MTV Adds Social Activism to VMAs Mix

Katy Perry and a Moonman in 2010. She's among the nominees for this year's 'Best Video with a Message' award. Photo: PA

MTV’s annual Video Music Awards — the coveted Moonman presentations — are now in their 28th year, set to air Sunday, August 28. Among the network’s most popular features — and still focused on music videos, of all things — the VMAs have also become a showcase of outrageous celebrity behavior, such as Kanye West’s rude intrusion during Taylor Swift’s speech, and the now-legendary Madonna-Britney kiss. These displays/publicity stunts tend to spur more post-show buzz than the actual award winners.

This year, MTV’s aiming to generate a different sort of post-VMA buzz, one that doesn’t rely on allegedly unplanned bad manners. The network last week announced the addition of a new award category, “Best Video With a Message,” meant to honor artists whose recent music videos featured a positive message or raised awareness of important social issues.

The category’s creation was a no-brainer, according to MTV president Stephen Friedman. “During the past year, we’ve seen a remarkable number of artists use their music to explore deeply personal experiences and issues they were passionate about to create powerful videos that resonated with and inspired millions of fans,” he said.

The network already launched a “pro-social” blog in late January, MTV Act, “where fist-pumping and lending a helping hand collide” and “make it easy for everyone to take action” on issues they care about from discrimination to recycling to domestic abuse. In addition to the six nominees for the “Best Video With a Message” VMA, the site features videos and information about a dozen or so close-but-no-Moonman candidates.

The artists and videos that did make the cut are Pink for “F-ing Perfect,” Lady Gaga for “Born This Way,” Katy Perry for “Firework,” Eminem featuring Rihanna for “Love the Way You Lie,” Rise Against for “Make It Stop (September’s Children)” and Taylor Swift for “Mean.”

Leading up to the VMAs, each nominated video is presented online with background on the song’s social issue, easy action steps, and encouragement for users to click-through and do something.

Pink’s song, for example, is about depression and suicide; information includes a link to Half of Us, a national campaign addressing depression, addiction and mental illness in young adults.

Similar take-action information will be presented during the actual VMAs telecast, alongside each nominated music-video clip.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Wireimage

Being the VMAs, there’s sure to be some outrageous behavior along with all this pro-social activism. As usual, that’s what will likely generate the most next-day coverage. But with this list of first-year nominees, presenting the award to this new-category winner may turn out to be this year’s VMAs highlight.