With a legacy that includes Madonna tongue-kissing Britney Spears, Beyoncé announcing her pregnancy and Howard Stern’s bare behind, the MTV Video Music Awards has never had trouble generating buzz.
But this year’s ceremony (9 tonight, MTV) has a special challenge: How do you compete with Miley Cyrus’ twerking with Robin Thicke, a surprise that led newscasts around the world and became one of the most Tweeted-about events of all time?
Well, you don’t really try to, says MTV Executive Vice President Dave Sirulnick, the show’s executive producer.
“It’s not like we sit around and say, ‘How do we top ’13?’ or ‘How do we top 2010?’ or any other year,” Sirulnick says. “We focus on now. How do we make sure that the 2014 VMAs can be all they can be – the right mix of people on stage, of presenters, of everybody in the room. It allows some of those really, really, really wonderful moments to occur.”
There are certainly plenty of possibilities for a “wonderful moment” at this year’s ceremony, which takes place at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. A leading candidate is Nicki Minaj, who promises to pull out all the stops when she performs “Anaconda,” her bootylicious reworking of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”
“The VMAs is a pretty big deal, so people go all out for it,” Minaj said in a statement. “I am very, very excited and looking forward to the performance.”
Also set to perform are the summer’s breakout stars Iggy Azalea and Ariana Grande; Taylor Swift, who will debut her new single; chart-topping Aussie boy band 5 Seconds of Summer; and veterans Usher and Maroon 5.
And, of course, there’s Beyoncé. Queen Bey will receive the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award for her career achievements and could create more during the show since she leads the night with eight nominations, including video of the year for “Pretty Hurts.”
When she was on the VMAs in 2011, Beyoncé made the surprising announcement that she was pregnant with Blue Ivy.
Who knows what she will do with the platform this time? Will she use the stage to address the unsubstantiated, but omnipresent rumors about the state of her marriage to Jay Z – the way Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley did at the 1994 VMAs? Will she reunite Destiny’s Child – the way Justin Timberlake brought back ’N Sync last year?
Sirulnick isn’t saying, though he does play up the performance. “You’re going to want to tune in and see what she brings,” he says. “You don’t want to miss what Beyoncé is going to do.”
“She is one of the great artists of our time,” he continues. “She probably, as well as anybody, may know what the opportunity of the VMA stage can do. I know she is going to show everybody what she can do, as she has for years.”
Beyoncé knows, as do the other artists on the bill, that the VMAs are a much bigger deal post-Miley. Last year’s show at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn landed the biggest cable ratings of the year up to that point, drawing 10.1 million viewers and doubling the ratings in the sought-after 12-to-34-year-old demo.
That kind of power, especially in the ever-fragmenting TV market, does not go unnoticed. It’s no accident that Grande will release her new album, “My Everything” (Republic), the day after her VMA performance. It’s also no coincidence that Swift is launching her new album campaign with the awards show.
And that raises the stakes even higher. There is a spirit of competition – friendly and not-so-much – between artists to “win the VMAs.” Last year, after Cyrus nabbed all the attention from Lady Gaga, belief in Gaga’s “Artpop” album started to erode quickly.
“It’s the combination of having the right talent onstage and them also knowing that there’s other super talent onstage,” Sirulnick says. “They want to shine. They want to shine in front of peers and in front of the whole world.”
After all, VMA night has become one of the few nights of the year when music fans gather together to watch something at the same time.
“You have to watch it live,” Sirulnick says. “You know stuff is going to happen that you’re not going to want to miss.”
Sirulnick points to Beyoncé’s announcement of her pregnancy as an example of what the show can uniquely bring, since it not only showed her announcement, but the immediate reaction of her husband, Jay Z, and their friend Kanye West.
“They allowed all of us to be a part of that moment,” Sirulnick says. “It’s not so much a fear of missing out. It’s the joy of being included.”