NEW YORK (Reuters) – The first-ever YouTube Music Awards on Sunday, improvised with plenty of celebrity cameos thrown into the mix, saw awards going to rapper Eminem and hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
The show made a clear bid for the quirky, a benefit of being streamed by YouTube rather than broadcast on television.
If the music itself sometimes felt a little overshadowed by all the hoopla, it shouldn’t surprise. The show was also a sort of announcement by YouTube of its intentions to take a bigger role in the music industry.
The music awards market is almost as crowded as the music market. YouTube featured big stars such as Lady Gaga to attract attention, while keeping enough of an outsider perspective to differentiate itself from MTV, the Grammys and other music powerhouses.
Although the Google-owned site has for years been a go-to place for music fans around the world, the site is now expected to introduce a paid music service by year-end.
“There was nothing scripted tonight,” said actor Jason Schwartzman, who, along with performance artist Reggie Watts, hosted the show, which was directed by Spike Jonze.
Eminem won the Artist of the Year award. Video of the Year was awarded to Girls’ Generation, who are megastars in South Korea but are still making inroads into the U.S. music scene.
Breakthrough of the Year went to hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, whose songs include the gay rights anthem, “Same Love.”
Walk off the Earth, along with KRNFX, took the Phenomenon Award for their version of Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble,” while the Innovation Prize went to DeStorm, who won for “See Me Standing.”
And in an acknowledgement of the hefty amount of user-generated content that goes on YouTube – everything from yawning kittens to cellphone video of major world news – YouTube gave out something called Response of the Year.
That prize went to Lindsey Stirling and Pentatonix, for their cover of Imagine Dragons “Radioactive.” Stirling is a star among violinists – but not have the star power of Katy Perry, another of the night’s nominees.
LADY GAGA, CULTURAL REFERENCES
Along with Gaga there was a shaky-cam performance by Tyler, the Creator, and Earl Sweatshirt, both of the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All hip-hop collective.
There were cultural references, including the quirky song “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)” from Norwegian duo Ylvis, a viral hit earlier this year.
YouTube has positioned itself in recent years as a major source of new music videos for fans.
Sites such as YouTube effectively function as on-demand stations for music, with fans able to listen to play lists over and over just for watching the occasional commercial.
The shift highlights some of the challenges – and opportunities – for artists. Access to music is easier than it’s ever been, thanks to sites such as YouTube, music blogs, file-sharing software and more. But it’s also become that much more difficult for musicians to earn a living.
YouTube is expected to introduce an option by the end of the year to let music fans skip the commercials via a paid subscription service. This would pit YouTube directly against services such as the online music streaming Web service Spotify, whose business model has been criticized by musicians for squeezing artists.