For Those Looking to Rock at the 2016 VMAs, a Disappointing Show

Mark Horton

Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers performs during the 2016 Festival D'ete De Quebec on July 16, 2016 in Quebec City, Canada.

It seems like every time there is an awards show, we feel compelled to write about the top things that viewers didn’t see on a broadcast. Sitting in the audience at the MTV Video Music Awards at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Sunday night, I thought of one glaring thing that viewers didn’t get to hear: a rock band.

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In fact, the only two times a guitar made a noticeable appearance was during Future’s performance of “F*ck Up Some Commas”  and Beyonce’s epic production of Lemonade, which featured an explosive rendition of "Don't Hurt Yourself."

Those moments aside, rock was silenced on the Aug. 28 broadcast in more ways than one. The category wasn’t even acknowledged on the air-or the pre-awards show.  It got to the point that lead singer Alexander Gaskarth from All Time Low felt compelled to tweet a “…. ?” as the show got later and later, finally wrapping at midnight. This was a not so subtle hint that his band was patiently waiting after their show in Pittsburgh to hear if they -- or anyone -- had won the coveted Moonman.

When all was said and done, Twenty One Pilots took home the MTV Video Music Award for Best Rock Video for the song, “Heathens,” from the Suicide Squad soundtrack, and Gaskarth offered them his congratulations.

It’s a cool video -- especially when drummer Josh Dun cruises down a cell block banging on his kit -- and Twenty One Pilots also made history this week with “Heathens” and “Ride” charting simultaneously on the alternative and pop charts. How great would it have been for the band to celebrate that massive achievement performing either song on stage for a national audience --perhaps with Tyler Joseph in his skeletal suit. Because skeleton outfits are awesome. My Chemical Romance wore them well in 2006 when they welcomed the Black Parade to the VMAs stage. But that was another time, and another place.

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I would have loved to see Lars Ulrich from Metallica, who can be just as entertaining with speeches as Kanye West, be on hand to announce the nominees.  If he wasn't available, maybe Steven Tyler? The Aerosmith singer has a new country album out, after all, and can usually be counted on for a potentially viral moment. 

It’s a shame viewers didn’t get that. Rock, apparently, does not deserve a place at the table or even a cursory mention at the MTV VMAS anymore.

Panic! At the Disco, Fall Out Boy, All Time Low and Coldplay were all nominated, yet none performed.  While All Time Low were in Pittsburgh with Blink 182 last night, in the old days of MTV a live via satellite stream may have been arranged to televise the concert to the television audience. All Time Low have been working hard, touring and building a devoted fan base for years. Their VMA nomination for “Missing You” -- where the band surprised fans with video chats thanking them for support -- was well deserved, and a little screen time might have been a nice way for MTV to embrace the story of how music connects musicians and the people who love them.

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Panic! At the Disco’s anthem, “Victorious,” contains lyrics that would have been perfect for a VMA crowd -- "Tonight we are victorious / Champagne pouring over us” -- and a driving guitar line would have lit up Madison Square Garden, easy. Fall Out Boy was nominated for their collaboration with Demi Lovato for “Irresistable,” and rock and pop mashups are always great television.

Coldplay has a show in Colorado tonight, but had a day off yesterday. Alessia Cara, who is on that tour, was at the VMAs. Surely the band could have come in for a special performance. Both Beyonce AND Rihanna were there -- imagine both of them coming out for “Hymn for the Weekend” and “Princess of China.” Alas, it wasn’t to be.

So many rock acts have new music either out or on the way. Surely, one could have been booked to perform. In the golden days of MTV, bands would leave holes in their touring schedules around the VMAs, seeing it as a prime promotion opportunity for a forthcoming project. That said: Green Day’s first album in four years, Revolution Radio, is out on Oct. 7. Korn’s 12th studio release, The Serenity of the Suffering, is out Oct. 21. Disturbed’s cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” was used on Dancing with the Stars for goodness sake. Taylor Momsen’s The Pretty Reckless has a hit with “Take Me Down,” and would surely attract some viewers. What about 5 Seconds of Summer? That band is exactly the right demo for the VMA audience.

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Bon Jovi has a new record -- This House is Not for Sale -- coming out October 21, and the single just dropped. Surely the VMAs could have found a way to work with a guy that has so much history with the channel (Jon Bon Jovi once gave away his childhood home in an early MTV contest).

The Red Hot Chili Peppers -- who in another era would have been nominated for their hit “Dark Necessities” -- were criminally overlooked this go-round. The band won the VMA Video Vanguard Award in 2001, that should make them rate for an appearance at the least, no?

Prophets of Rage with Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello, Cypress Hill's B-Real and Public Enemy's Chuck D were just in the New York area, playing Barclays the night before the VMAs. Morello even joined Bruce Springsteen at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey last week, and Dave Grohl took the Rage stage in Toronto. This is an election year. Can you say no-brainer?

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Come to think of it, nobody thought of honoring the return of Guns N’ Roses? The Not in This Lifetime tour sold over 1 million concert tickets this summer. The tour wrapped last Monday —the VMAs might have been a nice send off.

It's not that I didn't enjoy the artists that did perform, but is it that hard for MTV to find one rock band to get in the van and trek to the Garden? Hopefully the VMAs will find a way to let there be rock in 2017. 

2016 MTV VMAs


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