YouTube Music Awards: Among Nominations, Controversy Kicks Up A Storm

The YTMAs (that’s the short and sweet acronym that YouTube’s coined for itself) have undoubtedly shattered the concept of an award show as we know it.

They shun the traditional medium of transmission and will air the award ceremony hosted by Jason
Schwartzman and Reggie Watts, live on YouTube on November 3rd. Voting will mean visiting the YTMA YouTube page and sharing like the wind (and bugging your friends to do the same because that’s the way social media works) the videos of each nominee.

With Eminem, Lady Gaga, Avicii and Arcade Fire already slated to perform, celebrities may have hopped onto the YTMA bandwagon but YouTube has been unable to shake off the air of cynicism that has enveloped the show ever since the nominations were released some time back. Popspoken chronicles just why the YTMAs have the entertainment world up in arms.

But first, the nominees.

Video of the Year

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

Artist of the Year

Epic Rap Battles of History
Justin Bieber
Katy Perry
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Nicki Minaj
One Direction
Taylor Swift

Response of the Year

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”

YouTube Phenomenon

“Gangnam Style”
“Harlem Shake”
“I Knew You Were Trouble”
“Thrift Shop”

YouTube Breakthrough

Kendrick Lamar
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Naughty Boy

Innovation of the Year

Anamanaguchi – “ENDLESS FANTASY”
Atoms For Peace – “Ingenue”
Bat For Lashes – “Lilies”
DeStorm – “See Me Standing”
Toro Y Moi – “Say That”


What’s fascinating everybody is that the nominations bring together the giants of the mass market with self-made YouTube stars – never-before-seen nod to the changing face of the entertainment industry. What’s disappointing, however, is that it brings to the light some issues that have come with the newfound success of visual culture for a while now, particularly with the nomination of stereotypical mass-market artists in the major categories. These issues have been lurking beneath the surface for a while now but things come to a head when an award show legitimizes their existence and propagates them.

At the forefront is the rift between the advantage that the industry has taken of this new visual culture and the value of talent and artistry. This issue itself is not necessarily new but it has only begun to haunt the industry with how pervasive the visual culture has become and rising generational changes in the way that music is consumed. The Beliebers with ready access to social media and the internet clearly don’t behave the same way as traditional consumers did a few decades ago.

Perhaps part of the problem lies with the management of expectations. The game-changing nature of YTMA riled up audiences and too many expected equally game-changing nominations. Yeah, right, because YouTube is going to give up commercial success in favour of that. Because let’s face it, the mass market artists, despite the naysayers, are the biggest moneymakers.

To be fair, YouTube did clearly state say that the nominees will be based on views, likes and shares so there was no way that the behemoths of YouTube would have been sidelined in the race and we had to keep in mind the fact that these mass-market artists appeal the greatest to the new group of movers and shakers of the visual culture – that hyper-connected tween with the newfangled iPhone in his hands.

But there’s light at the end of the tunnel yet! While everyone’s got themselves in a tizzy over YouTube number-crunching method of nomination decisions, it’s throwing an undeserved blanket over some of the really good ones out there who’ve been burning both ends of the candle – the views and the music. Who can argue against the talent of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis? Or ThePianoGuys? Or Boyce Avenue?

While everybody’s busy demonizing YouTube at the moment, the pivotal role that YouTube has played in the music industry is being glossed over. The fixation on controversy is hypocritical because it’s detracting from the music just as much as that which it is demonizing.

The irony in the whole situation is that the culture being questioned is self-created. We only have ourselves to blame (or thank, depending on how you sway) for the “need-to-see” culture where YouTube has become an integral social experience and where it is social blasphemy to have missed out on the latest fad on YouTube (even if that’s a half-naked Miley Cyrus).

If getting views has become so easy, how much of the blame should artists shoulder for not trying hard enough to live up to our expectation? Is YouTube so wrong then, for banking on this culture? The lines between the criteria that we use to define success in the music industry have blurred and irrevocably merged with advertising and social media presence. The YTMAs are the proof of this new landscape.

At the end of the day, despite the cynics, despite the naysayers and despite the diverging views, it is precisely because of this “need-to-see” culture that we ourselves have created that the YTMAs will be a resounding success.



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