First YouTube Music Awards: Weirdest event ever?

9:12 PM, Nov 3, 2013   |    comments
Michael Shannon, left, and Vanessa Hudgens perform in a live music video at the YouTube Music Awards.(Photo: Jeff Kravitz FilmMagic for YouTube)
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NEW YORK - Internet superstars stepped out from behind the computer screen and onto the stage at Pier 36 Sunday night to make history at the first YouTube Music Awards.

Hosted by Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts and featuring live performances by Lady Gaga, Eminem and other pop and rock greats, YouTube set quite a challenge before itself in the show's first year: The event was live-streamed the world over, and the awards were entirely dependent on the participation of viewers.

Unlike the Grammys or the MTV Video Music Awards, winners were voted on entirely by fans, with One Direction, Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj among the artists nominated across six categories. With director Spike Jonze at the creative helm of the ceremony, the YouTube Music Awards promised - and delivered - a volley of surprises, including the creation and broadcast of music videos with notable talents as the show unfolded. This wasn't your typical red carpet affair with a few songs and dances thrown in between acceptance speeches. The YouTube Music Awards sought to redefine expectations for a celebration of popular music, and in turn, revolutionized them.

Confusion reigns: The general vibe is a confused one. Upon entering the main room at the awards, a handful of stages greet you, and many showgoers choose to sit down on the ground in front of these setups. A staffer walking around backstage mentions that Schwartzman has a different "set of directions" than everyone else, and that no one has any idea how the show will go - that the idea is to be unscripted and spontaneous from start to finish.

Schwartzman and Jonze come out into the audience to greet the crowd, and the message is simple: The audience is going to fully participate in the show.

"I want you to know that not only are you watching the show, you're going to be a part of the videos," says Schwartzman. "If you feel like you're in the video, don't watch the show around you, watch the performance!"

Call-and-response: Arcade Fire hits the ground running with this emphasis on audience participation, walking the crowd through a call-and-response. Frontman Will Butler seems to be all about it: "If you tried this at the VMAs, you'd be (screwed)!"

So much for the fourth wall: Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha) makes the first non-performer cameo of the night as the star of the "video" being filmed for Arcade Fire's live performance of Afterlife. Dancing her way through an apartment hallway into a grove of snowy trees, Gerwig is joined by Butler before taking off into the audience, flanked by a group of tiny dancers and effectively shattering the fourth wall. This theme of breaking down expectations for music videos and awards shows is effective, so far, and one the audience embraces.

Unscripted: After A Brief History of Music, featuring Walk the Earth, brings us through Beyonc√©'s Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) and Psy's Gangnam Style, Rashida Jones hands off two babies to our bewildered hosts. Yes, babies. They announce the first award of the night, the YouTube breakthrough award, which goes to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. (The trophy is a red-and-white click icon.) "We spent about $5,000 on this music video and just had fun making this with our friends ..." says Macklemore, before laughing at the screaming tots in Schwartzman's and Watts' arms. "I can't believe we won these kids!"

Rickrolling: CDZA, the band behind YouTube's History of Music, thoroughly enjoyed the task of covering some of the more popular songs that exploded via the social network. "T-Pain was supposed to lead into a big reveal, and Rick Astley was supposed to Rickroll the world, but that didn't happen ... He said he was never gonna give us up, but he did!"

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