Taylor Swift set us up to talk about the music video for “Bad Blood” for two full weeks before it premiered during last Sunday’s Billboard Music Awards. Despite Swift’s stacked Rolodex and the overstimulating aesthetics of the video, though, I’d much rather talk about something most people seem to have ignored: Kendrick Lamar’s guest verses.
First of all, it’s worth stepping back and realizing that ten years ago, Taylor Swift released a charming, low-key country single called “Tim McGraw,” and no one had the slightest idea who Kendrick Lamar was. (The top-selling rappers of that year were 50 Cent and some guy named Kanye West. If only we knew then what we know now.) Even at the onset of Kendrick Lamar’s rise to the top of the rap game, it was unthinkable that he would appear on the fourth single from any pop star’s new album. It was also unthinkable that Taylor Swift could be called, without irony or qualification, a “pop star,” as she is today.
(Photo by Kevin Winter/BMA2015/Getty Images for dcp)
Kanye West closed Sunday’s Billboard Music Awards with a medley of his current hit “All Day” and his two year-old album cut “Black Skinhead.” The performance elicited boos in the room and online, for different reasons. The audience objected to the introductory remarks from pop culture pariahs Kendall and Kylie Jenner and the blinding light that radiated from West’s stage setup, obscuring the performance from view.
Viewers at home objected to ABC’s decision to bleep out substantial portions of the audio from the performance. Such bleeps typically cover words the FCC has deemed profane. In this case, the bleeps covered entire verses of West’s two songs. The biggest ironies: the people let at least two swears slip amid the reckless bleeping.
I spent much of the time from 8-10pm last night asking myself why I was watching the 2014 Billboard Music Awards. Most of the performances were uninspired and the award winners were foregone conclusions. It’s not as if this were the only awards show featuring performances from the likes of Pitbull, Imagine Dragons, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Lopez and Jason Derulo. And though I like Ludacris, the prospect of him hosting was not enough on its own to draw me to the show.
I realized that I’m drawn to awards shows like this because I’m fascinated by the way that organic moments of spontaneity can arise from a rigorously pre-programmed spectacle. I’m looking for two or three performances that rise above the mediocrity of the majority. I’m looking for something to reaffirm my belief that popular music and even awards shows can be thought-provoking or aesthetically satisfying. And indeed, while the 2014 Billboard Music Awards were largely forgettable and eminently skippable, I found a few topics worth discussing before I switched over to Mad Men.