Tyler, the Creator took home the award for Best New Artist at MTV’s VMAs last night, and put some perspective on MTV in its 25th year.
MTV turned 25 this year—cause to look back on the cultural powerhouse that is MTV and to reflect on how it changed us. From bringing the spirit of rock and roll into our houses in a new way with music videos to ushering in the era of reality TV with “The Real World,” MTV shaped generations x and y. And it somehow managed to maintain its influence with whatever they’re calling today’s generation despite its long lamented departure from music videos and its embrace of shows like “Jersey Shore.”
While MTV turned 25 this year, Tyler, the Creator, pack leader of the Odd Future hip-hop collective and the year’s most controversial and vociferous new artist, turned just 20.
When he won the award for Best New Artist at the VMAs last night, Tyler exclaimed “I wanted this shit since I was 9.” Tyler was 9 in 2000, a year after Britney Spears’ seminal “…Baby One More Time” appeared on the network.
Throughout the year some who sought to label Odd Future collective as “underground” artists were disappointed by Tyler, the Creator’s unflinching embrace of the mainstream establishment. “Fuck the underground,” Tyler told Rosenburg of Hot 97, “None of my goals were set to be with none of these underground artists, I hate them.”
Tyler was unapologetically obsessed with winning a VMA, tweeting about his initial nomination “Un-Follow Me Now, This Is Gonna Be the Only Thing I Tweet About For The Next Week. Ive Wanted This For Years Fuck. What The Fuck.”
The Atlantic notes that the two tributes last night to Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears represent the network’s “split identity”—split “between the way MTV once was and the way it is now.”
Winehouse represents what it was—at least, to those old enough to remember. Tyler, the Creator’s win last night may represent one of the first Best New Artists to come of age entirely in the post-Britney era. So if his style of championing style over substance, of catching attention by any means necessary, seems irrevocably untethered from the way MTV once was, you’ll have to forgive him—he was never there to see it.
And yet the hallmarks of that era—music that ignited masses, the duality of being at once of the establishment and anti-establishment—seem alive and well, albeit in an unequivocally 21st century way, in Tyler’s career.
“Yo, I’m excited as fuck right now, yo,” he bellowed from the podium, accepting his trophy. I don’t know. Fuck. To all the kids watching, you can do this shit. Thank you.”
Sure, Tyler seems to grant a sort-of embarrassing reverence to accolades doled out from MTV. But if you can’t recognize a little bit of genuine punk in that acceptance speech that seems right at home with what MTV once was, well, then you really have gotten old.