How to See Live Music in NYC

*Note: This article originally written and published for the Walks of New York website.

If the streets of New York could sing, they would play a rock opera. Or maybe a Broadway musical – something grand enough and detailed enough to encompass the many layers and facets of the city’s rich musical history. As a hub for live music, New York City provides a vast variety of options for visitors looking to hear the sounds of the city. With big name acts regularly selling out the city’s two main arenas, historic theaters welcoming a plethora of modern acts, and up-and-coming musicians vying for a time slot in the city’s smaller clubs, there’s a venue for every music fan. But with almost too many options, how do you decide what show to see? We’ve put together this guide to Live Music in NYC to help you sniff out the best venues when you come for a visit. It doesn’t matter if you want to catch the next big thing in the Lower East Side or take in a Kanye West show at Madison Square Garden, this guide will tell you where to go to enjoy whatever type of music tickles your fancy.

All That Jazz

IMG_4302

Outside the Blue Note Jazz Club.

New York jazz clubs historically played a significant role in the development of modern jazz by providing venues for some of the biggest names in the genre. Today the city still hosts an incredible lineup of small clubs packed with talent. The Village Vanguard in the West Village may be the best option for the jazz fanatics looking to see a classic-feeling gig in NYC, as this historic club has played host to some of the genre’s legends, including Miles Davis, Bill Evans, and more. This small theater just celebrated its 80th anniversary and offers nightly performances for only $25 plus a one drink minimum. Seating is on a first-come, first serve basis, so be sure to arrive early.

Insider tip: With smaller clubs, you may be required to buy a certain number of (alcoholic) drinks during the show, especially if the club offers a free show. Standard minimums are usually two drinks. You can often work around it, but remember that the arts in New York are funded by people who love them, like yourself, so if you don’t want to drink ask how you might contribute money otherwise. Often if the club serves food you can swap that to meet your requirement.

The Blue Note, one of the New York’s most popular music venues, brings some of today’s top jazz performers to the small stage, creating that up close and personal vibe only found at the best live music gigs. With performances held every night, and a Sunday brunch special, this may be your best option for ‘dinner and a live show.’ You can find the same intimate vibe at a number of small venues throughout the city, including Birdland, a jazz club that boasts “The Jazz Corner of the World;” The Iridium, a Midtown West club that still dominates the city’s jazz scene; and Smoke, a club on the Upper West Side that has held onto that, well, ‘smoky’ jazz vibe of the old days (Smoke is a personal favorite of ours. Prices are a little steep with the food and drink minimum, but the ambiance is incomparable).

If it’s big names and big jazz you’re looking for in your NYC music gigs, be sure to check out some of New York’s larger venues, including Jazz at Lincoln Center, an indoor amphitheater overlooking Columbus Circle and the southwest corner of Central Park. With three rooms to choose from, the Rose Theater, which holds 1,233, the Appel Room, with 483 seats, and the Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, with 140 seats, you can have your pick of the experience.

Gospel Word
Christian Gospel music can be traced back as early as the 17th century, stemming from the oral traditions of African Americans. As the music evolved, it became a full spiritual experience. We recently created a phenomenal list of specific churches where you can see gospel performances, but you can also catch a show at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and The Apollo.

Did you know: Harlem’s iconic Apollo Theater is one of the most historically significant in the entire city. It has hosted performances by artists including Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Quincy Jones, and more. Aside from the stars it hosts, the Apollo also runs a legendary Amateur Night where stars have been born and more than a few outsized egos put firmly in their places.

Latin Moves
Among the live music bars in NYC, perhaps the best to go to if you want ample room to dance along to the band are the Latin music clubs. The most famous of these is in Manhattan’s SoHo district – SOBs has hosted latin legends including Marc Antony, Tito Puente, and Celia Cruz & Eddie Palmieri, and today offers concerts by popular world music artists. The club has a full restaurant, bar, and dance floor, so whether you want to cut a rug or just kick back and watch the action, you’ll be able to enjoy yourself.

If you’re looking to really immerse yourself in the dancing, Club Cache, located on 39th street just off of Times Square, offers weekly latin and bachata nights, with free bachata classes at 8 p.m. It’s famous for its salsa dancing Thursday, with live bands playing for the hundreds of people who stop by. Other popular spots for latin dancing and live music include Copacabana New York and Iguana New York.

Avoid the biggest mispronunciation made by NYC tourists: SoHo stands for “South of Houston”, referring to the East to West-running thoroughfare that has long acted as a boundary between many of Lower Manhattan’s most famous neighborhoods. It is pronounced “How-ston” NOT “Hyoo-ston.” This is because, unlike the city in Texas of the same spelling, its name is a corruption of the Continental Congress delegate William Houstoun, not a homage to the American war hero Samuel Houston.

Classical Approach
We could write an entire article about classical music venues in New York, but for now we’ll just hit a few of the big ones. As a classical musician, you know you’ve made it in your career when you play at Carnegie Hall. The building, an eclectic mix of Italian Renaissance and pan-European influences, is almost as attractive as the music within, a fact that once inspired the violinist Isaac Stern to quip: “Everywhere in the world, music enhances a hall, with one exception—Carnegie Hall enhances the music.” Before designing it in the late 1800’s the architect William Burnet Tuthill (who was also an amateur musician) traveled Europe to not only collect design influences for the facade, but also to learn the secrets of creating great acoustic spaces. In the end he came up with a deceptively simple design that purposefully avoided baroque elements like frescoes and elaborate moulding that are commonplace in many theaters, but can hurt sound quality. In doing so he created a space that has been called “the crown jewel” of American concert halls.

Year round, Carnegie Hall hosts everything from symphonic performances and new age perspectives to jazz and world music played by today’s greatest musicians. It’s one of the most varied and diverse places to see live music in NYC. If you’re planning to visit, be sure to check out their website to look into discount ticket prices–they have options for general admission, students, young music enthusiasts, and more, which can help reduce your ticket price to as low as $10.

If you’re interested in catching a show, read our visitors’ guide to Carnegie Hall.
Another option that is often just as good, if lacking some of the historic cachet, is The New York Philharmonic, which has a residency at the David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Plaza, and offers a number of affordable performances every week, including free Thursdays with a few members of the orchestra – one of the best experiences of free live music in New York.

Pro tip: You can catch a rehearsal for $20 the morning before a performance, if you’re looking for a cheaper option or an inside look at the preparation before a show.

Pop, Rock, Etc.
Bowery Presents, a NYC concert management company, has, for years, run the top the small- to mid-sized venues in NYC —Terminal 5, Music Hall of Williamsburg, The Bowery Ballroom, Mercury Lounge, and Rough Trade. Catering mainly to a younger crowd, these venues are all essentially NYC live music bars that host some of pop and rock music’s biggest names,as well as amazing underground acts and up and comers.

Terminal 5 and Music Hall of Williamsburg bring in the most famous acts. If you’re looking for big name rock, hip hop, or pop acts performing in an intimate (i.e., not an arena) space these are your go to’s. The audio system at Terminal 5 is second to none but get there early if you want to actually see the performers on the stage. Unless you splurge on VIP seating, it’s standing room only and its three level, horseshoe shape makes it hard to see the stage from the back. But for ticket prices ranging from $25 to $75, the shows are almost always worth the hassle. Music Hall of Williamsburg also has an amazing audio system but is slightly more intimate and generally has a more low-key feel. If we had to choose, it would be our pick of the two.

Mercury Lounge is a more affordable option if you are looking to catch a show. It’s located in the perennially hip Lower East Side, and is one of the few clubs to survive the neighborhood’s rent hikes of recent years. Artists are often a little lesser-known, but that often works to your advantage because you can catch an amazing show by a band that is set to blow up in the next few years. And it’s all under the backdrop of the grungy music scene the LES used to dominate.

Lastly, Rough Trade is a spot to check out, even if you don’t get to see a performance. It’s a Brooklyn joint par-excellence that functions as a record store by day and a live performance hall by night, giving you the full NYC-music-scene experience in one spot. The acts tend to fall into the more eclectic spectrum, but that’s half the fun – this is music nerd heaven.

Iconic New York
New York’s cache of historic live music venues stretches far beyond its theater district and is led by its iconic Radio City Music Hall. No trip to New York is complete without at least a stop at this theater, even if you are just snapping pictures next to the neon signs floating above 6th Ave. Those who actually get to catch a show inside are in for a real treat. The venue, originally opened in 1932 and converted over the years from a live theater, to film house, and back to a stage, has always been a contender for the best-sounding venue in the city. This is because during renovations, the designers hired some of the best acousticians to create a perfect-sounding theater to compliment the Art Deco style, making your experience just as much about the place as it is about the music.
If you want to see historic theaters beyond Radio City, we suggest checking out the Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side or Town Hall, a midtown theater that is also an acoustic gem.

You also can’t forget the titans of New York’s music scene — Madison Square Garden and the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. Both arenas play host to all sorts of events, but if you’re here to see your favorite superstar, most likely you’ll do so at one of these locations. If you go there are two important things to remember: first, food and drinks will be expensive, consider it part of the experience. Second, and more importantly, don’t be afraid splurge on the good seats—acoustics get a little touchy in the nosebleed seats, and when you can’t hear half of the frequencies coming from Jack White’s guitar, it can be disappointing (we’re speaking from experience on this one).

How To Ticket
With any live music venues in New York, the easiest way to score tickets is by visiting the venue’s website or Ticketmaster.com. Tickets typically go on sale a few months before the show, but depending on the artist, you can usually land tickets online through StubHub or the venue’s website right before your trip (unless you are looking for Adele tickets. She sold out pretty fast).

Avoid buying tickets from scalpers at all costs. While there are isolated instances in which this is harmless, it’s not uncommon to get forged tickets, in which case you aren’t getting into your show and you have just given away a probably-sizable chunk of money. Resale sites like StubHub.com are a little more reliable, since they will actually guarantee the validity of your tickets, but keep in mind that they make more money from the ticket you buy from them than the artist does. Today’s musicians make most of their money at live shows through ticket and merchandise sales while scalpers and resellers are taking away from that profit. This may not be a serious issue for the Taylor Swifts of the world, but for the smaller performers it can be a big hit. But if ticket price will make the difference between seeing and not seeing the show, your best friends are local coupon programs like Groupon or Living Social. Classical venues run lottery deals, and most venues will run deals and discount nights at certain times of the year. A little exploring online can usually go a long way.

Music Festival Business: The First Issue

In 2013,  I was approached by a sales rep within my company to help start a B2B publication that focused on the production of music festivals. At the time, festivals were just starting to grow into the phenomenon they are now, so we wanted to get our hands into that side of the industry before anyone else. What we came up with was a tabloid publication with vignettes of various festivals held throughout the year, interviews with organizers and sound companies involved, and tech specific features for the pro audio/ live sound members of the festival circuit.

My role, as editor, was to plan and execute all the editorial, from assigning the freelance articles, to writing my own articles. I also worked closely with the rest of my editorial team, managing the production and layout of the final copy of each issue.

While the publication is a once-a-year product now, I am still heavily involved in the planning and executing of each edition. However, of all the issues we’ve produced, the premier 2013 edition is still my favorite. Here you can access a digital copy of our first edition: MFB_09_13

Surrounding Stockhausen’s Oktophonie

By Kelleigh Welch

*Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2013 edition of Pro Sound News.

New York’s Park Avenue Armory, known for its 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall, hosted a week of performances in March of German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Oktophonie, which immersed the audience into a space-age experience of light and sound.

During his lifetime, from 1928 to 2007, Stockhausen composed more than 370 individual pieces, and his music is seen as a significant contribution to the age of modern and electronic music. Sticking to his electronic innovation, Oktophonie was composed and recorded prior to any performances, and was intended to be played back for the audience in a surround sound environment writ large. As a result, there were no performing musicians present at the Armory; instead, the “performance” was the mixing of playback within the surround environment itself.

Walking into the hall, attendees were each given a white robe and directed to sit on one of the many cushions on the floor surrounding a DiGiCo SD8 console, where sound designer Igor Kavulek and sound projectionist Kathinka Pasveer controled the performance. A total of 32 Meyer Sound MSL-4 loudspeakers and 24 600-HP subs surrounded the audience in a virtual cube, projecting sounds in various patterns throughout the performance.

According to Pasveer, the composition is meant to depict a war between Michael and Lucifer, with loud and frightening bomb sounds within the music. During WWII, Stockhausen was stationed at a field hospital in Bedburg, Germany, where he experienced the terrors of war first hand— witnessing bombings and gunfire at only 16-years-old—and he recreated this fear through the composition.

“It’s about war,” Pasveer said. “It’s about the invasion of two groups, the Michaels and Lucifers, and this music is the background of that scene. That’s why there are the sounds of bombs, exploding objects and airplanes. It’s war.” It is a composition inside a composition—originally written as one part of Stockhausen’s Dienstag (Tuesday), which is part of a larger, seven-part opera titled Licht (Light). Oktophonie, named after the octophonic audio arrangement with eight channels playing back through speakers that surround the listener, can be played as part of the Dienstag opera, or as a separate piece, as it was performed at the Armory.

When composing Oktophonie, Stockhausen intended to place the audience into the center of a virtual cube, surrounding the listeners in speakers with four channels projecting from the base and the other four playing 45 feet above the audience. As the piece is played through the speakers, the sound moves in various patterns from front to back, side to side, and in spirals.

“It’s a square with another square on top,” Pasveer said. “This (composition) is produced by Stockhausen with eight layers of music. It’s all specialized in the studio and then he mixed it back to eight channels, and those eight channels are played back into the hall.”

Kavulek said the size of the room allowed him to project the sound at a higher volume, but it also placed on him the challenge of choosing the best speakers for the job. Originally, Kavulek said he wanted to use a different set of speakers, but when he couldn’t acquire enough for the performance, he decided to follow Stockhausen and chose the Meyer MSL-4s and HP-600s. “Stockhausen always worked with Meyer Sound,” Kavulek explained.

In his note to the audience, Park Avenue Armory Artistic Director Alex Poots said Stockhausen would project a small image of the moon during other performances of Oktophonie, and Stockhausen wanted the setting of this piece to take place on the moon. Through the lighting choreography created by the show’s Lighting Designer Brian Scott, the illusion of the moon moving around the Earth was created.

The performance itself was meditative— it fully engulfed you into the lunar atmosphere as you slipped in and out of your own thoughts, letting your imagination define the intentions of the composition.

PRO_04_13_Final 25PRO_04_13_Final 28

‘Till It Happens to You: Addressing College Rape Culture

I’ve stressed over the last few days about what to write about for this post. A lot has happened in politics and pop culture—the Republicans tore each other apart at their second debate, and the Emmys rewarded ‘Veep’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ as this year’s top shows (shout out to Amy Poehler and ‘Parks and Recreation’ for their incredible season. You guys may not have won any awards, but you will always be a favorite). But as these timely events passed into ‘yesterday’s news’ territory, I felt everything regarding these events was already said.

And then Lady Gaga dropped the music video for her single “Till It Happens to You,” composed by Diane Warren, and the anthem for the campus rape documentary “The Hunting Ground.”

When the song first appeared a few months ago, the message was clear—it captured the raw and emotional process of dealing with the aftermath of rape, trying to keep moving forward despite the trauma that comes with that experience. Even with the support from friends, family, and professionals to help you stay strong, you will always carry that lingering pain, and no one will understand that—unless it happens to them.

This does not, by any means, mean that things will never get better. As victims of rape, sexual, physical or emotional assault, the key is to learn to move forward and to know that what happened to you was not your fault, and that you are still able to live your best life. Rape is a terrifying, brutal trauma that no woman should go through (I am purposely singling out women for this particular discussion, however that does not mean that rape does not happen to men), but there are ways to rebuild.

You don’t really get the second part of that message from the song, but as you watch the haunting video, you realize how important it is to offer help and support to victims of rape. I got angry watching the video, because rape culture should not be something swept under the rug—it is real, and it needs to end.

The video opens to black and white shadows in a hall, then shifts to three story lines—a girl in her dorm room, another in the bathroom, two more dancing at a party, all instances where you should always feel safe, and then the attacker is introduced in the scene. (I don’t think I’ll ever shake the predatory look in the eyes of that curly-haired hipster at the party). And without the screams, we watch as these young girls are stripped of their former self, their lives changing in a matter of seconds.

The second half of the five-minute video deals with the after effects of each rape. The girl in the bathroom refuses to shower, because she is too afraid it will happen again. The two girls at the party, who were drugged and raped, lose their friendship because of the incident, resulting in one moving out of the dorm room they shared. Their lives are shattered, and eventually, with the help of friends, they are able to start taking control of their lives again. But that is a process that does not happen overnight—it’s a lifelong effort to repair yourself from something that took only seconds to crumble your world.

What I find so disturbing from this video is that in each story, these girls are supposed to be protected. They shouldn’t have to worry about someone coming in and harming them in their own home; they shouldn’t have to worry about dancing or drinking at a party; but this is the world we live in. And it is not ok.

When I first entered college, my school’s orientation team gave a presentation of issues you would have to deal with in your freshman year. Some were lighthearted, like choosing studying over a party, overbearing parents, or changing your major, but others were more serious, with rape culture looming over the examples. I remember my school warning us about date rape drugs, encouraging us to always keep an eye on our drinks. Even now as an adult, I fear taking my eyes away from my drink at a bar, even if I just have to pick up something on the floor. We are taught to always assume the worst, that rape culture is part of our world and it is our job to protect ourselves from it. But that doesn’t solve the problem that rape is still happening in our colleges, in fact, it teaches us that rape culture is here to stay, and there is nothing we can do about it. THAT is where we need change.

Gaga’s lyrics are right—you won’t know what it feels like until it happens to you. You won’t understand the fear and anxiety that goes into your everyday life. You won’t know what it feels like to sit in your shower, trying to wash away the bruises that constantly remind you of what happened. And even when the physical signs fade, you will always live with that pain.

I think the point of this video, and of the documentary, is to change our perception of rape. Instead of teaching our girls about ways to prevent themselves from becoming victims, we need to educate society as a whole about ways to end rape culture. I don’t think I will ever understand how the use of a date rape drug is a good idea for an attacker. I see no way that rape could be justified. I see no way how it could be blamed on the victim. And yet, this is the world we live in.

Streaming Builds Up Steam, Heats Debate

The article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Pro Sound News.

The article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Pro Sound News.

Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Pro Sound News.

By Kelleigh Welch

Taylor Swift took a big stand against the rising music streaming services recently, when she pulled her entire discography from Spotify just days after the release of her fifth studio album, 1989. Her reasoning was that art should be paid for, and that streaming services are scamming the artists from earning a fair wage for their creativity. However, despite Swift’s popularity, it was estimated in some reports that pulling from Spotify would lose her a cool $6 million, along with a loss of her place in one of the few growing segments of the music industry.

The debatable business models of these online services can arguably be blamed on the record PRO_12_14_Final 33labels and services equally, and Swift’s stand highlights how the services are affecting the industry— both monetarily and technologically. When it comes to online music streaming services, the verdict is still out, but there’s no doubt that their rise in popularity is changing the way consumers listen to music, with some even saying that streaming could pull the music industry out of its downward spiral. Nielsen’s Soundscan reported that during the first six months of 2014, revenue from streaming sites rose by 52 percent, while CD sales fell by 20 percent and digital downloads were down 13 percent. Numerous big media entities are joining the race— YouTube and Amazon each recently announced their own streaming services, while Apple spent $3 billion to buy Beats Electronics and its streaming service which is heavily tipped to be rolled into iTunes early next year, and YouTube’s parent company, Google, recently took control of Songza, another radio-based platform similar to Pandora.

Pandora Media, with more than 77 million users, is a radio-based model, where users can create a station based off of a song, genre, or artist. Spotify is on-demand, where users can create playlists and listen to entire albums. The Pandora paradigm works well for users looking for new music, but its smaller library will guarantee repeats throughout the day. Spotify gives users more control over what they’re listening to, so they’re not skipping over the songs, but with a much larger library, many of the songs Spotify offers won’t get played. Unlike traditional radio, streaming sites like Pandora and Spotify can keep a much more detailed history of every time a song is played— information that dictates the royalties it pays.

David Kelln, a British Columbia-based audio engineer, commented, “I like the idea that what I actually listen to is where the royalty money goes, because each play can be logged.”

Pandora pays about 50 percent of its revenue in royalties, while Spotify is closer to 70 percent, according to Quartz News. How much of that actually goes to the artist depends on the contract between each musician and the label. “The way I would love to see it done is that content is available to any internet streaming broadcaster at a set royalty rate. Then the competition is between those who provide a good service with an interface I can navigate easily,” said Kelln.

The other big question related to streaming services is audio quality, and whether users are willing to pay more for a high-resolution streaming service (if the site provides it). Pandora’s upgraded service, Pandora One, offers a higher resolution of audio with a monthly subscription (compared to its free version), but there are exclusive high-res audio sites, like Tidal (www.tidalhifi.com), which streams hi-res audio files for a subscription fee of roughly $20 a month. “The technology of audio streaming is no big deal at all,” argued Tony Faulkner, owner of London, UK-based Green Room Productions. “Netflix can stream 4K video with surround audio, so audio is a walk in the park. The problem is that the main commercial companies could care less about sound quality—it’s nowhere on their agenda at all. They are only interested in the bottom line of their business model.”

“To me, streaming is just radio reinvented, where music is not presented in a linear way. It just differs on the way you interact with it and the way you get it on your listening device,” said Paulo Mendes, a sound engineer and audio systems consultant in Lisbon, Portugal.

Regardless of the listening device or the quality of the audio, one thing is certain—music streaming is growing, and the industry has to adapt. “Artists are now faced with a dilemma. They can either stop making music, which is obviously absurd, or they need to reinvent the way their work is paid and controlled,” said Mendes. “I don’t have an answer, but if this reinvention fails to see the light, I guess that a recorded song, despite its record media, will become just a lure to live show ticket sales.”

Eight WTF Moments at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards

Gone are the days of Lady Gaga’s ‘Paparazzi.’ Yes, friends, it’s time to throw in the towel because MTV’s VMAs have officially jumped the shark. Maybe I’m just getting older, and maybe this event was always a disaster, but in recent years the content has gone from plucky, alcohol-influenced debauchery, to just a sad attempt for today’s celebrities to one-up the previous year in terms of shock and awe.

In what seemed like the longest (and most confusing) two hours of television I’ve witnessed this year, MTV’s 2015 VMAs gave us nothing of value, except for the lingering feeling of regret that I should have skipped the event all together. However, it did provide us with some laughable moments.

8. Kanye West ‘pretends’ to nap.

KanyeSleeping
Because MTV cares about nothing but ratings (see Moment #1), they asked Taylor Swift to present Kanye West with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, thus making the entire ceremony about their infamous 2009 ‘Imma Let You Finish’ moment, versus talking about Kanye’s career. Like the rest of us, watching Taylor publicly pardon West made all of us want to curl up and fall asleep.

7. Taylor Swift’s Dictatorship

taytay
Am I the only one who is sick of Taylor’s army of model BFFs? Her whole ‘Girl Squad’ has become Page Six’s “Plastics,’ with Regina George wielding her power over who is in, and who is out. Don’t get me wrong, Taylor has done a lot of good, but I’d just like to see other people in the spotlight without having to ask for Taylor’s approval.

6. Taylor and Nicki Minaj’s Duet


Forced. This was SO forced. Ok, glad you girls could make up after that little Twitter misunderstanding, but what could have been a great opportunity for these two to discuss the role of the black woman in todays celeb circuit, turned into a swept-under-the-rug performance that ended in a hug that says ‘It’s all butterflies and sunshine over here.’

5. Kelly Osbourne Dances with Nick Jonas

kelly-osbourne-nick-jonas-article
I really think she was just confused about where to go when the Pre-Show ended. In a last minute snag, Osbourne forgot to leave the stage and had to improvise by shaking it in her vintage BeetleJuice look surrounded by a bunch of twerking moon babes.

4. Britney Spears Presents an Award

2015 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
This has nothing to do with Britney–she looked amazing last night. However, her presence, along with Kanye and the entire Kardashian family, made me realize one thing: no one should attend the VMAs after the age of 25.

3. Justin Bieber Crying

Bieber
Not really sure what happened there. Overall, the guy did a pretty good job with his comeback–he cut back on the flair (and hid that strange new haircut) to remind us why he’s famous (he’s very talented!), but the emotions just got to him in the end. Don’t worry, Justin, you’re just entering into a new phase of your career, hopefully one where you’re less of a jerk and more of an artist.

2. Miley Cyrus’ Everything

miley-vmas-1
She has a new album. She slipped a nip. She wore every outfit imaginable to make sure she slipped a nip. Her hosting as she would even put it, was unqualified, but it was entertaining. I enjoyed the little sketch with Ike Barinholtz and Andy Samberg, and I’ll always enjoy a segment with Snoop Dogg, so maybe it was her supporting cast that helped her push through.

1. Kanye West’s Speech

KanyeSpeechj56
This, by far takes the cake for the #1 WTF moment. I still have no idea where he was going with any of his speech–he talked about how the Hennessy-induced 2009 interruption affected his reputation, but trailed off on that topic. He kept starting a conversation about how having a daughter has changed him, but again, trailed off. It wasn’t until the end of Kanye’s moment that he actually said the most poignant statement: awards shows are pointless. Because, as the VMAs showed us, the awards don’t really matter unless you can bring together a bunch of egotistic celebrities who will get in arguments or flash a boob just to boost ratings.

But in case you were interested: The VMAs do have a ‘Professional’ category, where the people behind the videos get recognition for his or her work. These are not shown on live TV. Here’s the winners for this year:

Best Art Direction: Jason Fijal for Snoop Dogg’s “So Many Pros”

Best Choreography: Ok Go, air:man, and Mori Harano for Ok Go’s “I Won’t Let You Down”

Best Cinematography: Larkin Sieple for Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar’s “Never Catch Me”

Best Direction: Colin Tilley & The Little Homies for Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”

Best Editing: Beyonce, Ed Burke, and Jonathan Wing for Beyonce’s “7/11”

Best Visual Effects: Brewer for Skrillex & Diplo’s “Where Are U Now” with Justin Bieber

In Defense of Kanye West

kanye_west_live_wallpaperThe VMAs are upon us–once again, music’s elite will flock to the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, CA to bring us what may typically be described as the ‘most unpredictable event of the year.’ The VMAs traditionally bring us some of music’s most shocking moments: Madonna and Britney Spears’ kiss on stage in 2003; Eminem’s 2000 performance of ‘The Real Slim Shady’ with way too many Slim Shadys; Lady Gaga’s ‘Meat Dress’ of 2010 (although I will forever love her for her 2009 performance of ‘Paparazzi’ when she started bleeding on the stage from her stomach.). But let’s not forget the most popular of controversial VMA actions: the interruptions; and our reigning King of Interruptions: Kanye West.

2009 was the year Kanye infamously interrupted Taylor Swift during her VMA acceptance, telling her Beyonce’s video deserved the coveted award, sending Swift into silence as she tried to collect herself. (Beyonce would later bring Swift back up onstage to stare the spotlight, as only Beyonce could do.)  Since then, Kanye’s reputation seems to struggle to shake that moment from the public’s eye, despite his achievements over the last six years and the forgiveness Tay Tay so graciously gave him this year.

With the VMAs only days away now, Kanye has already nabbed the spotlight, but this time for a different reason–he’s accepting the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. What is the MJVVA, you ask? Well, it’s essentially a Lifetime Achievement Award for artists who have contributed significantly to the MTV culture. Prior to its renaming in 1991, the Video Vanguard Award was given to artists including The Beatles, David Bowie, Madonna, The Beastie Boys, Janet Jackson, and most recently, Beyonce, who accepted the award following a 16-minute performance from her 2014 self-titled album.

Which bring us to our next question: Why Kanye?

Beyond the outspoken, hot headed, self-aggrandizing Kanye we’ve come to know and love, there’s no denying that as an artist, he’s revolutionary. His 40-minute film to accompany Runaway comes to mind as a modern take on the extended music video, while some of his other noteworthy works include “All Falls Down” and “All of the Lights.” Rolling Stone reports that West has received nominations for 30 VMAs, winning two–one in 2005 for Best Male Video and another in 2008 for Best Special Effects. And who can forget his 2008 performance of ‘Love Lockdown.’

So really, the question should be, why not Kanye? The man’s career has shaped much of modern music–he’s produced some of the most iconic songs of the 21st century, collaborated with the industries finest (his most recent album has Paul McCartney in the credits), and isn’t afraid to use his music to talk about bigger issues (2005’s ‘Diamonds from Sierra Leone,’ for example, shed light on the diamond conflict in West Africa).

Yes, Kanye might not be everyone’s favorite person, but there’s no denying it, the man has achieved so much in the world of music. He deserves that recognition. I’m personally very excited to see what he does prior to his acceptance–maybe a best of set? Or a new song? Maybe he’ll surprise drop his new album that we’ve anxiously waited for. Or maybe he’ll just stir the pot in the most recent Taylor Swift-Katy Perry feud. We’ll find out this Sunday.