MTV and Britney Spears both have similar problems these days. Declining numbers, lack of direction, and an upcoming younger generation that is no longer interested in pre-packaged product when they can see cooler, better, and more personally appealing stuff on Youtube.
So what’s an aging Diva to do? Most of the genuine success stories have a similar arc. Plucky artist digs down into their soul and/or wallets and manages to produce a piece of content that reminds everybody why they loved them so much in the first place.
There is, of course, another option, which is to ride your celebrity into the ground, using controversy to generate attention, and then mining the blowback as a source of ironic entertainment. It’s a kind of environmentally unfriendly behavior that destroys your media landscape, and leaves only the future equivalent of Hollywood Squares as the ultimate resting place for your career.
With yesterdays VMAs it seems that both the network and the pop star are crowding into the same leaky life raft. Both of them managed to create some short-term media buzz that probably fizzle fast. But MTV probably benefited more from Britney’s flabby, lackluster performance than she did from being on their pathetic Vegas “spectacle”. If you haven’t watched it, take a look and realize just how far she’s fallen since her glory days. While she was always a pure pop creation, she also had a kind of electrifying charisma that was able to beam through the screen. I ended up riding on an airplane with the guy who had been the focus puller on her famous Pepsi commercial, and he said when she did that famous spin it blew the operator right out of the camera. It looks like that kind of magic is gone for good.
MTV has lost a lot of the luster it had back then as well. With it’s “dead to us after 25” demographic, Britney’s audience is about to be abandoned to the cold clutches of VH1’s nostalgia and reality wasteland. Meanwhile the channel is left to grind out reality dramas to an audience that has decided that it isn’t real if you can’t see it on your cell phone.
But unlike Britney MTV isn’t human. Like a terminator, it will never age, and (at least in the short term) and it will never die. As long as its corporate masters can keep enough people showing up for the Taco Bell commercials it will rise again to chase after another group of confused, nubile, young adults. Meanwhile the former queen of teen will be reduced to doing half-hearted renditions of “Oops I did it again” in a stage review in Vegas. Or maybe she just did…