards guru was to think: She'll win, natch. Britney Spears was the biggest star of 2008, after all, albeit in that train wreck kinda way. But then, after further reflection and a look back at past winners in this category, I flip-flopped and thought: no, no, no.
The reason: Who picks the MTV VMA winners. If this year's VMAs were decided like they were in 2006, yes, Britney might be considered the front-runner. That was the one year champs were decided by online voters. But Panic at the Disco prevailed then for "I Write Sins, Not Tragedies," which was widely ridiculed by serious music gurus. Gritty journalists — the type who write for Rolling Stone and Billboard — were particularly irked that Panic beat the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Dani California," and they gave MTV so much hell over it that the VMAs switched the decision-making process back to folks who picked winners in the past: a random assortment of showbiz industry hipsters they considered to be cool. Some past voters who I knew personally were journalists and producers at E! Entertainment Network and VH1, for example.
In the past, these hipsters chose mostly respectable champs for video of the year: Green Day ("Boulevard of Broken Dreams"), Outkast ("Hey Ya") and Eminem ("Without Me"). Not the trashy, trailer-park, bubble-gum stars like Britney, who hasn't, let's face it, been taken too seriously as an artist and has never won a Moonman. She lost all 16 past nominations, including her only previous bid for best video of the year: "Toxic" (2004).
This year it seemed possible that voters might give Britney the pop-video award as a sympathy prize after all she's been through. After all, that award has "pop" in the title. But best video of the year?
The fact that Britney won that lofty trophy is a triumph of the Olympian kind and proof of what host Russell Brand asserted at show's end: that she has finally "conquered" musicdom.
Granted, there weren't any nominees competing against her that get the kind of artistic huzzahs that Green Day and Eminem do. That surely helped her odds and the omission was odd. But, still, that shouldn't detract too much from her accomplishment. We live in an era when personal dysfunction, even craziness, is celebrated in reality TV shows and tabloid news. In that context, Britney's recent personal collapse detracts little, it turns out, when stacked against her rep as an enduring music entertainer. Maybe even artist too.
Photo by Jive Records