On Friday we gave our predictions for the Best New Artist category at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards (airing live September 6), and now we’re tackling the behemoth known as Best Pop Video. Today’s pop landscape has expanded its reach into so many genres, and so many varying artists have adopted “pop” trappings, that dance, power vocals, clever rock and brazen hip-hop have all come together in a giant Voltron of musical bliss. And that’s why these last 12 months saw the return of the mega-hit, thanks to the likes of Adele, Usher, Nicki Minaj, Gotye, Carly Rae Jepsen and The Wanted — and that’s before you factor in the five nominees below. Read on to find out which video we think will win, and which we think should win.
BEST POP VIDEO NOMINEES:
fun. featuring Janelle Monae — “We Are Young”
Justin Bieber — “Boyfriend”
Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifa — “Payphone”
One Direction — “What Makes You Beautiful”
Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris — “We Found Love”
THOUGHTS ON THE NOMINEES: We have eight juggernauts here, making this less like a heavyweight bout and more like those old WWF Royal Rumbles. The clear outlier here is fun., whose “We Are Young” is 2012′s most triumphant anthem, but it’s also the least danceable cut in the category. Despite the captivating slo-mo soiree riot constructed by the video’s director Marc Klasfeld, the quirky hit lacks the rabid backers of some of the other entries in the field.
And that would be Justin Bieber’s cue. This year he became a man (seriously, he turned 18), and the maturity translated over to his music. Upon first hearing the ethereal bass beat and seductive whispering of “Boyfriend,” everyone tried to figure out whether this was new material from Chris Brown or Justin Timberlake or Trey Songz, with the “Justin Bieber” guess way down on the list. While the Director X-helmed video was basic and unexciting, it showed the star as a swagged-out rebel without a cause leaning on a flashy car and groping girls. It was a message: The Biebz is all grown up.
Meanwhile, Maroon 5 certified their status as a pop hit assembly line, going straight from “Moves Like Jagger” to “Payphone,” which our readers voted as the song of the summer. Director Samuel Bayer crafted a condensed action movie (featuring some of the most inaccurate marksmen ever put to film) which reminded us of the golden age of late-’90s blockbuster music videos. Explosions, fast cars and a bank heist make this the most impressive nominee.
On the other end of the spectrum is John Urbano‘s minimalist video for One Direction. The Brits were depicted in rolled-up pants on the beach, VW van in tow, just hanging out having a good time. It was a clever strategy: the low-key, relatable video made for a healthy introduction to US audiences who may have scoffed at synchronized boy band dance cheese (not that we don’t love us some of that). And, c’mon — the song is undeniable.
Rihanna, meanwhile, had the artsiest, most high-concept video of the bunch (director Melina Matsoukas should get a special Moonman for the ribbon-vomiting idea alone). The frenetic depiction of volatile, doomed love served as a nice complement to the song’s cathartic electro drama. And we haven’t even mentioned the emaciated hipster Chris Brown lookalike.
WILL WIN: We think this one will come down to the Beliebers vs. the Directioners, with the Canadian vet edging out the British heartthrobs. With “Boyfriend,” Bieber broadened his appeal to mature listeners, while maintaining the charm that makes tween girls shriek. We may never know the real story behind the video’s original fire-and-water theme, but that doesn’t matter, because he’ll be adding another Moonman to his shelf for the official version.
SHOULD WIN: Rihanna had arguably the most fun song of the five nominated (1D’s is a close second), and if we’re going strictly by the word “video” (and not “song”), hers is the most realized artistic vision. In addition to being visually arresting, the video is an extension of the song’s theme.