August 02, 2012 5:00am PT by Sophie Schillaci
MTV VMAs Are the 'Biggest and Loudest' Way for Artists to Make a Statement, Says Exec
The most exciting part of watching the annual MTV Video Music Awards is not the awards themselves but undoubtedly the unscripted moments.
Last year, Beyonce announced to the world that she was expecting her first child by striking a simple pose, holding her baby bump, on the red carpet. Later, she took the stage to perform “Love on Top,” while putting her belly on display for the entire viewing audience. Fans watched in awe as cameras cut from Beyonce to her doting husband, Jay-Z, receiving a congratulatory hug from pal Kanye West backstage.
“That was a surprise to us!” Amy Doyle, MTV’s executive vp music and talent strategy tells The Hollywood Reporter. “She definitely calculated, because she knew she could say it once and it would reverberate in culture and everywhere.”
Asked whether the network feels any pressure to deliver those types of moments each year, Doyle responds: “I think the artists actually put that pressure on themselves because they know that this is the biggest and loudest way to make a statement, whether through performing or announcing something that’s going on in your life. That’s why I think there’s a demand to be on this stage, knowing that we reach a billion people worldwide. If you want to get something out, then this is the stage to do it.”
While the "billion" figure Doyle references is actually regarding the number of households that the VMAs have the potential to reach, the show pulled in an impressive 12.4 million viewers in the U.S. in 2011. The broadcast marked MTV's largest viewing audience in history, delivering a 10.8 rating and 8.5 million viewers in the network’s target 12-34 demographic. Year-over-year, the 2011 VMAs were up 9 percent in total viewers and 8 percent in the 12-34 demo.
Among the artists who hope to make headlines during this year's show Sept. 6 is Alicia Keys, who said that she had literally “dreamed” about a VMA performance this year. The singer is set to debut a brand-new song on the stage that night in an effort to promote her forthcoming album. “Alicia came to us with a very specific vision,” Doyle recalls of being approached by the star. “She always delivers a spectacular performance.”
This year also will mark the first time that MTV will represent the electronic dance music, or EDM, movement with a category of its own, something that should come as no surprise to anyone with an ear to Top 40 radio.
Up for the inaugural Moonman in the electronic dance music video category are Duck Sauce (“Big Bad Wolf”), Calvin Harris (“Feel So Close”), Skrillex (“First of the Year (Equinox)”), Martin Solveig (“The Night Out”) and Avicii (“Le7els”). Harris also played a part in Rihanna’s five nominations, lending his club-ready beats to her “We Found Love."
“The movement around EDM has been gaining so much momentum that it felt like perfect timing to represent the genre in the VMAs,” Doyle says, noting that the network has been showcasing EDM artists, including Steve Aioki and Skrillex, now a Grammy-winning artist, for the past three years.
“EDM has majorly influenced pop music this year,” she adds. “You can see the influence of this electronic music in pop, and obviously it’s penetrating the mainstream through the collaborations they’re doing with superstar artists, but I would say also on their own, as well. And I would say that’s been the biggest shift. It’s sort of the emergence of EDM, not only as its own stand-alone artist but its influence in pop music.”
That’s not to say MTV’s voting academy, made up of fans, tastemakers and members of the music industry, doesn’t value a “broader definition of pop music,” says Doyle. Also earning nominations this year are Gotye, Coldplay, M.I.A., Frank Ocean, Imagine Dragons and Lana Del Rey, along with VMA staples Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry, among others.
“The nominees are very diverse, and what’s great about that is that it really reflects MTVs entire music spectrum,” says Doyle. “Once the nominees were announced, that engagement we saw, immediately and socially, just shows how important these awards are to music fans and to artists.”
This year, perhaps the most notable shift in the show is its time slot. Rather than going up against the first Sunday Night Football broadcast of the season on Sept. 9, its originally scheduled date, the VMAs will air live on Thursday, Sept. 6, from L.A.’s Staples Center.
“We’re hopeful that fans will find the show,” Doyle says. “We’ll be doing a lot to promotions saying that it’s on Thursday, Sept. 6, and also, a lot of the artists are very engaged in telling their fans to show up and watch them do something new.”