MTVU, FORMERLY College Television Network, is the subsidiary channel of MTV geared towards college students and broadcast in over 750 universities and colleges nationally. On November 12, the MTVu Woodie Awards, which “recognize the music voted best by college students,” came to the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan.
The Woodies are more chaste (and literal) than they sound, the award being a glazed triangular hunk of wood and nothing else. This year the line-up of performing bands tried to play the wide field of college student’s tastes, from Santogold’s diva hip-hop to tweemo All Time Low to the non-canon sounds of African Soweto to the classical Western proffered by Vampire Weekend.
Paramore was the night’s big winner, taking the Woodie of the Year right out of Li’l Wayne’s diamond-ringed hands. The Best Video Woodies went to Motion City Soundtrack, a Woodies perennial (they’ve shown up and won every year since 2005). There for Tomorrow took the Breaking Woodie, which recognizes emerging artists, and She & Him took the Left Field Woodie for artists with unique, non-mainstream sounds. Atmosphere, a hip-hop band out of Minneapolis, won the Performing Woodie.
The reason that you’ve never heard of of MTVu, let alone the Woodie Awards, is most probably because “the only talk between people about anything MTV is about how much it sucks,” internet branding expert Rob Frankel says. “MTV is the culprit, the root of all evil. Everyone knows that as soon as a band gets on MTV, they’ve either stopped being cool or they’ve sold out.”
On RateItAll.com, where users vote on the root causes of subjects, the subject “Why is MTV Evil” is one of the top-visited, and the reasons listed go all the way from “They Glorify Sex, Drugs and Alcohol,” to “Jackass Causes Deaths from Imitative Kids,” and all the way to the top with, “They Don’t Even Show Music Videos Anymore.”
The Woodies were juxtaposed this year with the MTV Video Music Awards 25th anniversary in September, just two months before. Bloggers and journalists named the highlights of the VMAs—which New York’s “Vulture” called “non-exciting even by VMA standards”—as when host Russell Brand antagonized the Jonas Brothers for their promise rings and chastity vows, called President Bush “that retard and cowboy fella,” and said in reference to Sarah Palin’s pregnant daughter’s boyfriend: “That is the best safe-sex message of all! Wear a condom or become a Republican!”
Jarrett Martineau, also of New York, ribbed: “So, what did you miss by not tuning into last night’s 25th annual, cheapest-ever MTV Video Music Awards, the first ones, as far as we know, to be held in a high-school gymnasium? Practically nothing!”
In contrast, the Woodies featured a diverse crowd of happy attendees, jockeying for sight lines and drinking overpriced cocktails from plastic cups without controversy. The announcers of each award and band—which ranged from Moby to the All-American Rejects—seemed heartfelt instead of scripted. Said the All-American Rejects of Paramore, as they presented the Woodie of the Year, “I have the biggest Woodie ever for this band!”
MTVu’s Woodie Awards are perhaps the greatest manifestation of the company’s moral values. Amongst generic awards shared with the VMAs along the lines of “Band of the Year” and “Best Video,” are prizes like the “Good Woodie,” won this year by Jack’s Mannequin and awarded to bands that do charitable works. (Jack’s Mannequin raised $100,000 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.) The College Radio Woodie, won this year by WICB Ithaca College, promotes well-produced college stations with a large cash prize, just as the Best Music on Campus Woodie gives wide exposure to hard-working college bands. (NYU rockers The Bride Wears Back took that one.)
This is on the whole symptomatic of the greater disparity between MTV and its subsidiary companies, like MTVu. MTVu airs programs like Student Bodies (a college riff on The Biggest Loser, which documents students losing weight), Hispanic Heritage Month, and MTVu’s Poet Laureate John Ashberry whose between show segments feature poetry readings and panels about literature. Set those next to MTV’s The Real World—which if you haven’t actually seen you may remember from its frequent appearances in lists like VH1’s Top 100 Most Controversial TV Moments and E!’s Worst TV Stars, as well as Beavis and Butthead and the aptly named Jackass—and the wide gap between the stations becomes apparent.
There was a lot of commotion when the heralded 25th came around for MTV Networks. None sum it up as concisely as a small editorial out of Saginaw Valley State University, which said simply: “MTV has nothing to do with music.” But MTVu still does.
A version of this article also appeared in The Student Voice, the student newspaper of The King’s College.
Stephen Wesley is a student at The King’s College in New York City.
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