Music videos may be dead on TV, but thanks to the Internet we’ve seen a renaissance in the form over the past few years. This year kept the streak going, so everyone who was worried about a post-PSY, post-Gotye wasteland can take a deep breath (and that’s all without a video from Daft Punk for “Get Lucky”). And while MTV has all but abandoned the music video, we still look to them as the arbiters of taste when it comes to Important ones.
We’ve already analyzed the network’s choices for Best Male Video, Best Female Video and Best Pop Video, and now it’s time for the top prize. 2013′s field for Video of the Year is noticeably dominated by males: we have artistic sprawl from Justin Timberlake, viral cheekiness from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, straight-up sexiness from Robin Thicke, Pharrell and T.I. as well as a lo-fi sweat session from Bruno Mars. As for sole female nominee Taylor Swift, she offered up a grand tale of love, rebellion and regret.
So let’s take a deeper dive into the category to see how things will shake out.
VIDEO OF THE YEAR NOMINEES:
Bruno Mars, “Locked Out Of Heaven”
Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Wanz, “Thrift Shop”
Robin Thicke feat. T.I. & Pharrell, “Blurred Lines”
Taylor Swift, “I Knew You Were Trouble”
THOUGHTS ON THE NOMINEES: Poor Bruno. He drops his album at the very end of 2012, so it misses out on a lot of the “Best Of” lists (it’s seriously great!), and now his winless streak at the VMAs is likely to continue — not that he would’ve won this category against lamer competition. “Locked Out Of Heaven,” the video, is pretty unremarkable. Like the song, it evokes an older era, but that’s mainly thanks to the spiffy use of lo-fi video filters and not much else. The other clips in this category all have much stronger concepts.
For instance, Swift’s ”I Knew You Were Trouble” was her epic, “edgy” offering boasting an expansive scope, a fleshed-out narrative and gritty visuals. This is all good! But there’s one very big thing working against it: it’s an inferior copy of Lana Del Rey‘s “Ride” video (right on down to the spoken word intro/outro and desert shenanigans), seemingly comprising director Anthony Mandler‘s leftover LDR ideas. (It’s worth noting that “Ride” was perplexingly ignored in all the categories but Best Cinematography).
So those two are out, and the remaining three all have strong cases for the Moonman. In sports there’s an easy trash-talking point about a rivalry not being a rivalry when one side wins every time. The Thick/Timberlake battle for blue-eyed soul was always lopsided, but the two falsetto-wielding, suit-wearing crooners are on equal footing for the first time. “Mirrors” and “Blurred Lines” are both memorable videos, for entirely different reasons. One is contemplative and elegant, the other crass and brash. One is a meditation on love, the other a four-minute-long cat call with an unexplained baby goat. But people who like one tend to like the other, so the votes may cancel out these two candidates.
And that would leave us with “Thrift Shop,” that sarcastic, earwormy smash with its Salvation Army-chic video. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis accidentally stumbled upon PSY’s winning formula of pop-friendly rap mixed with funny but not too funny visuals, and the result was more than 400 million YouTube views. Thus, “Thrift Shop” seems like a slam dunk for the win, and maybe it is. But keep in mind, the video is a year old. And that’s plenty of time to go from “endearing viral hit” to “grating and inescapable.”
WILL WIN: With “Mirrors,” Timberlake gave us two excellent videos. It’s bold both in concept (love, death, time travel, interpretive dance) and in execution (Timberlake doesn’t appear until the 5:45 mark). It wasn’t too abstract with its artistry, but it also wasn’t overly treacly with its sentimentalism. I have to add that I’m a cold beast of a person, yet the video even had me feeling pangs of what I believe are “emotions.” None of that matters anyway, though, because the fix is in for JT this year: how can he receive the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award if he doesn’t even have the best video of the day?
SHOULD WIN: Artistically, this category is no contest, but based on cultural significance, the Moonman should go to “Blurred Lines.” Even without the controversial NSFW version, Thicke, T.I., Pharrell and the trio of models had a playful chemistry and loads of charisma that kept people clicking. The tossed-off confidence of the visuals were so pitch perfect that it was perhaps the only only time hashtags have been used outside of Twitter without inducing fits of rage. So if you believe we live in a just world, then you have to believe that “Blurred Lines” will get enough horny teenager votes to give it the edge.
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