Online//Youtube Music Awards

I didn’t watch the YouTube Music Awards when they aired (if “aired” is even the word for it). I saw the precious ads with Jason Schwartzman every time I logged on to search for a video, but it seemed silly to watch something live on the website that has most helped make irrelevant the notion of watching something live. So now I’m watching it in disordered bits, a manner of viewing that seems at once distracted and intentional. The video I’ve enjoyed most from the first ever YTMA broadcast, and the video that I think best encapsulates what makes YouTube such a great place for music, is a live music video for the Arcade Fire single “Afterlife,” directed by Spike Jonze and starring Greta Gerwig.

The video shows Gerwig, post-breakup, dancing through a living room, a snowy wood, and then onstage with Arcade Fire. The dance is choreographed but with primarily amateurish moves. It’s passionate and deliberately totally celebratory. In the end it’s unclear if Gerwig is still in character as she beams and bounces on stage with the band. The video is an example of what makes Jonze, Gerwig, and Arcade Fire such exciting artists: they all use strangeness and enthusiasm to key into the realest emotions. It’s fitting that this should exist on a website that has thrived as a platform that celebrates weirdos and lets them rise from the pack as a result of real people watching them, not suit handpicking them.

Jonze and Gerwig are two artists in particular with histories of embracing that DIY, make-anything-art ethos that makes corners of YouTube so fun. Jonze, for one, got his start making skate and music videos with goofy twists. In one video for Fatboy Slim, he dressed as a community dance intructor and performed in a suburban strip mall for unsuspecting shoppers. Gerwig got her start as the it-girl of the mumblecore movement, which produced low-budget, improvised films, like the kind you could make this afternoon with an iPhone and some friends.

The “Afterlife” video, and really the entire YTMA show, was a spot-on celebration of what makes YouTube YouTube, which is, of course, the you-and-me users, who upload and watch only what entertains them.