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VMA’s Rock Category Divides Fans: Breakdown of Response After Måneskin Wins Best Rock Moonman



Ever since 1984, MTV’s Video Music Awards have been dishing out awards to some of the hottest music and its creators of the year, and just like every other award show, the results tend to leave some fans questioning the results. This year is no different, especially in the Best Rock category.


THE HISTORY


MTV has been an influential force and a pillar in the music industry since its debut on August 1, 1981. At its inception, MTV was a place for audiences to view music videos, but it boomed into a conduit for singles and artists to be catapulted into mainstream success, for better or for worse. The first music video shown on MTV was The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star, followed by a list of classic hits that continued on until the early 2000’s when MTV began to slowly branch off into different segments and shows. But make no mistake, even with the mainstream popularity stamp, MTV didn’t mess around with rock and roll.


Video Killed the Radio Star may have been the first video shown on August 1, 1981, but following a brief PSA about music, MTV’s first day included a plethora of rock and metal music, with selections like Iron Maiden’s Wraithchild, Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight, and Rainbow’s Can’t Happen Here. https://www.beaconjournal.com/story/entertainment/2021/07/28/mtv-first-100-videos-aug-1-1981/8080884002/


It wasn’t always easy for metal or heavy rock bands to get in on the fun, though. Many metal bands like Megadeth and Metallica were either banned at one point from participating in the VMA’s or had a song that was banned, for example, Megadeth’s A Tout le Monde video was banned for allegedly promoting suicide (even though front man Dave Mustaine came out and denied these claims.)


As times changed, more and more music from genres bordering the mainstream were given the space to be promoted with the creation of a show titled Headbangers Ball. The show premiered on April 18, 1987, and became a hit due to the contrast of the top pop songs being played on heavy rotation, and because fans of these genres could finally indulge. Metallica’s first ever music video was for their iconic song One, and it premiered on MTV on January 20, 1989.


In the early 90’s, fans saw the true power of having one of your videos in heavy rotations on MTV when Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit took over the world. September 30, 1991, the “world premiere” of the video was played on MTV’s alternative show 120 Minutes, and soon would be added to their regular line up and heavy rotation due to the amount of requests it received. It has been said by fans, and even those within the band's camp, that the video was a huge factor in the song becoming the legendary hit it remains today.


Dave Grohl has stated that the visuals of teens rebelling and wrecking havoc around the band as they played showed the power behind the song and created a strong connection with teens who saw the video and saw themselves in the video, metaphorically. The idea of selling out is a complicated, and often largely misconstrued, concept, but in the case of Nirvana, even with Cobain strongly against leaning into the mainstream world, sometimes the art takes over, and the fans decide the fate of the song.



2023 VMA BEST ROCK


Flash forward to the 2023 VMA’s. The Best Rock category was stacked with a line up that I could hardly choose from. All bands and songs that are worthy of an award.


Foo Fighters - The Teacher

It’s not hard to understand that a song off of the emotionally driven But Here We Are Foo Fighter album was nominated. After the band lost Taylor Hawkins, and Dave Grohl lost his mother just months after, this album was not only a way forward for the band, but a conduit for their emotion and grief after the loss of a friend. The Teacher being the choice for the nominated song was one I agree with, but I think another selection would have been more promising for the win. I think The Teacher is a beautiful song and definitely a highlight on the album, but I think Under You was more played, especially since The Teacher is the Foo’s longest song, coming in at approx. 10 minutes. Even still, this was a strong contender for the win, and I had thrown half of my votes to the Foo’s for the win.



Red Hot Chili Peppers - Tippa My Tongue

Coming off of their astonishing album Return of the Dream Canteen, Red Hot Chili Peppers nomination for Tippa My Tongue was also a top contender, and one I was happy to see nominated. This album, for me as a long time RHCP fan, represents the blueprint for what the band is capable of. This album, especially songs like Reach Out and Eddie, showcases the strength and influence of Flea’s immaculate bass lines, Kiedis’ funky pop vocals that always fit right into place, Smith’s steady drum line floating underneath, with Frusciante’s acid-trip guitar riffs that complement the compositions as a whole. Tippa My Tongue, for me, was another front runner, but I did not lend any of my votes to it. If the category would have been focused on the album, this may have changed, but there is no doubt they deserved this nomination for such a strong single and album.


Linkin Park - Lost

Another emotional nomination in this category was Linkin Park’s Lost, which was recorded with the bands lead vocalist Chester Bennington. Nearly seven years after Bennington sadly took his life, the band released Lost for the fans who still grieve for one of the most powerful rock vocalists of our time. Stripping away and looking at Lost without this context, it is very true to Linkin Park sound. It follows a basic riff and rhythm, but has that lyrical heaviness the band is known for. It is a beautiful single, and even though it didn’t receive any of my votes, I really appreciate the song and what it means for the community and for the history of the band and Chester Bennington.


Muse - You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween

This nomination gets spooky with Muse’s song You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween. I do appreciate Muse, and they have some songs that are instant classics, not to mention the iconic bass lines turned out by Chris Wolstenholme, but this song didn’t do enough for me in the rock category. It is definitely a rock song, but for me personally, it’s a bit too overproduced. I would have liked to hear it more stripped back, more raw. Even with the production, the guitar solo breakdown is pretty beautiful, and it definitely paints the image of Halloween within the composition. Another strong contender.


Metallica - Lux Æterna

The last of the nominees, and the other nominee I threw my votes behind (obviously), was Metallica’s first single from 72 Seasons, Lux Æterna. From the moment it was released, Lux Æterna showed that Metallica, even in their 60’s, still know how to throw down some Trash. The song is fast paced, has intense riffing, and even more intense drumming. The message behind the song was the emotion and feeling playing music gives both the band and the audience, and it does create this positive vibe when you listen to it, even among the heaviness, which I think in itself is an incredible feature of the song. The single was a strong introduction to the album, and even though I truly believe it is metal to its core, since there is no metal category, it does still belong here.


WHO I WISH WAS NOMINATED


The Warning - EVOLVE

If there was one nominee I would have liked to see in this list, it would have been The Warning. This three sister band from Mexico, Daniela "Dany“ (vocals, guitars, piano), Paulina "Pau" (drums, vocals, piano) and Alejandra "Ale" (bass, piano, backing vocals), is starting to take the world by storm with their powerful rock music. Their recent album ERROR deserves all the credit for being one of the strongest and cohesive rock albums of 2022. I had the pleasure of seeing The Warning on their Error Tour stop in Montreal, and I was blown away by the brutal attack these girls take on their music.


Even without a nomination, The Warning was asked to perform on the Dorito's stage at the VMA’s. They performed a selection of songs, including EVOLVE off of the ERROR album. EVOLVE is a song that when you hear it, you instantly get goosebumps. Not only does it have a catchy riff, but the breakdown of the song shows off just how talented these musicians are. They strip down the riff, starting a build that extends into an explosion, climaxing at a guttural scream from Pau behind the kit, which rides out with Dany and Ale headbanging and connecting with their instruments as the riff comes to a pause until the chorus starts again. I can’t say enough good things about this band, and seeing them live was such a moving experience. They have charisma, heavy and tactical sound, and they continue to show how girls can rock just as hard as boys.




BEST ROCK VMA GOES TO...


WINNER: Måneskin - THE LONELIEST

The winner of the Best Rock category was Italian rock group Måneskin, best known for their win on Eurovision in 2021. I have been a fan of the band since their time on Eurovision, and was even inspired to pick up and teach myself bass after watching Vic De Angelis exude sex and precision in their live performances, but their win seems to have caused some controversy amoung online fans who seem to believe this band isn’t a rock band.



I’d like to start with the song that was nominated for the award itself. THE LONELIEST is a very emotionally driven song about no longer being with someone you love, and along with a full bass line, Thomas Raggi’s emotional guitar solo grips at your heart, really hitting the internal connection power of the song. It reminds me of songs like Guns and Roses November Rain, a song that really keeps the composition at the forefront of the emotion itself, while the topic of the song is something that almost anyone can connect to.


Is it Måneskin's most “rock” song? It isn’t. But looking at the album it comes from, their sophomore album RUSH (they have previous albums but I refuse to count those because they are so different from what they have grown into), the song is a strong choice from an album that explores and pushes the boundaries of rock and roll as we know it.


So why don’t people think Måneskin is a rock band? Here are my thoughts.


The first thought that came to my mind when reading these online comments was the fact that this band isn’t English, and not in a way that people are using that as a stereotype, but more in the way that a lot of the band's music is in Italian. They have since moved more into English lyrics due to their heavy influence in North America, but there are still songs that English fans can’t really connect with due to a language barrier. This can impact the connection people have with the band, especially if they focus on the more lyrical aspect of music. I will always argue that some of Måneskin’s best rock songs are songs they sing in Italian.

MARK CHAPMAN, from the same album, is a song sung in Italian about the man who killed John Lennon. Not only is the riff fast and precise, but the English translation of the lyrics are incredible. A cool concept for a song, and written in a very poetic way.


There are other Italian songs of course, like ZITTI E BUONI, LA FINE, IN NOME DEL PADRE, and VENT’ANNI, that showcase the bands pure rock ability, but they also have English songs that also do the trick. Their new release HONEY (ARE YOU COMING?) is a tough and sexy single, OWN MY MIND has interchanging riffs that create friction and grit, and GASOLINE, which the band teased as a song about Putin and the war on Ukraine, has a bass line and political message that Rage Against the Machine would be proud of. That’s probably true, as in their song GOSSIP, the band secured a collab with iconic RaTM guitarist and political advocate Tom Morello, who fits in seamlessly with their sound.



Another aspect of the band that I think creates some backlash is the fact they are openly queer. Måneskin has made an image for themselves of being open, inclusive, and free in their sexuality and gender. This may be a norm in Italian culture, but the band has never been shy about their friendly nature and their advocacy for queer culture. When it came time to release their RUSH album, the band had a four way wedding ceremony, with all members sharing a kiss, and even drummer Ethan Torchio sported a gorgeous gown alongside Vic, the only female member of the group (and the only female nominated within the category).


Since their introduction to the world, the band has pushed gender and fashion norms to the side, and openly express the way they want to. This itself IS rock and roll. It’s pushing back against what


society has told us about the way a rock band should look, regardless of sexuality. The attitude is “who cares?” and who does? Within Måneskin, only two members identify as queer; De Angelis identifies as bi-sexual and Torchio identifies as “sexually free”. Even with guitarist Thomas Raggi and vocalist Damiano David not being queer, they feel comfortable to explore their fashion, and also kiss their bandmates publicly, because why? It pisses people off. It’s rock and roll.


Another key aspect to why they won? The VMA’s are fan voted. Måneskin has a very large fan base of young, and chronically online folks from all over the world. Of course Metallica has a huge fan base, but how many of them are going online to vote for them or even worry about a VMA win? The other nominees in the category have been around the block many times, and the truth is this VMA win does a lot of good for a band that is just finding their footing in the music industry, especially in North America.



To those who may be reading this thinking I am doing it simply because I am a Måneskin fan, I want you to know that if I had to choose a winner, it would have been the Foo Fighters, mostly because I believe in the power of emotion in rock. That is the beauty of subjectivity in art. Award shows, especially ones that are focused on a fan vote for the outcome, will always create this tension, but it’s important to recognize the width of genres of music and not discredit any bands who are out here giving us some of the best rock of our generation.


At the end of the day, the arguments online are fueled by fans and gatekeeping, which is going to happen in any category regardless of the genre of music, but especially for genres that are not mainstream. People feel emotional towards their favourites, and I get that! And there are instances where bands win in categories over other bands who definitely represent that genre way more than others (cough, Jethro Tull winning the first ever Metal Grammy over Metallica, cough) but I truly believe if anything can come from Måneskin winning this VMA award, I hope it is more people exploring their discography beyond what they may hear on the radio. At the end of the day, I am just happy we can still have categories like Best Rock, and that rock is still thriving enough to have these conversations.





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