“I think it’ll be a lot more guys with a lot more hair and a lot less gold and platinum, and maybe better music, I don’t know.” Los Angeles underground rapper MURS was the first one down the red carpet (which wasn’t red so much as black and sparkly) at last Wednesday’s MTV-U Woodie Awards, and he summed up the spirit of the show better than anyone else there.
The Woodies offered a display of musical fare not normally seen at major awards shows. The Roseland Ballroom in New York City was packed with artists and the college students who put them there, and the eclecticism was stunning: great hip hop hope Lupe Fiasco discoursed on the state of the game (it’s going South), English scrap rockers the Subways contemplated being at a Chicago blues bar, and Lady Sovereign, a sort of hip hop Eliza Doolittle, could be seen in the audience on a handler’s shoulders being very, very drunk. The only thing everyone seemed to have in common was that they were incredibly geeked to see Beck perform. And why not? I mean, the man had puppets with him as part of his show.
I got to take this all in after winning the MTV-U/College Publisher AA Press Pass to the Woodies contest, a national college rock journalism competition. Last Wednesday, I hopped on a train out of Union Station destined for Gotham, and what I found when I got there didn’t disappoint. After dropping my baggage off and getting a reuben that was bigger than my face at Carnegie Deli, just around the block, I headed to the Roseland. Someone from MTV-U came downstairs, and escorted me upstairs, where I would watch the stage come together and see Imogen Heap do her soundcheck. After a short break, it was time to head down to the not-so-red carpet. While there, I stood near reporters from Seventeen, the BBC and Vibe.
Other highlights of the red carpet included Ghostface Killah talking about his new record while rocking Seattle gear (I thought about pointing out to him that Seattle might be the whitest city in America, but then remembered that this guy was in Wu Tang, and can do pretty much whatever he wants at this point) and a member of Plain White Ts going all Joe Namath by responded “Winning,” when asked what they were looking forward to, and then quickly backing down when asked if that was a guarantee (which was a shame, since they actually won their award, Breaking Woodie).
The real thrills occurred during the show, though. Heap opened the show with her otherworldly “Hide and Seek,” which sounded like it was coming from some sort of alien cave because of her use of a harmonizer. Then the whole room got a small taste of GW, when WRGW DJ Mark Prysler presented an award with Slug and MURS. Prysler, who hosts “Funkadelic Freestyles” on Tuesdays 8-10 p.m., was invited as a presenter because of his show’s success at promoting underground hip-hop in DC. “The fact they had college DJs like myself presenting awards and college students on staff shows how much they care about the youth spectrum,” Prysler said when asked about his experience. “MTV-U is a better way of getting up and coming talent to the people.”
Unsurprisingly, MTV-U GM Stephen Friedman agrees. “Listen, I think when you think about the four years that college represents, and when you think about the difference between a 17-year-old in high school, and an 18-year-old in college, something like their entire world-view has changed,” he said “That’s what we try to capture. It’s like a time when you can experiment, everything is a little more open-ended, everything is kind of up in the air.”
Asked about how much oversight the mother network has, Friedman was insistent on his autonomy. “My boss who gave me the job has wanted a college channel for the last 10-years, because we all realize we discover the kind of music we love in college, and it’s kind of that time that we try to capture,” he said, clearly proud of the fact that MTV-U shows actual music videos, which is not always the case with networks that are ostensibly centered around music.
And so it’s appropriate that the highlight of the show had nothing to do with celebrity or entertainment, but with the music itself. I mean, sure, it was pretty funny watching Jordan Catalano, I mean Jared Leto, giving an award for social consciousness, but nothing that night could touch the closing set by TV on the Radio, all ethereal voices rising above the din of the aural apoclaypticism they created out of thin air. The last note sounded, the crowd stood stunned, and I went out into the cool night air, warmed by the reminder that it’s the music that matters.
The Woodie Awards will air on mtvU tonight at 8 pm .