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The Best of the Inaugural YouTube Music Awards

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Arcade Fire, Eminem and Lady Gaga stunned while Jason Schwartman and Reggie Watts entertained.

The Best of the Inaugural YouTube Music Awards

The first ever YouTube Music Awards took place at NYC's Pier 36 last night, and it was far from your typical awards show. Instead of scripted banter between hosts and presenters with something to pitch, the YouTube Music Awards were streamed live and host Jason Schwartzman (along with co-host Reggie Watts) were only given some slips of paper with bullet points. There was no script. The performers were at the whims of the directors and whatever their vision was.

All of that gave the proceedings a spontaneity that was refreshing and absent from most other awards shows. In addition to the craziness between awards, artists created live music videos directed by people like Spike Jonze and Tyler, the Creator. When your hosts end the evening covered in powder/fake blood with their clothes torn in places, you know you're getting something pretty original. the YouTube Music Awards was just that. 

And despite the indie/auteur vibe, there was still plenty of mainstream presence. Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble" won 'YouTube Phenomenon' (which led to the best moment of the night). Psy was nominated for WAY too many awards. But you have to have a solid mix, and you also can't argue with all of the views that the big artists get, but I think this also could have been a place to level the playing field and give some unheralded artists some recognition for their creativity. 

Here are some just a few of the memorable things that happened, including some video:

• Arcade Fire opened things up with a terrific live video for their single "Afterlife" (directed by Spike Jonze) featuring the terrific dancing of Greta Gerwig and a bunch of excitable young girls.

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• Later on in the evening, when a group of young women were accepting Taylor Swift's award for 'YouTube Phenomenon,' Win Butler crashed the stage and lived out his own Kanye West moment. Just like Kanye's original, this was justified as well.

• One of my favorite bits involved Michael Cera coming out and voicing the dialogue for Schwartzman and Watts, adding in plenty of extra compliments for himself.

• At one point early on in the show, Rashida Jones popped up and just handed babies to Schwartzman and Watts. Then she left, and the two had to continue hosting while holding crying babies in their arms. It was completely bananas. 

• Lady Gaga provided one of the more poignant moments of the whole show with a raw, uncut performance of the latest single "Dope" off of ARTPOP. The song is one big reference to her past addiction to cocaine, and she actually broke down in the beginning. While it may not have been the best performance, it was certainly powerful, and the single shot used in the video really amplifies everything.

• During Avicii's short film/performance, the two protagonists ended up making a death pact. So naturally, they simulated not only these two jumping from a considerable height, but they simulated fake blood splattering onto those close to the impact site. But they just kept dancing. No big deal. But Avicii did poke some fun at himself (through the words of Lena Dunham), so that was fun.

• Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, The Creator created the most claustrophobic video of the night. The two 

• M.I.A.'s video for "Come Walk With Me" was the most psychedelic and potentially the most seizure-inducing video. So many colors, so many flashing lights. I was really blown away by the visuals of it all, and the song is catchy as hell, too.

• Violinist/dancer Lindsey Stirling's live performance didn't make much sense to me. I really enjoyed the song "Crystallize," but the video behind it didn't work for me at all.

• But the best performance of the night clearly belongs to Eminem. His video for "Rap God" was positively incredible. Set in black and white and with just a plain white backdrop behind him (which eventually shifted to him in front of the crowd), the whole video was just slickly done. Eminem was spitting some hot fire right there. "Rap God" showcases why Eminem was voted 'Artist of the Year' for these inaugural awards. His lyrical prowess and delivery were on full display.

• Before this performance, Watts and Schwartzman made some music together to kill time. Schwartzman used to drum for the band Phantom Planet, and Watts is a talented music-maker in his own right. I was wondering when Reggie was going to make some music, and it was a pleasant surprise to see Schwartzman join him.

And those were the YouTube Music Awards. They were wild, they were messy, they were unpredictable and they were creative. Most of all, they were a lot of fun. A formula like this is pretty perfect for the Internet, so I don't know how much something will translate to other types of awards show broadcasts. It probably won't. But I'd almost rather have the YouTube Music Awards remain this lone unicorn, just doing its own thing and not caring that it has a beautiful, shiny horn on its head. It should remain unique, since it was the only one to try something so far outside the box. I like the innovative aspect of it, and hopefully they improve on these awards in the future.

Here were the winners for the 2013 YouTube Music Awards:

• Breakthrough of the Year: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
• Response of the Year: Lindsey Stirling and Pentatonix - "Radioactive"
• Innovation of the Year: DeStorm - "See Me Standing"
• YouTube Phenomenon: Taylor Swift - "I Knew You Were Trouble"
• Video of the Year: Girls' Generation - "I Got A Boy
• Artist of the Year: Eminem

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