Deep in the plastic heart of midtown Manhattan, the Roseland Ballroom seemed a curious location for live performances by Pitchfork darlings like TV on the Radio. Outside the venue, shifting 20-somethings smoked cheap cigarettes and adjusted their eyeliner. As “event press,” we immediately bypass the crowd — wearing laminated event passes with shameless joy — and head straight for the press room: an expansive lounge replete with buffalo wings and an open bar. Clearly, this is every college student’s dream.
Given the nature of the 2006 “Woodies” — the “college student music for college students by college students” awards show of mtvU, MTV’s venerable offshoot — the scene was, unsurprisingly, collegiate. The show, which filmed on Oct. 25 and will air on MTV on Saturday, Nov. 4 at 10 p.m., featured live performances from Imogen Heap and Beck, as well as appearances by a requisite crop of celebrities. For an evening of dubious “indie” rock and Converse zeitgeist, local youth (think Long Island self-tanner) and pop culture media fed on the festivities of what is touted as the only college music awards show. But with only scant reference to O.A.R. and Dave, thankfully it was much more than that.
“College students are prophesying the future of new music today, and at the 2006 ‘Woodies,’ they honored the music they lived their lives to this year,” said Stephen Friedman, general manager of mtvU. But just as our press passes enabled us to snidely walk past our shivering peers outside the awards venue on a hypothermia-inducing night in New York, our oracular college-student roots gave us the insight to recognize this press release quote for what it is: an endearingly mistaken half-truth.
The truth, of course, being that some college students are certainly quick to pick up on new musical trends; the bald-faced lie being that those selfsame soothsaying students were the ones who voted in the Woodies. While the night’s winners — ranging from Tom Delange’s new whiny outfit, Angels and Airwaves, to the Warped Tour regulars, Plain White Ts — undoubtedly blasted from dorm rooms across the country, they hardly harkened a new age of musical innovation.
But misplaced self-congratulations aside, the mtvU Woodie Awards have the right philosophy. A handful of student journalists were invited to be red carpet press for the show, further realizing this utopian ideal. Armed with recording devices and giddy awkwardness, we ventured onto the “red carpet” — glistening black Astroturf in a dank back entrance — and swapped Facebook account information and shared in “best moment ever!” superlative reverie while waiting for our tidbits of celebrity wisdom. And in a moment of Alanis Morissette irony, we happened to be standing next to Vh1’s “Best Week Ever” crew, in addition to representatives from Vibe and The Source magazines.
Followed by smatterings of mousy interns and publicists, recording artists of all genres offered up their enthusiasm in sound bites. The crowd certainly ran the gamut: The admittedly “prison-scary” Atmosphere, emaciated Dior Homme hipster types, pleasant gangster rappers and even an aged Tom Delonge. Comedian Katt Williams, in usual pimp attire, gleefully endorsed the show, which he considers a unique experience.
“This is actually an awards show that means something,” Williams said. “When do you ever get something for being up-and-coming? It’s good to be there and know that they’re going to be the next thing. That’s how I felt about Coldplay! I know that doesn’t give me much props … but before ‘Yellow’ came out I was telling people: ‘Yo, Coldplay … they’re hot!’”
The red carpet smorgasbord continued, featuring appearances by Beck, Lupe Fiasco, Ghostface Killah, the adorably Anglo The Subways and, as mentioned, Delonge of Blink 182 fame. Winner of Woodie of the Year for his band Angels and Airwaves, the apostolic Delonge spoke of recent work.
“We wrote a song that’s called ‘The Star of Bethlehem,’” Delonge mused. “It’s about Christmas, but we didn’t want to write a song about Christmas, you know? It’s about the idea of coming over a mountain and seeing a star in the sky and hoping to God that you have something to offer but it can offer you so much more.”
Per the collegiate voters who skipped lecture for “Intro Psych” to vote for Angels and Airwaves, this is representative of the best music of our generation. But these apocalyptic notions didn’t permeate the evening’s show, which managed to be quite pleasant. Corralled against a velvet rope separating “talent” from college students, we crassly eyed candle-lit tables for faces from thesuperficial.com. Aside from a made-up Jared Leto — who forwent the red carpet — only friendly hobbit Elijah Wood was visible. During the occasional teleprompter reading or boring acceptance speech, this enclosed petting zoo of quasi-fame was scoured by every cloying college student in the venue.
Aside from star-gazing, the show offered other diversions. Imogen Heap’s frigid techno ballad “Hide and Seek” was gorgeously performed, as was Beck’s set of “Nausea” and “Earthquake Weather.” But the real star of the evening was undeniably Leto: After mispronouncing “vegetable oil” in a self-righteous fireside chat on sustainability, he proceeded to pick fights with both Stereogum and the nubile Wood. Jesus Jared — the man saved Middle Earth!
After the VIP cat fights, the sweeping wins of Angels and Airwaves and especially the post-show voyeurism (i.e. attendees breaching the velvet divide and taking point-blank pictures of Woods’s horrified face), perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned from the mtvU Woodie Awards — the state of college music is an embarrassing disaster. That said, perhaps it’s all for the best. Ghostface Killah would certainly agree.
“Ghostface is growing up and I want everyone to grow up with me,” he said amid red carpet din. “You can’t stay young and dumb for all our life.”
Did you catch that, Jared?