Why Don't the MTV European Music Awards Support European Music?

What's the point in the MTV EMAs? Do they only exist so we can see Taylor Swift awkwardly moving her body off beat in the front row again, but this time in Frankfurt?

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Sep 19 2014, 9:00am

I am as yet undecided whether the title of this post is rhetorical. According to Wikipedia, the MTV Europe Music Awards “were established in 1994 by MTV Networks Europe to celebrate the most popular songs and singers in Europe”.

Wikipedia can be notoriously unreliable as a source, but all things considered, I’d bet a large sum of money on this being a fairly accurate description of what the MTV EMAs are. So why then, in 2014, are only a third of the 53 nominated acts actually from Europe?

Admittedly, the EMAs do not have a rich history of being representative of European artists. Within the main (ie. televised) categories, the nomination pool has always been very much a hodgepodge of mostly established American names, a good showing of UK artists, a handful of continental Europeans, and assorted acts from around the world at an approximately 4:3:2:1 ratio.

In 1998, concerted efforts were made to award more European talent, when categories were added to represent more European acts, expanding the number of included territories year on year, and introducing the ‘Europe’s Favourite Act’ award in 2008 (televised, and won by Emre Aydin, Turkey). This was replaced with ‘Best European Act’ in 2009 before doing away with it entirely in 2011 to usher in the ‘Best Worldwide Act’ category and completely eradicate any sense of European dominance at… the Europe Music Awards. In the three years since ‘Best Worldwide Act’ was introduced, it has been won by China twice (Han Geng, 2012 and Chris Lee, 2013) and Korea once (Big Bang, 2011). Imagine the frustration of the political Eurovision alliances on a vast scale; there’s just no stopping the East Asia voting blocs.

While the televised coverage of the EMAs hasn’t exactly been a real platform for showcasing European artists to a massive audience, at least we were allowed to host it. Between the first EMAs in 1994 and the 2001 ceremony hosted by Sacha Baron Cohen in character as Ali G, six European artists took on the role of MC, interspersed with Jenny McCarthy in 1998 and Wyclef Jean in 2000. In the 13 years since, Sacha Baron Cohen made a return as Borat and Heidi Klum hosted the 2012 ceremony, but every single one of the 11 other hosts have been American, including Katy Perry. Twice. (Pub quiz trivia: the only other person to host the EMAs twice is Irish charisma void Ronan Keating.)

The live entertainment

Until 2003/2004, at least half, and sometimes up to three quarters of the performers could be relied upon to fly European (mostly British) flags. That number has slowly depleted to make way for more and more huge name US artists. Last year the only European act to perform alongside a line up of 10 American artists were the Swedish duo Icona Pop.

If you’ve ploughed through that potted history, you’re probably wondering, like I am, what the fuck are MTV playing at? What should be, and perhaps did begin as a celebration of European music, and an opportunity to showcase European talent to a much wider, global audience, is now merely another promotional vehicle for the already ubiquitous American artists you can see on mainstream charts the world over. What’s the point in holding the MTV VMAs twice? Just so we can see Taylor Swift awkwardly moving her body off beat in the front row again, but this time in Frankfurt?

The audience figures for the EMA’s are huge – and it’s particularly galling when you realize what a missed promotional opportunity they are for so many European acts. The 2013 ceremony reached a new peak of 55 million worldwide viewers (11.5 million in the US), an impressive number compared to the 8.5 million US viewers who tuned in to the more explicitly US-centric MTV VMAs this year.

It could be said that the viewing figures for the EMAs continue to rise in tandem with the huge mainstream performers – but that still doesn’t explain why the awards and the presenters are less and less likely to be from European countries, and even less likely to be A-list megastars. P Diddy hosted the awards in 2002 and Kylie Minogue, Marilyn Manson, Pamela Anderson and Pierce Brosnan presented awards. Redfoo – the older guy from strange Uncle/Nephew fratband LMFAO – hosted in 2013, and featured appearances including a faceless “star” from an MTV teen drama and Bridgit Mendler, the not quite Carly Rae Jepsen of 2013.

The argument holds even less water when presented with the annual TV audience for the Eurovision Song Contest - an average worldwide total of 125 million. If 125 million people around the globe are willing to watch the Ukranian Uncle Fester hurdy-gurdy dance in a tinfoil Lady Gaga halloween costume, surely they’d tune in for a bit of Erik Hassle or MØ?

This year’s nominations

This brings us back around to the 2014 nominations. The main categories (Best Song, Male/Female, Live and Video) are dominated by international talent, which here means “not European”. The most straight-laced Adele placeholder in 2014, Sam Smith, earns a ‘Best Song’ nomination for “Stay With Me”, and Ed Sheeran is the only European talent to be considered for ‘Best Male’. One Direction get a (thoroughly undeserved) nod for ‘Best Live Act’, which is definitely a pisstake as I spent most of their Wembley Stadium show thoroughly convinced that at least three of them were dead, while Europe is shut out of the ‘Best Video’ category completely. ‘Best Female’ too, is a wholly American affair (Ariana Grande, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift will battle it out in the fan vote). In fact of the 17 Europeans nominated for EMAs this year, only three are female, and only one of those females (Charli XCX for ‘Best New Act’) is nominated on artistic merit. Rita Ora is up for the frivolous ‘Best Look’ award and Ellie Goulding is competing in the ‘Best World Stage’ category, which basically means she performed at an MTV branded gig this year.

The one place European talent does hold the majority is in the ‘Best Electronic’ category - all five nominees (Afrojack, Avicii, Calvin Harris, David Guetta and Hardwell) are from European countries. It can even be considered a completely UK free category if Scotland votes for independence this week. However these producers are already internationally known on a global scale, and certainly won’t benefit from EMA exposure the same way other European acts would.

While it’s obvious that the MTV Europe Music Awards are now named mainly because they are hosted in European countries, the big question remains as to why the awards are dominated by American exports? The continent of Europe, unlike North America, does suffer from language barriers halting the spread of music in some ways. Anomalies like 2004’s "Dragostea Din Tei" are few and far between, and if a massive hit in Romania is recorded in Romanian, it usually just remains a massive hit in Romania. As the most widely spoken language in Europe, English language pop will always be dominant. As the continental domination of Pharrell’s "Happy" would show you, America does account for a large portion of the European listenership taste, but isn’t this American whitewash of a European awards show just undermining the idea that cross-cultural European pop stars can compete with the best? Can they actually cut it against the likes of Katy Perry, Eminem, Miley, Pharrell and Beyoncé?

In short, the answer is: yes. When so many of the international artists nominated are singing European-made material (Beyoncé is the only ‘Best Female’ nominee without a Max Martin lead single this year) it seems nigh on fucking ridiculous to credit the exports and not homegrown talent. The nominations for (untelevised) Best Swedish Act alone include Icona Pop, Avicii, Tove Lo (Sweden’s more talented answer to Katy Perry), Anton Ewald (Sweden’s more talented answer to Justin Bieber) and The Fooo Conspiracy (Sweden’s more talented answer to One Direction). The Vamps, who have had a stellar year are conspicuously absent from the nominations, as are other establishing acts like Foxes, George Ezra, Clean Bandit and Ella Henderson. No acknowledgement of artists such as Paloma Faith, La Roux, Jessie Ware, Royksopp & Robyn, Katy B, Paolo Nutini, Ace Wilder, Lily Allen, hell - why not the real Sheezus, Conchita Wurst? And on the subject of girls that look like boys and vice versa, old EMA favourites Tokio Hotel would have been a shoe in for a nomination had they made their comeback earlier in the year.

There is a phenomenal amount of talent coming out of Europe at the moment. MTV should be servicing these artists with the chance to break on a world stage, not furnishing massive international artists with multiple promo opportunities and further chances to peddle their wares.

Please, MTV, for 2015 - let Europe do Europe at the Europe Music Awards for a change.

Follow Grace on Twitter: @oneofthosefaces