The cultural (and personal) significance of VMAs and NSync

Sunday night I don’t know if you heard but America and MTV hosted this quiet little get-together called the VMAs.  Our good friend and contributor Nathan tweeted "And a merry vmas everybody! Wait what it is a vmas. Oh I see never mind" which is awesome and in a way sums everything up very nicely.  But I’m still going to talk about the VMAs even though there are far more important things going on in the world because pop culture is a part of this world too.  Everybody has opinions and everybody is allowed to have opinions.  On any given day that the Twitterverse gets its collected panties in a twist over something related to pop culture, there are sort of two levels of predictable responses:

  2. God, you people need to figure out that there are so many more important things going on in the world right now.  Like literally everything is more important.  Idiots.

Here at VampireNomad we make no bones about the fact that we like pop culture and no bones about the fact that we like exploring the deeper issues of life and literature.  And here’s the surprising thing: those two facets of our collective existence do not cancel each other out.  They can exist in a mutual sphere of relevance.  Just because we want to, on one hand, raise awareness on the misrepresentation of Indigenous culture or discuss how misogyny in mainstream media hurts women, does not also mean that we can’t enjoy dissecting the lyrics of a Backstreet Boys song or exploring which of Spiderman's foes is actually the most awesome.  Pop culture is part of culture and it’s a tradition that stems from the bard storytelling and cave paintings of yore.  We have always needed ways to express ourselves through art and mainstream media and we have always wanted to comment on what that means to us personally.  The VMAs, MTV’s annual celebration of all that is glitzy and weird in the realm of music videos, is the perfect storm of this drive in modern times.  It draws together celebrities and musicians who perform and are awarded for the visual representations of their song narratives.  Appreciating and/or critiquing popular culture is as valid and important a form of communication and discussion as deeper interpersonal analysis or the strict relaying of news items.  It isn't the be all and end all of life as we know it but it isn't invalid and talking about it doesn't negate a concern over the larger global issues rocking our world either. 


Let's recap for those of you who were unaware of the annual holiday of vmas.  Justin Timberlake, who was formerly one-fifth of 90s super-boyband NSync, was scheduled to receive the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award.  It's both ridiculous and fitting to give Justin Timberlake the equivalent of a lifetime achievement award.  On the one hand, the guy is barely thirty and at the rate he's going there will probably be twelve more epic two-part albums yet to come.  Plus maybe, if he plays his cards right with Harvey Weinstein, that Oscar he so clearly desperately wants.  He's still going!  He's not a lifetime legend yet.  But on the other hand, in the mercurial blink-and-you-miss-them Milli Vanilli rollercoaster ride that is the music industry, he's been doing this schtick either with NSync or on his own for almost as long as he's been alive and that sort of longevity and success is not only hard to come by, it's admirable.  So in a way he is a lifetime legend already.  They'll just have to give him another one in a couple decades to make up for all the output not covered by this one.  As part of his epic performance (and say what you will about the offerings of this newest version of Justin Timberlake – I personally loathe 'Suit & Tie' and, simultaneously, wish he'd focus on music and leave acting alone – there is no denying that the man has talent to spare and is a workhorse in the industry) he brought his former bandmates together for a widely-touted reunion.  NSync together again!  And it was glorious.  But it was short. 

Story time: Back in 2000 NSync brought their monster 'No Strings Attached' tour to Vancouver and though I was probably even then outside their target demographic (pfffsssstttt ageist) I attended the hell out of that concert.  I absolutely loved NSync.  It was an amazing show.  Don't even judge me because I adhere to the Dave Grohl belief that there are no guilty pleasures and that if you love a thing you should just love it.  And love it hard.  Which I so did.  Anyway, as part of the concert the guys each had a circular pedestal that, through the magic of stagecraft, rose into the air while they crooned, bringing them and their celestial melodies to rest high overtop the audience like the angels we kind of believed they were.  All the pedestals rose at the same speed except poor Joey's.  His lagged significantly behind the others so that by the time he reached the top the other four were already in slow descent.  And by the time he reached the stage again they were already well into the next dance formation and he had to scramble to get in place.  This spawned a lot of poor-taste jokes involving abuse of his last name (Fatone) and so on and so forth.  It was also unintentionally hilarious to watch him slowly sinking to the stage trying not to look visibly anxious as the other four hopped into rigorous choreography without him.

The VMAs reminded me of this because at the very end – and I only spied it in one online version, it’s edited out of the rest but lives on in Twitter memory – the pedestals that rose up from the bowels of the stage to surprise the audience with the four lost NSyncers had a similar malfunction on the way back down and poor Chris was left standing onstage after Justin had already moved on both physically and musically.  It created this amazing and tragic performance art piece that encapsulated everything we assume Chris was already feeling: once so huge as to command the screaming of multitudes in arenas across the globe he is left standing alone and unnoticed as Justin abandons him (and the band) to perform wildly successful solo numbers.  Lights out.    

The NSync portion of Justin’s performance – because that's what it was, people, it was just a tiny blip on the radar of the visual playback of Justin's world domination thus far in history – was amazing.  Though they have clearly aged (I know, try to hold back your shock and awe – it's a thing that people do on an astonishingly regular basis) and poor Chris (I swear I'm not trying to pick on him) kind of looked like he was struggling and (my fave) Lance might have been a bit late on footwork for a moment, essentially they were a tight and unified group of be-suited performers still fully in command of both vocals and charisma.  They were a boyband to be reckoned with then and they still could be now if not for the god complex of their youngest and most willful member.  Their performance was too brief by far but for those shining two minutes it was everything we wanted it to be.  It was glorious.  It was both nostalgic and hopeful.  And I loved the hell out of it.


- Corinne Simpson