Lessons from the 2014 Billboard Music Awards

Lorde

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.

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“G I R L”: More Savvy Than Sublime

Pharrell

It’s been a year of Pharrell, and this week is particularly Pharrell-y. The number one song on the pop charts? “Happy,” by Pharrell. The best musical performance on the Oscars? “Happy,” by Pharrell feat. Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. The most talked about hat? Pharrell’s Grammy hit, which just sold for $44,100 to Arby’s.

Oh, and Pharrell has a new album out this week. Is it any good? As I wrote in my review for The Eagle, it’s good enough. No one’s calling this a breakthrough for Pharrell, and for good reason. Some good songs, but nothing game-changing. It’s more The 20/20 Experience than FutureSex/LoveSounds, to put it in terms of Justin Timberlake, as the album’s throwback aesthetic does frequently.

No matter. “G I R L” will sell well, and it will keep Pharrell in the pop-culture conversation for at least a little while longer. Meanwhile, he’ll have to work a little to pursue that EGOT. Judging by his eternally fresh-faced complexion, he’s got plenty of time left.