Once upon a time the MTV Video Music Awards were THE event for the music industry, yet lately it has become a bit of a mockery of itself. Where it used to give a platform for artists outside of the mainstream stratosphere, it’s now basically a who’s who of hit-makers. And where they used to actually honor groundbreaking videos, now they basically honor whoever had the biggest hit single or album in any given category. Yet still, people watch for the controversial “water cooler” moments the show has become famous for.

How did the show end up this way?

In 1984, the first annual presentation, the VMA’s were an alternative to the rest of the Award shows which felt more stuffy and sterile. Where the Grammy’s and other “prestigious” shows generally honored the over-40 Artists, the VMA’s offered young and energetic talent and gave some of them their first or only televised showcase. The VMA’s were basically the awards for music rebels.

As the show progressed into the 90’s, it also became a credible recognition of the art of music videos. They would nominate and honor artists that were far off the radar, but made amazing videos like Bjork, Nine Inch Nails and Fatboy Slim to name a few. The 90’s were the award shows peak without a doubt, and as the popularity of the show grew, bigger stars would come out. Some great and controversial hosts were hired like Chris Rock, Roseanne Barr and Ben Stiller among a host of other big name comedians and actors.

The 90’s were also the real birth of the MTV VMA’s being the most unpredictable award show. So many controversial “water cooler” moments came from the show, including Diana Ross feeling up Lil Kim, Spike Jonze interrupting an acceptance with some nonsensical babble, audience members climbing up on stage, you just never know what would happen — and you wanted to be there to witness it.

Somewhere down the line, the show became a big popularity contest. They stopped looking for great videos, and basically picked nominees based on who was smashing on the Billboard charts that year. A good chance to check out some of those big names you’re not sure how you know, but the show lost a good amount of it’s Edge as a result. And with Billboard having their OWN music awards, and the Grammy’s getting younger and also resembling MTV’s penchant for honoring huge sales, the VMA’s kind of lost their niche.

For me, the show lost it’s credibility in it’s 1998 telecast. They were so busy kissing Madonna’s ass for her successful “Ray of Light” era they awarded her choreography for the albums title track (which was Madonna randomly spazzing about) over Fatima’s genius choreography for Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody” (some of the most intricate and complex choreography in years).

They’ve lost mainstream credibility now that the awards are voted on by the public. 2008 was the final straw when the Brit-Bots stormed the voting link and gave Britney Spears Video of the Year for “Piece of Me”, a video that shouldn’t have even been nominated in such a high honor. And this year they are giving her a full on Tribute, which imo is rather undeserving. I won’t be watching this year, but with performances by GaGa, Beyonce and Lil Wayne there should be some great YouTube stuff for me to check out later. The bottom line is even with the biggest names in music set to take the stage, the VMA’s have lost so much luster and all the pre-show hype these days usually ends up in disappointment.

The 2009 VMA’s however were surprisingly good and a return to form. There was the infamous Kanye/Taylor incident, and there were a slew of great performances that night. And it’s nights like those that keep people at least intrigued by what might happen. And it’s still a great chance for people to check out what the popular artists (artists people might have heard of but have never seen live) are made of. And at any given moment in the show, or the pre or post shows, something crazy might happen that you wish you didn’t miss.

Yes, the VMA’s still hold a little bit of that unpredictability. And they do provide some good entertainment and performances. The show has just gotten so inconsistent, one year might be great and the next might be a huge bore. So we’ll see tomorrow what this telecast ends up being.