Why the VMAs Pre-Show Is TV’s Most Coveted Warm-Up Gig

Backstage before the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards with Charli XCX
Jessica Chou

Charli XCX with the Moon Man before the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum in Los Angeles on August 21, 2014.

One overriding factor got Charli XCX and Fifth Harmony the job of performing at this year’s MTV VMA pre-show: They fit the theme of “the audience is the co-pilot.”
Attracted to the sing-along qualities of Fifth Harmony’s “Bo$$” and Charli’s audience connectivity during performances, VMA executive producer Dave Sirulnick says the Aug. 24 VMA pre-show in the Forum parking lot is designed to incorporate fans while emphasizing the Roman-style architecture of the building.
“We’re creating people walls with more than 1,000 audience members standing (on various levels),” says Sirulnick. When guests enter the red carpet, “it’s like being in a canyon of audience.”

MTV VMAs: All You Need to Know

Charli XCX and Fifth Harmony fit a pattern of MTV using the pre-show to identify future stars; Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna have appeared recently prior to their chart-topping success. The singles they perform, though, do not necessarily get a sales lift.
Sales for Grande’s “Baby I” and “The Way” and Austin Mahone’s  “What About Love” were flat in the three weeks around their Aug. 25, 2013 performances. The same held true for Minaj’s “Your Love” around Sept. 12, 2010 while Fergie’s “London Bridge” lost 10 percent of its sales in the two sales weeks that followed her Aug. 31, 2006 performance.

Timing is a factor. Cobra Starship’s "You Make Me Feel," performed in the lobby of the JW Marriott hotel adjacent to the Nokia Theater in L.A., was ascending when the rock band performed it Aug. 28, 2011. The week prior to the performance it had sold 75,000; the week that ended the night of the VMAs saw sales up to 91,000; and the week ending Sept. 4 saw the track sell 159,000 downloads to No. 8 on the Hot 100. It would peak at No. 7 two weeks later.
Charli XCX’s “Boom Clap” already has significant momentum, landing in the top 10 for the first time on the Hot 100 chart dated Aug. 23. Fifth Harmony’s “Bo$$,” which peaked at No. 43 then dropped on the Hot 100, has seen some recent airplay push it to No. 79.
“When we had No Doubt it was just as they were breaking nationally,” says Sirulnick, looking back on the show’s previous 30 editions, singling out the Foo Fighters and Beck as well. “It’s a time for many viewers to get their first exposure to these bands. That has been a big part of our outlook and philosophy (for the pre-show). It sets a nice tone for the night.”

An edited version of this article first appeared in the Aug. 30 issue of Billboard.


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