After two years in Miami, MTV’s Video Music Awards returned to their birthplace in New York last week, along with a string of events, promotions, and PR stunts. While the ceremony itself continued its downward ratings spiral, the hoopla surrounding the show filled the city’s clubs with celebrities and celebrity watchers (and a few interesting production ideas) during the normally quiet final days of August.
MTV commandeered much of Rockefeller Center, setting up a red carpet and concert stage on the plaza for the ceremony’s preshow festivities, which also featured a My Chemical Romance performance from Top of the Rock. For the actual show, producers reconfigured Radio City Music Hall, removing its seats to make an open floor for the audience and putting elevated risers on both sides of the hall for the nominees and presenters.
But no matter where the audience stood or sat, their response to much of the action was tepid. Many of host Jack Black’s shenanigans elicited little or no laughter, and bringing out Al Gore for a lesson in global warming at 11 PM—the show’s intended end time—made for a nice message, but didn’t ratchet up the excitement. (Television audiences seemed to agree. Ratings for the annual spectacle dropped 27 percent.)
With the ceremony’s shtick wearing thin, it was the technical tricks that caught our eye. The relatively simple stage design allowed the elaborate videos projected onto the walls and ceilings and on LCD screens placed everywhere else to fill the space with different graphics for each award and performance.
But if the production design was the highlight of the show (for us, anyway), it was the talent that ruled the after-parties and events in the days before the awards. For the party goers clamoring to get inside the clubs hosting the events, hanging out with celebrities seemed to be the main focus, and the marketers behind such events seemed to know that. They used their star hosts to lure the crowds and other celebs, and frequently did away with the velvet ropes keeping the gawkers at bay.
Absolut booked Pharrell to host a pre-VMA party at Chinatown Brasserie, where onlookers swarmed around Paris and Nicky Hilton, pushing, shoving, and holding up camera phones to get a shot of the sisters—who were silently typing on their own digital devices. At the Virgin Records after-party at Marquee, nonfamous guests crowded around a corner table to get a glimpse of Jared Leto eating sushi and dancing on the couches. Wyclef Jean hosted an event cosponsored by new energy drink Bliss at Duvet, and ended up giving an impromptu performance amidst the ordinary party-goers.
That said, many of the parties were only nominally “hosted” by celebrities—some of them didn’t even make an appearance: Whiteflash.com put out $10 million in jewelry for celebrity guests to wear at its party on Tuesday night, but ostensible hosts Missy Elliot and Ciara were no-shows. And weather stranded OutKast in Atlanta on Wednesday night, so they missed their Idlewild CD launch at a temporary tented venue next to the SoHo Grand.
The parties still drew considerable crowds that mixed teen-friendly talent with music and media types and plenty of regular folks looking for a good time. And while the focus was usually on the famous faces instead of the creative event touches, we found a few interesting ideas.
More Photos From MTV VMA Events
Reporting by Stacey Howard, Chad Kaydo, Mark Mavrigian, Sara Neuffer, Erika Rasmusson Janes, Anna Sekula, & Courtney Thompson
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Photos: Todd Plitt/Getty Images (Rockefeller Center preshow), Frank Micelotta/Getty Images (VMA stage, John Legend), Evan Agostini/Getty Images (Simpson), Seth Browarnik/Red Eye Productions (Yahoo disco ball, candy)