By Matthew Ismael Ruiz
Among awards shows, the mtvU Woodie Awards are a peculiar affair. With no star-studded red carpet or mainstream media attention, the show isn’t held in Manhattan or Los Angeles like most major awards show.
For the third time in a row, MTV traded a major metropolis for the comparable insanity of South By Southwest, the massive festival that overtakes Austin, TX, for a week in March. Expanded from a single show into what is in effect a festival-within-a-festival, the awards show included performances from Childish Gambino, Iggy Azalea, and the 1975, and was preceded by a daytime lineup featuring Disclosure collaborators Sam Smith and London Grammar, as well as Vic Mensa, Bleachers, American Authors, and Wild Cub.
Though the show that aired Sunday night (March 16) was pre-recorded, the sound was impeccable live. In line with the show’s tagline: “music college students love”, the crowd skewed towards the target demo were too young to drink, but old enough to reject some of the more mainstream pop acts in favor of something a little—and only a little—less ubiquitous. They spent the night washing down peanut butter cups with soda from sponsors Reese’s and Pepsi, genuinely pumped to be in a converted gravel lot in downtown Austin.
(Bob Levey/ Getty Images)
The show kicked off with a surprise performance from hip-hop impresario Lil Wayne, who stormed the stage to the opening notes of his classic 2008 track “A Milli,” instantaneously flipping the switch on the crowd from mild-mannered to wild. After just a few lines from the first verse, a little banter, and some a cappella rhymes, he bounced off the stage, yelling “Welcome to the 2014 awards!” as if he wasn’t quite sure just which event he was attending.
Wayne was followed by a performance from Manchester, UK’s The 1975, who took home the night’s first award, the “Breaking Woodie.” Wearing all black, with boy-band good looks (including a goofy older-brother-looking bassist) and elaborate haircuts, their super-sweet brand of bubblegum pop had won over any non-believers by the end of their set. Their self-aware cheekiness was charming, informing the crowd they would like them to “keep it turnt up” and that “this song is called one thing but it’s about something completely different. It’s very clever.” When they accepted their award, frontman Matt Healy proclaimed, “We don’t endorse the idea of music as a competition,” before admitting, “but if you’re going to give us an award, then give it here.”
(Bob Levey/ Getty Images)
Gap-toothed rapper Danny Brown and hipster-in-residence DJ Steve Aoki made an appearance to introduce Iggy Azalea, and it wasn’t hard to imagine what Brown was thinking of when he described Iggy’s “Bold beats and in-your-face rhymes,” and admitted that “nothing gives me a Woodie more than a fine female who can flow.” Azalea, for her part, immediately injected energy into the crowd, flanked by four backup dancers and wearing high-waisted bottoms that wildly succeeded in showing off her ample assets. More mature attendees lurking in the back near the soundboard winced as she screeched lines like “there’s a party in your face and I’m about to dance on it” and “integrate my genius,” but the kids ate it up, especially when she was joined onstage by alt-pop it girl Charli XCX for their hit single “Fancy.”
(Bob Levey/ Getty Images)
Actors Shailene Woodley and Theo James made a quick appearance to promote their film Divergent, playing a clip from the movie before presenting the “Performing Woodie” to British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, who wasn’t in attendance. He thanked his fans in a recorded message.
Wiz Khalifa was on hand to present the 2014 Woodie of the Year to the ubiquitous sad-rapper Drake; but even though he likes to rap that he “started from the bottom, now we here,” he in fact was not here. Young Money president Lil Wayne accepted the award on his behalf, via video screen.
When the comedian Hannibal Buress came out to introduce headliner Childish Gambino, he confused more than a few attendees that had not yet seen him on Comedy Central’s “Broad City,” one of whom remarked, “he’s not reading from the teleprompter, who is he?” After a few penis jokes related to Woodies, he lobbed a zinger about racist commenters on interracial YouPorn videos, wondering, “Are you really being racist and masturbating right now?” before introducing Donald Glover, a young, black, comedic actor that they actually recognized.
Glover, who performs as Childish Gambino, didn’t start his show from the stage, choosing to enter the spectacle like a prizefighter, leading a brass band procession from behind the crowd to the stage, wearing a jumpsuit covered in lights. His live setup features a full band, with two guitars, a synthesizer, drum kit, and a bassist who doubles as an auxiliary percussionist. At points, the set sounded orchestral, highlighting the incredible job done by the sound crew throughout the show—the electric bass was particularly strong, with a clean but thunderous thump. Entertainingly animated, Glover kept the set uptempo for the most part, even through costume changes. It included both seasoned jams (“Fire Fly,” “Sunrise,” “Black Faces”) and fresh cuts from his new record Because the Internet.
The Woodies may not carry the cachet or star power of the Billboard awards or the Grammys (or even the MTV Music Video awards), as evidenced by the absence of most of the award winners. But for the thousands in attendance in Austin, it mattered little, and those watching at home likely won’t care at all.