The Anatomy of the MMVAs
Our MMVA correspondent studies the practiced perfection of red-carpet stars.
The first thing we see is his hair—author thick, flowing wave on top, but buzzed at the sides, slowly disintegrating into a tasteful stubble beard as it makes its way past his ears. By the time his twinkly eyes and shiny teeth have emerged from the car and onto the red carpet of the Much Music Video Awards, the fans already know it’s Adam Lambert. Only one man could be that perfect.
He shakes hands with red-carpet host Devon Soltendieck and makes a beeline to his fans—signing five seconds’ worth of autographs, exactly the amount you should sign if you’re on live TV. He tears himself away from the adoring multitude for a chat with Soltendieck.
“Are you prepared for a ’90s quiz?” asks Soltendieck.
“I can try to be, yeah!”
“All right! Quiz question number one: what does JTT stand for?”
“Jonathan Taylor Thomas.”
“You got it!” says Soltendieck. Lambert emits a short laugh that spotlights the upper row of his pearly whites.
“Second question—a little bit more difficult now!” says Soltendieck. “Name all five Spice Girls!”
“Ooh… by name or type of spice?” He names Scary, Sporty, Baby, and Ginger, but struggles to remember Posh. When the host names Victoria Beckham, he laughs and grins again.
“And…the final question…you’re gonna have to run with me on this one…”
“All right, I’m ready.”
Soltendieck pauses. “Do your best Carlton dance for us. Do you know it?”
“Oh yeah.” And as the music plays, Adam Lambert swerves his hips and flails his arms better than any man since Alfonso Ribeiro. “Yours is a lot better than mine!” says Soltendieck.
Has there ever been a more perfect man? This is what your humble correspondent asks himself as he watches the pre-show from the MMVA press room, somewhere behind the enormous pileup of geometric neon at 299 Queen Street West. Your humble correspondent will participate in a series of press conferences with this year’s stars, and maybe—just maybe—have an opportunity to study this remarkable specimen up close.
In the Much Music press room, there are certain reporters who have authority. There is Rudy Blair of 680 NEWS, sitting front-row-centre, who has a tendency to begin questions with a variation of, “Shawn, great seeing you, my friend…” There is Pamela Roz of Winnipeg’s Virgin Radio, whose questions are mostly whimsical hypotheticals involving time travel. “If you guys could switch places with any other group, any other genre, any other time period,” she asks the members of Walk Off the Earth, “what or who would it be?”
“I wish I was, like, a jazz guy in the time period where jazz was the coolest thing going,” says Joel Cassady. “One of the Art Blakey Jazz Messengers, or one of the guys in Miles Davis’s group: when jazz was the coolest thing in the world.”
“I would say if Joel’s going to do that in that form, the rest of us can be the Beatles, and that would be fantastic,” says bandmate Ryan Marshall.
There is also Hannah Alper, the 12-year-old proprietor of CallMeHannah.ca who many of the stars already know by name. (She also serves as a constant, painful reminder to this 26-year-old reporter that his own wunderkind years—if, in fact, they ever existed—are now definitively over.) Her repeated question—“What advice do you have for young people like me that want to make a difference in the world?”—inspires some of the most thoughtful answers of the evening.
“I’m only one person,” says OMI, the Jamaican-born reggae fusion artist whose song “Cheerleader” became a surprise global hit. “I’m also very young in my career, and I don’t want to give you the cliché answer…But the best advice I can give you is seek the right advice from the right people. People who know what they’re talking about. And the thing is, you sound like a pretty smart kid, and usually it’s written in your essence: you can feel when something isn’t right.”
Without exception, the questions are polite. Model Gigi Hadid is here, but we’re advised not to ask about her breakup with Cody Simpson (also here), so we ask instead what she would choose: good fashion, or good music? (“Oh, that’s really hard…I guess good music, because it’s my job to have good fashion, so technically I wouldn’t be choosing it…”). Politics come up only once, when Sydney and Noah Sierota, two of the four siblings from Echosmith, are asked about their recent performance at Hillary Clinton’s campaign launch.
“Yeah, last week we performed for…it was, like, kind of an announcement ceremony kind of thing for her candidacy,” says Noah. “Which we didn’t know…”
“We had no idea,” says Sydney.
“We were asked, like, ‘Hey do you wanna play something, Hillary Clinton, and, like, radio station and music?’ Like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ But it ended up being this, like, ginormous political, like, huge, really important thing. It was cool, but it was just a surprise, completely, to us.”
“So would you vote for her?” asks the reporter.
“We don’t know yet,” says Sydney. “I mean, it’s so far away, I’m not making any commitments yet.”
“What about Donald Trump?” asks the reporter. “What do you think about Donald running?”
“He has some great hotels!” says Sydney. “So, honestly, I would vote for him IF he gave me free access to all of his hotel suites!”
Noah laughs. “You have a terrible sense of—”
“HOLD ON—but I would tell him, ‘Hey, I gotta be your advisor to you, ‘cause trust me, I know what I’m talking about at 18.’”
Every now and then, one is reminded that somewhere, beneath the perfectly-coiffed hair and perfectly tailored clothes and perfectly delivered sound bites, the MMVAs is made up of actual human beings. After a few hours in the press room, you start looking for little moments of playfulness and vulnerability, as if they are a reminder of the world from whence these celebrities came.
“I was in One Direction for a week when Zayn left,” says Max Kerman of Arkells, referring to a jokey announcement that was widely mistaken for the truth. “It was a bit of a media storm.” He cheekily sips a beverage from the open bar.
“What happened?” asks moderator Teddy Wilson.
“What happened was, Zayn left the band; they needed a temporary replacement; I joined the band. It was easy. For press photos, just plop my head on top of his and we’re good to go.”
Nate Ruess is here promoting solo music while his band, Fun., is on hiatus. “Being a personality, I think, will only get you so far,” he says. “I got into it because I was so obsessed with feeling I wasn’t alone, so I always feel like my job as a songwriter is to make people feel like they’re not alone. And I will say that’s the only reason…” He stops himself. “…Well, I guess a couple of little, catchy, ‘Toniiiiight….’ or whatever. That helps.”
The Toronto-based singer Dan Talevski was frank when asked about his brief and unhappy time as a major-label artist in L.A. “I think the conflict was not having any artistic freedom,” he says. “Pretty much everything was handed to me: here’s your song; here’s your outfit; this is what you’re going to say on the red carpet; this is your favourite colour…I was kinda just basically showing up and doing what they told me, and I just felt I had no creativity. I just couldn’t express myself in any way.”
There is no such ambivalence from Adam Lambert. Cell-phone cameras are a-blazin’ as the evening’s most immaculately groomed man enters, fresh off his world tour filling in for Freddie Mercury with the reunited Queen. “I wanted to make sure that we kind of had a nice balance between paying respect to the original recordings and the intention of the songs in the first place, and then at the same time making sure that I was putting myself into the music, and not just copying Freddie.”
He is asked about his well-received role on Glee. “I immediately jumped at it, because it’s a show that echoes a lot of the same ideas that I echo in my philosophies, in my music, in things that I speak to my fans about. It’s a great show. I love the principles that they push forward, and I like the character, because he wasn’t really that different from me.”
He flashes his perfect smile. “The very first day I was terrified, I gotta tell you. Because they called me and asked me to do it, I said, ‘Of course!’ and I’m showing up to set going, ‘Wait a minute…what if I suck? I didn’t audition! What if I get up on set and all of a sudden they’re like, ‘Uhhh, hmmm, how do we tell you this? You’re horrible.’” He chuckles. “So I was a little nervous the first day, but luckily everything worked out.”
He flashes his blinding smile and heads to the exit, while the reporters crowd around him for selfies. He shakes their hands and laughs at their jokes and mugs for their photos. He is aggressively perfect.