The inaugural YouTube Music Awards kicked off Sunday night with a live music video of the song “Afterlife” by Arcade Fire directed by Spike Jonze and starring Greta Gerwig.
Gerwig danced with the same awkward Turrets style that was so endearing in "Francis Hah." She grooved through a fake kitchen and into some fake snowy woods. She danced right up to Arcade Fire, which was performing on a stage at Pier 36 in New York City where the show was being shot. A bunch of kids joined her. A little more than 155,000 viewers watched the stream. The future looked promising for the brand new awards show.
And then everything went downhill.
In the days leading to the show, much had been made of webcast director Jonze’s promise that the show would be unscripted and very much off the cuff. This could be good or bad, speculated the many interested parties.
Scripts, it turns out, were invented for a reason.
YouTube thrives on unscripted moments. Toddlers bursting into hysterical giggles, cats flushing the toilet, moms being caught unaware singing badly on the beach. But on the creative / musical side of things, quite a bit of care and planning goes into most YouTube videos that go viral.
That’s to say, they’re scripted for the most part. From Autotune the News, to Tay Zonday’s song "Chocolate Rain" to Andy Samberg and T-Pain’s "SNL" “I’m on a boat” video, and more, the stuff we love to watch on YouTube was made with a ton of premeditation.
That’s not to say that lots of thought wasn’t put into the YTMA, just that the chaos of the Internet, if unchanneled, is just that: chaos. That much was painfully clear as the show careened off the rails in the form of two small babies handed by Rashida Jones to hosts Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts.
As the men handed out the first award for the night — for YouTube Breakout to Maklemore & Ryan Lewis — the babies began to bawl in psychic communion with viewers chiming in on Twitter with concern that the lunatics had finally taken over the asylum.
Then came a deeply strange and out-of-tune performance by a barefoot Lady Gaga dressed in a black ball cap and a checked shirt buttoned to the top.
She was crying too. Tears streamed silently down her face as she wailed, and viewers streamed silently out of the show. During the three minutes or so that Gaga was on screen more than 4,000 viewers exited and continued to do so as microphones cut in and out, cakes were mashed to uncover awards, and Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt were bleeped out for most of their unintelligible performance.
By the time the webcast was almost an hour in viewership had dropped from its peak of about 215,000 to a median of about 180,000. This for an event that 60 million people apparently voted for.
YouTube may break viral videos, but unless it tries harder next time it may not be able to break itself.