YouTube Launches Its First-Ever Music Awards

Nov 4, 2013

What if someone held an awards show with no red carpet, no fanfare, short speeches and it finished in under the projected running time?

Well, that would be the first YouTube Music Awards, which took place last night on Pier 36 in Manhattan and was streamed live to viewers around the world. It started at 6 p.m. and was over before 7:30.

The event was produced by director Spike Jonze, emceed by actor Jason Schwartzman and comedian/musician Reggie Watts. It included live performances by mainstream music moguls Eminem and Lady Gaga.

But did it work? The answer isn’t a simple one.


  • Hilary Hughes, pop culture and music correspondent for USA Today, Rolling Stone and The Village Voice.
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Well, the first ever YouTube Awards were held last night. Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts hosted. It streamed around the world. Eminem won artist of the year.


EMINEM: (Rapping) Basically, boy, you're never going to be capable to keeping up with the same pace.

YOUNG: How did it go? Hilary Hughes covered the awards for USA Today. Hilary, what did you think?

HILARY HUGHES: Honestly, I am not entirely sure. I mean, I think that it was a success in the sense that it was very clear that the YouTube Music Awards had no idea what they were doing, that they kind of were throwing a bunch of ideas out there live and in real time to see what would stick.

YOUNG: Well, when you say what would stick, part of that would be who was watching. And they had this number reader to tell you how many people were watching, at one point 204,000. The New York Times writes that Eminem closed the show with a blistering performance of his "Rap God." But the number was at about 177,000 watching at that point. He could have gotten more on his Twitter account.

HUGHES: Right. And it's just - it's so unfortunate because Eminem has such a vocal, excited fan base, and you would think that someone who has millions and millions of hits on his YouTube channel, that he would be able to muster more than 150,000 viewers for his live YouTube Music Awards performance.

YOUNG: Well, then there are some of the awards themselves. The K-pop, Korean pop group Girls Generation beats Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, everyone else for best video.


GIRLS GENERATION: Hey, let me introduce myself. Here comes trouble. Woo.

YOUNG: Hugely, hugely popular around the world. But the video is essentially - they're just hopping around and singing and hugging teddy bears. And it really doesn't seem to rise to the creative level that other videos do. And the audience didn't seem to react.

HUGHES: Right. But I think that's part of the glory of YouTube and being able to start your music career on YouTube.

YOUNG: Well, Hilary Hughes, what do you think? This was just the first time. I mean, it doesn't take away from the power of YouTube to break songs. I mean, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won for YouTube breakthrough. The fact that they can't put on a show maybe as well as they might in the future doesn't take away from how many people are turning to YouTube for their music.

HUGHES: I mean, at the same time I think it's a shame that they had such an incredible opportunity to really do something wonderful and revolutionary here. And they did, you know, under the artistic direction of Spike Jones. Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts were so funny, and they were really great at kind of rolling with the punches and just kind of taking control of the night in their own way. I do think it's unfortunate. Maybe more people would have tuned in if, you know, they looked like they knew what they were doing.

YOUNG: Hilary Hughes on last night's YouTube Music Awards. She covered them for USA Today. Hilary, thank you.

HUGHES: Thanks so much for having me.


YOUNG: OK. So a few minutes ago we mentioned Arizona and its time zones. Just to be clear, Jeremy, you were right.



YOUNG: Always happens, though, that you are right.


YOUNG: They have one time zone there, Mountain Standard Time. And sometimes it syncs with like California Pacific Standard Time and sometimes it doesn't.

HOBSON: They neither spring forward nor fall back in the state of Arizona. Steady as she goes.

YOUNG: Right. So they weren't listening to the wrong radio shows because they forgot to do that on Sunday.


YOUNG: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.

HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.