Breaking it Down: Best New Artist, Video Music Awards 2011

To be perfectly honest, I cannot explain why many of these artists were nominated. I had heard of them from YouTube and music blogs, but not from MTV. I cannot even confirm that most of them were played on MTV before being nominated. What it looks like to me is that, with the elimination of the MTV2 Award from the ceremony, MTV kind of folded that into Best New Artist. Maybe the strangeness factor of these nominations would have been lessened if it was the more indie-friendly MTV2 award and not the typically mainstream Best New Artist category.

Regardless, this is the hand we've been dealt. Let's get to finding out who is nominated, what they do, where they come from, and what their videos are like.

Big Sean (feat. Chris Brown) "My Last"

Big Sean is a rapper. Though he's only 22, he's been in the game in a serious way for a few years already. He released his first mixtape in 2007 that got him a good bit of press from indie hip-hop mags and blogs. Hype Williams directed his first music video, "Getcha Some." He has a really nice flow even if he tends to stick to more literal lyrics. That's not a bad thing if you can make it sound right to the ear. Big Sean does it well.

"My Last" is a boasting song of sorts mixed with a love song. You've probably heard it on a top 40/CHR radio station in the past few months. It's a pretty typical hip-hop video with pretty girls, some outfit changes, and a variety of scenes connected to partying or getting ready for the night. The video is well made, but I can't help feeling that many artists have done the same video before to better effect.

Foster the People "Pumped Up Kicks"

Foster the People are a pretty new indie pop band. They emerged out of the South by Southwest music festival with great reviews that started to push them into the spotlight. It's solid indie pop though I'm not quite sure they have a solid identity yet. They're talented musicians either way. They know how to make a catchy hook and that's good enough sometimes to stand out.

"Pumped Up Kicks" is very typical for this genre. It combines performance footage from multiple shows with footage of the band wandering around, staring into nothing, and occasionally playing outside of a club. It's blurry and creamy and very Etsy front page, if you catch my drift. There's an audience for this kind of competently made but not particularly innovative music video.

Kreayshawn "Gucci Gucci"

Ah, yes. The nominee that single-handily made it so that I didn't write this post for three weeks until I could figure out what exactly she was doing. I get it now.

Kreayshawn is a rapper from California who has emerged out of nowhere. She is a filmmaker by training and a musician by legacy (her mother was in the punk band The Trashwomen). She's nominated because she's a YouTube sensation not named Rebecca Black. Her two singles--"Bumpin Bumpin" and "Gucci Gucci"--got over a million views, with "Gucci Gucci" currently amassing over 10 million views. She was just signed to her first major label deal three weeks before the VMA nominations came out.

"Gucci Gucci" is a very strange song. The beat is shrieking synths, digital drum kit, and heavily processed bass. It's very late 80s West Coast rap (think Tupac, Ice-T, Dr. Dre, and the like). While she has received a lot of criticism for her rap, I think that's the strength here. Her flow is good and I believe her anti-commercial culture message here. It's the actual visual of the video that throws me off. Very...word I'm not going to use because the last time I used it here I got slammed with a vulgar homophobic rant.

Tyler, the Creator "Yonkers"

Hey look, a music video I've seen on MTV. Fancy that.

Tyler, the Creator is a rapper. He's a very gifted rapper. He's an associate of Pharrell Williams and The Game. You can hear that in the two albums he has put out. While to some he's seemingly come out of nowhere, many bloggers and indie music mags singled him out for his debut album Bastard and he got a lot of attention for the "Yonkers" video.

"Yonkers" is disturbing. Whether that's good or bad is up to you. It's Tyler, the Creator by himself getting into more and more strange imagery. He plays with a cockroach, then eats the cockroach, then throws up the cockroach, then hangs himself. I'm kind of offended by the video because of that last bit. It's opportunistic to me and only there for shock value. However, it is incredibly well made for such a simple black and white video and the song is amazing.

Wiz Khalifa "Black and Yellow"

Another video that got played on MTV for sure. Shocking.

You know who Wiz Khalifa is already. Even if you don't know his name, you've heard "Black and Yellow." It was ubiquitous for at least four months on hip-hop/urban/top 40/CHR stations. He's been working in music longer than any other nominee, releasing his first mixtape in 2005. He started picking up momentum after being showcased at the CMJ music festival in NYC and received the boost he needed to crossover into mainstream music from Atlantic Records.

"Black and Yellow" is like the halfway point between "Pumped Up Kicks" and "My Last." We've seen this video before. The only difference is the cultural style showcased. It has kind of an alternative field that doesn't go as off the walls as Kreayshawn or muted as Foster the People. I wouldn't kick the video out of bed, but I'm not inviting it back to the house again.

Here's the hard part with the VMAs this year: all the categories people actually care about are voted on by the public. I say it's going to be Kreayshawn because her label is putting targeted ads up all over social media sites and she's already big on the Internet. However, if people that don't sit on Facebook and YouTube all day vote, I'm going with Wiz Khalifa since he has more mainstream name recognition.

What do you think? Am I so out of touch that I can't see the brilliance of these videos that I swear I've seen every year? Sound off.

Porgy and Bess and Sondheim, Oh My

The Library: "Time Stood Still" by David Yazbek