When Cody wrote a few weeks ago about Keke Palmer being named host of the MTV VMAs he mentioned that Keke “always commits to a bit”, which is exactly what she gave us last night. Was every bit funny? No. Did every joke work? No. But what matters is that she was as present for all of the moments, not just the ones that landed. This is what you want in an award show host – and that’s what makes hosting so hard. They’re the ones holding our hands through a show which means they can’t tap out (James Franco), and it also means that in being our constant, they have to absorb both the high points and the awkwardness, and be the balance in between, so that we, watching from home, can feed off that comfort and keep going.
Not everyone is suited to this. Most actors are too self-conscious for it. And 2020 is a particularly tricky year for what Keke was attempting because the VMAs weren’t totally live. Much of it was pre-taped, from performances to her own sketches. So not only was she taking on the typical responsibilities laid out above for a host, she was doing it during a show that in and of itself was ricocheting between live and tape, without an actual in-person and present audience gauge. Like I said, not everyone can do it. But Keke did. Her energy was always up. She was cute and sexy and goofy and serious when called upon and able to transition in and out of all those moods seamlessly, without completely taking over and making it the Keke Music Awards – this is such a high degree of difficulty and the whole point is to make it look like it’s NOT a high degree of difficulty which is why it’s often underappreciated.
If there was any doubt about Keke Palmer’s talent though, last night should have answered it. And remember, she’s only 27 years old. There’s so much more she hasn’t shown us yet. Everyone in the business should be paying attention.
As for the show itself…
Many have noted that it felt more like a series of music videos which, in MTV’s case, is actually kind of ironic. It was obvious that they put everything they could into the production of the sets and the tech, to make up for the lack of audience and the live environment and the live buzz of it was certainly missing, although they did a good job of faking the crowd audio the way they do now during sporting events. You know what ended up being a bonus for me personally? I don’t think I missed the audience all that much. Or, rather, I didn’t miss the audience shots. And that’s different from celebrity cutaways in the audience – I mean non-celebrity audience members cheering and dancing.
No offence to us, and by “us” I mean fans, but I’m not all that interested in seeing the fans during a performance. In fact, I’ve only come to just realise how much I do NOT want to see the camera pan away from the stage to the fans, especially when Beyoncé is on stage. Right?! When performers are up there giving you all that choreo, have rehearsed for weeks or months, and spent hours on outfits and hair and makeup, why do I need the camera to cut away from them to the crowd?
More camera time was spent last night during the VMAs on the actual performances than usual because there was no real crowd to cut away to and it ended up being a bonus – at least for me. I just texted this to Duana and she was like, “that’s a thing – stop telling us how much fun everyone is having to convince us that we’re having fun”. Exactly. That’s what those crowd cutaways are for: to establish that, oh look at what an amazing party we’re throwing!
Right. But the party responds to what’s happening on stage! The party in my living room – and this is a broadcast after all – is not dependent on what the random dude in the 27th row is doing during The Weeknd’s performance!
If and when this pandemic ever ends, and we go back to award shows resembling, somewhat, what they used to, I hope this is one of the takeaways. More cameras on the performers, less on the crowd.