In hopes of revitalizing a franchise that has seen considerable drops in ratings and reputation in the past few years, MTV took its Video Music Awards to Las Vegas on Sunday for the first time since the awards’ 1984 inception.
With its own reputation as a glittering, all-night, no-holds-barred city, Las Vegas proved to be an appropriate milieu for the 72-plus-hour barrage of bashes related to the main event. And flush with new nightclubs, the city—which embraces its reputation for wild antics as much as the show does—provided plenty of party-ready locations.
During the show itself, MTV found that along with the celebrities, publicists, and marketers that followed its move to the desert came a series of gaffes. Although Britney Spears’s amateurish opening performance certainly got people talking, it was widely considered a bomb. Later, technical glitches and mic failures abounded.
Producers reinvented the show’s format, flipping between the ceremony in the new Pearl Concert Theater in the Palms hotel and live video snippets from a series of satellite concert-house party hybrids filmed throughout the property. (With the broadcast’s coverage of so much of the Palms’s space, viewers could hardly be blamed for thinking they were watching a two-hour commercial for the hotel.) One highlight of the proceedings was Chris Brown’s performance, which had the singer and his backup dancers leaping among the glowing circular platforms on the main floor of the Pearl.
Going on around the show was a weekend-long party lineup managed largely by New York- and Los Angeles-based planners and vendors—perhaps not surprisingly, given that many of the events’ hosts were magazines and brands based in those cities. The majority of event organizers relied on Las Vegas’s wealth of over-the-top, highly publicized new venues to impress guests, rather than use heavy production to make a big impact.
The Luxor’s new nightclub LAX—a sibling of the L.A. venue of the same name—opened the 26,000-square-foot space for parties hosted by Diddy and Christina Aguilera. (Britney Spears hosted the club’s official opening-night party on Labor Day weekend.) And parties for Bombay Sapphire and IGA took over the Wynn’s diminutive, lovely new nightclub Blush—clogging its entrance inside the casino—whose recent opening overlapped LAX’s.
Guests at GQ’s private Saturday-night party got a look at Jet nightclub at the Mirage (opened in 2006), with Svedka sponsoring the bars. The magazine displayed brand images on the flat-screen TVs throughout the club, while dancers in tiny black getups wriggled on platforms around the space, including one in the center of the dance floor with two stripper-style poles.
New York-based Strategic Group produced a slew of events—including the Xbox-sponsored Oasis party hosted by the ubiquitous Kanye West and a concert by Linkin Park—at the Venetian’s Tao Beach, which Strategic opened in May. The group brought in logo-covered signage and pillows, but the slick poolside setting (coupled with the Tao name, which has developed considerable cachet around town) seemed enough of a draw to pack the space with bikini-clad party people.
Tao nightclub was also the backdrop for Samsung’s launch of its Gleam phone, as well as an award after-party hosted by Nelly, Jermaine Dupri, and Travis Barker. (Strategic also produced suites at Tao Beach, which were among the various gift and hospitality suites around town.)
Maxim’s party for 1,200 on Saturday—the most crowded night on the weekend’s agenda—was one of the few to incorporate considerable production, although it too took over a spectacular space: the Moorea Bay Beach Club at Mandalay Bay, overlooking the hotel’s main beach and pool area, where Joss Stone performed on an elevated concert stage. Maxim associate director of creative services Karen Feller worked with Tracy Kessler, executive producer at TK New York, along with Ark Endeavors and Bolthouse/SBE. (Susan Blond handled PR from New York, and BNC tag-teamed from Los Angeles.)
The producers were bent on creating an event that embraced the magazine’s guy-style ethos—as well as the brand identities of sponsors such as Dockers, which offered its pants from a cabana, and Dos XXs, which employed ice bars and gold-lamé-clad serving girls.
The party featured a 2008 Caliber from another sponsor, Dodge, that served as an elevated DJ booth (requiring cranes for construction), as well as a pool partly covered with corrugated metal (for “more of a modern, Dubai-type feeling,” according to Kessler) and a billowy screen fog. “We really wanted to take all the things Vegas has to offer. The desert, the sun, the pool gave us a great canvas to work with,” Kessler said.
Another magazine with a heavy presence was Rolling Stone, which planned its 40th anniversary festivities to correspond with the award weekend in Vegas—although that was not always the plan. “We set out to make a big splash for our 40th anniversary,” said Wenner Media associate integrated marketing director Artie Athas, who oversaw the weekend’s events, which were not billed as being affiliated with MTV. “We were always planning to do our 40th celebration in September in Vegas. When the announcement [that the VMAs would be in town] came through, we strongly considered doing it another weekend instead, and we would have done really well with that, too.” The magazine worked with bicoastal event producer Toast (with some additional celebrity wrangling and production by former Maxim planner Dan Parente at Bookem Danno) to plan a slate of events at the Hard Rock so dense it seemed the mag had commandeered the hotel for days.
The Rolling Stone calendar included pool parties with music by the likes of DJ Jus Ske and Snoop Dogg, the Star Lounge 10th-floor gift and hospitality suites, a celebrity poker tournament, and a Saturday-night blowout for 800 guests featuring a high-energy performance by Kanye West that doubled as the artist’s unofficial release party for his album Graduation. The show began just shy of 2 a.m. on Sunday morning (a very Vegas start time). The assembled throng—wearing impossible-to-counterfeit lenticular wristbands that differentiated the chosen ones from the plebes milling about the hotel’s grounds—lapped up the opportunity to see West and surprise stage companions Jamie Foxx and T-Pain in the intimate Joint theater, which Toast gave a futuristic, Japanese theme inspired by the video for West’s song “Stronger.” (Think girls in tiny silver costumes riding around the dance floor on Segways, a red motorcycle parked on stage, and a fog screen emblazoned with the mag’s red logo.)
Toast partner Kimberly Krouse said, “There were so many concurrent events in town that it was chaos. This was huge—a huge feat. [We used] almost no local equipment [in part because] the official [VMA] show took up a ton of resources.”
Other miscellaneous events around town included Excess magazine’s party at not-so-new but nonetheless decked-out Studio 54, with umbrella-holder-turned-hip-hopper Fonzworth Bentley. Music industry pals of Ludacris attended his 30th birthday party at the Rio’s new restaurant-nightclub hybrid Café Martorano, and fellow recording artist Cassie celebrated her 21st at Jet at the Mirage.
MTV’s official events included a kickoff for the Rock Band tour, an MTVu Rookie VMA showcase, a Neutrogena-sponsored concert to benefit music-industry-against-AIDS org LIFEbeat, and Sunday night’s official after-party at the Palms pool, hosted by Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner.
So what will next year hold for MTV’s awards? Strategic Group partner Noah Tepperberg shared this prediction: “I have a feeling [the VMAs] will stay here; the town can support it. Vegas is really becoming the entertainment center. This is it—Vegas is the next hub.”