The annual MTV Video Music Awards are on Sunday, and despite some big performances (including a show-opening appearance by Lady Gaga) and a few eyebrow-raising plans (giving Britney Spears a career retrospective at 29), there doesn’t seem to be very much to talk about.
So perhaps that’s why everybody seems to be up in arms about the fact that the show will not have a host this year (news that shouldn’t have come as a surprise, considering it was delivered with less than a week to go before the show). Sure, it’ll be a little unusual without an emcee, but honestly, it’s probably for the better.
Being an awards show host is essentially a no-win situation. If you do too much, viewers don’t like that the show is too about you. If you don’t do enough, people wonder where you are. The energy is very delicate, and the reviews on last year’s Oscar broadcast were telling: Anne Hathaway hosted with way too much energy, and James Franco didn’t have nearly enough.
The VMA host has an even greater uphill battle. The show only runs two hours (barely enough time to get a rhythm going) and the show is always so deeply focused on the performances that the host often vanishes in the second hour anyway. Some years, the host has had little more than a cameo.
The past few years have been very host-centric, as the shows became high-profile platforms for Chelsea Handler (2010) and Russell Brand (2008 and 2009). Both were completely serviceable, though neither really grabbed any headlines or did much of anything memorable (Brand came closest in 2008 when he poked fun at the Jonas Brothers and their purity rings).
Neither Handler nor Brand hurt their respective shows, though plenty of hosts have taken away from the broadcasts.
The Wayans Brothers were actively grating in 2000, and Christian Slater’s turn in 1993 could be best described as mildly distracted. The less said about Diddy’s turn in 2005, the better off we all are (a shame, because that 2005 show was remarkably great otherwise).
Of course, this won’t be the first year the VMAs have gone host-free. They last flew without one in 2007, but that was because the show was spread across a handful of hotel suites in Las Vegas and wasn’t conducive to having a host (nor was it all that watchable). The 2004 show (the first in Miami) also didn’t have a host, and seemed to run just fine. And the shows in 1986 and 1987 were both hosted by a cabal of VJs (led by Downtown Julie Brown), though they might as well have had no host at all. (That 1986 show is especially problematic, as it took place in about five different cities — consider it MTV’s version of WrestleMania 2.)
At the end of the day, no host will every be able to handle the VMAs the way that Chris Rock did. Over the course of three shows (1997, 1999, and 2003), Rock riffed his way across the stage and built a persona for himself that was a slight variation on his stand-up character (which is to say that rather than being turned up to 10, Rock was cranked up to about 17). Just check out his spectacular opening monologue from the 1999 show and notice how well he hits all his humor marks while still keeping the show moving. He even makes a joke about Jennifer Lopez’s derriere sound fresh!
So if you tune in to the VMAs on Sunday night (provided that your power hasn’t been wiped away thanks to ridiculous winds) and really miss the idea of a host for the show, just hit the mute button and crank up Rock’s Bigger & Blacker album. Considering the sort of nonsense we’ve heard Chris Brown might deliver on stage, you’ll thank us.