The Digital Spectacle of the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards

A DJ booth covered in digital screens? Updates about Twitter trending topics? Backdrops that resembled blank computer screens? The 2010 MTV Video Music Awards proved that televised awards shows just ain’t what they used to be.

Computer graphics such as a rotating Rubik’s cube were displayed on the screen surfaces of the house DJ deadmau5 (MTV.com).

The combination of a “live” television broadcast with elements of digital media was a salient example of what Bolter & Grusin have identified as the “double logic of remediation” (1999, p.5). The show was recorded in front of a live audience, creating a sense of immediacy to convince the audience watching at home that they were present in the moment regardless of the mediating influence of the screen. At the same time, the show displayed an awareness of the hypermediacy that is unavoidable on MTV; a channel well-known for its incorporation of graphics, captions and other elements that interrupt the television broadcast flow of images and sounds.

A key method of using remediation to attract the approval of an internet-savvy audience was the announcement of the response to the show on social media platforms concurrent to its live broadcast: “See how Rhianna’s surprise performance is blowing up on Twitter!” The show is no longer just a televisual event to be commented upon next to the water-cooler the next day. The audience is expected to commentate in real-time and the show’s producers responded accordingly.

Another combination of immediacy and hypermediacy was the display of text declaring the time left until the next notable appearance by a performer, such as the flash of “9 MINUTES”, accompanied an announcer intoning the short length of time before a performance by Justin Bieber. This emphasised the immediacy of the live event as well as drawing attention to the mediation of the event through a television broadcast; enticing viewers to continue watching despite other potential distractions.

The production of the event was clearly designed to create a unique visual spectacle, highlighted by the retro-futuristic design of the set. There was an organic insect-like structure overarching the stage, accompanied by large white 1960’s style screens displaying text and graphics, as well as walkways onto the stage that wouldn’t be out of place in a spaceship.

A digital aesthetic seeped into the performance by R&B artist Usher, whose smooth dance moves were accompanied by solid rays of green and red lights that shifted and rearranged in geometrical patterns.

Usher performing at the VMAs (Google Images).

Kanye West used the visually arresting strategy of performing in a red suit that starkly contrasted with the alternately black and white screen behind him and the stage below him.


Kanye West playing the samples that begin his song 'Runaway', as he is joined onstage by dancers (MTV.com).

The combination of the two forces of immediacy and hypermediacy during the telecast of the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards created a unique digital performative aesthetic that embraced possibilities for the evolution of television in an increasingly digital age.

Further Reading:

Bolter, J.D. & Grusin, R.A. (1999) Remediation: Understanding New Media, Cambridge, Mass; London: MIT Press

An article about the success of MTV’s ‘Twitter Tracker’

The site through which the audience could follow the popularity of certain artists and performances on the night

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