Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Rant: MTV & "TRL"

I chose my music deconstruction on a block of programming that I hoped would focus more on music (as I remember it being), MTV's "Total Request Live". However, while the show used to feature a 10 music video countdown "voted on" by the fans in it's initial phase in the late 90's, it doesn't focus on this countdown anymore, despite keeping the same moniker "Total Request Live". A countdown was aired about 10 minutes in, showing about 3 seconds of each of the 10 videos. The songs featured tend to be songs that also place high on the Billboard and iTunes charts, as well as featuring band "Day 26", which formed on the MTV show, "Making the Band 4".

Other than that 30 second snippet, I only was able to view three music videos longer than 3 seconds, and only one was full length, mostly because it was featuring Usher and his video was being premiered (and he was also in studio). It filled the traditional archetype of male chasing female, and the female was overtly sexual and scantily dressed. She was wearing all black and was often showed with a red backdrop, dancing seductively, often with Usher. The imagery is very sexually charged throughout the video. Several diamonds bling on both Usher and the female lead. Rapper, Yung Joc, appears also in all black with a backwards baseball cap and several glittery chains, swaggering amongst several more scantily clad women. The women in this club background appear to outnumber the men 3 to 1.

It becomes clear that the main target market of the show is high-school-aged girls, as they fill the majority of the audience, and are often seen clapping enthusiastically. When not musical material, the show has turned instead into a type of MTV-centered lifestyle program for their high-school aged demographic. The show was featuring a "prom theme". A small, young girl wearing jeans and a striped shirt participated in a contest where she can choose between three different designers prom dresses of different styles and colors, and the winning dress will be hers.

The two hosts, male (white) and female (Hispanic-looking), are both young, attractive and following common fashion trends. The female host is more often seen from what I viewed, and although she is dressed somewhat conservatively, she is wearing a relatively short skirt with heels, while the male host is dressed much more conservatively. Also, a news correspondent in room full of video monitors was also shown, and he appeared Indian.

Long camera sweeps an overhead shot at Times Square in New York City, a customary scene for the network. New York City is often seen as a center for all things cool and trendy, especially in the world of music. Several close-ups are made to several different vantage points in Times Square, and ads featuring entertainment are readily visible throughout the broadcast, in particular, a large ad for the video game "Rock Band."

As always, commercials were extremely heavy and seemed to center on three main topics: MTV related programming, a few anti-drug ads, and products blatantly attempting to appeal to a teen demographic, like sports drinks, technology (video games & cell phones), and hair and body products. Many commercials seem to stress the importance of either looking good/sexy (mostly towards women) or technology (towards men). MTV would tend to promote it's key "reality drama", "The Hills", as well as a handful of new series they are about to launch (including one featuring a behind-the-scenes look into the Sean Jean clothing line, featuring Diddy, a common contributor to the network, under the moniker "If I Were King", apropos of Diddy's notoriously driven attitude).

From what I saw, there was only one demonstrated attempt to highlight “new” music, by featuring a short clip of a music video by Welsh artist, Duffy. However, with further research, it is easy to find out that Duffy is represented by Mercury Records, owned by Universal Music Group.

Overall, despite an attempt to view a program involving music videos, “Total Request Live” is instead a reflection of what MTV and much of music programming has become – much more about the lifestyle of youth and much less about the music that “defines” it. It is an updated example of the feedback loop we discussed in class – what is featured by the media about youth culture is absorbed and demonstrated back in how they act, and the cycle doesn’t end. There is supreme focus on fitting in to current trends, and filling this expectation to be attractive, popular and overall “cool”.

As demonstrated through the somewhat lack of music being shown longer than 10 seconds, it further solidifies fears that music is being devalued to be not a “definition” of a generation or period of time, but more like an underlying soundtrack to the other aspects important to teens. It may be viewed passively, but at least it’s still there.

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