The 2013 mtvU Woodie Awards were handed out on Thursday, March 13, and though it was happening right in Austin I'll forgive you for not noticing. In any case I'm not sure how you can have an awards show at SXSW without handing out a prize for Least Essential Social Media App To Receive Venture Capital, but we at DC9 at Night can confirm that the Woodies are real (and feel confident enough in your mtvU viewing habits that we aren't especially worried about spoiling the results.)
So if you're willing to learn who won a couple of days before the show airs on TV, here are three things MTV's marginally-hip-college-student narrowcasting can tell us about the state of pop music in 2013.
1. The musicians have more power than the media. The Grammys and probably the VMAs, for that matter, still carry some weight, but MTV has never had less control over the music world than it does right now. That's thanks in large part to all the slightly-more-useful social media apps exhibiting at SXSW, which have loosened music media's grip on music in two related ways.
For one thing, they've made hearing a song or watching a video a commodity. If you want to watch a music video now you don't think about where you're going to watch it, let alone when--you just type it into Google and go where it takes you. Vevo, the industry's reasonably competent attempt to reverse this trend, has earned mindshare only inasmuch as people consistently thumb-up YouTube comments that talk about how terrible it is.
For another, they've given pop stars--even the niche pop stars who show up at the Woodies*--a direct line to their audience. Machine Gun Kelly, proud winner of the inscrutably named Woodie Of The Year award, has almost 700,000 Twitter followers. mtvU has 33,000.
In 2013 it's more important to mtvU that Machine Gun Kelly mentions them than the other way around. It'd be a little like if Kiernan offered to do his best to get Snoop Dogg's name out there at the Observer St. Patrick's Day party.
*Q: What are the Woodies? Also, can you show me an example of a really embarrassing press release lede some intern probably had to write for free?
A: "Celebrating underground, indie and straight-up hot music, college students around the country rocked the vote to determine who was best at the 2013 mtvU Woodie Awards."
2. They say the heart of rock and roll is not beating very fast.
Rock acts were a distinct minority among the underground, indie, and straight-up hot musicians nominated for Woodies this year, and the only one to actually win an award was Belmont University products The Lonely Biscuits, who took home the undergroundly, indiely, and straight-up hotly named Chevrolet Sonic College Artist Woodie.
Q: What would it sound like if 311 and Linkin Park got together IRL, and not just in all of my fanfics?
Having never shouted the words "But, like, Stalin wasn't really a communist" into a thick cloud of pot-smoke I'm not their target market, which is fine. It's more than fine, in fact, for them, because this where lowercase-p popular rock is going--toward convergence with other, more broadly vital genres. Fun., the biggest rock name to receive a nomination, did the same thing, grafting hip-hop and electronic influences onto a pile of hooks that wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Format record.
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Purists will grouse, and a lot of the chimeras don't ultimately appeal to me, but I'm happy to see it happen. The moment a genre stops accepting outside influence is the moment it's doomed to a semi-retirement spent haunting city art centers and NPR's weekend schedule.
3. Contemporary pop is incredibly ecumenical. The lede I'm burying inside yet another worry about rock's vitality as a popular art form is that MTV's underground, indie, straight-up hot demographic has some astonishingly diverse listening habits.
What do Danny Brown, Best Coast, Jack White, Skrillex, Swedish House Mafia, and Fiona Apple have in common, besides my inability to appreciate any of them? All of them were somehow present (in spirit, at least) at the same awards show.
I'm not sure musical diversity is an inherently positive attribute, but it makes this year's Woodies much more interesting than they have any right to be. It also makes pop music consistently--sometimes delightfully--unpredictable.