I know you're really happy for me, and you're gonna let me finish, but first, click here to watch Tori Kelly's performance, so you'll know why we need to talk.
Every year when the VMAs roll around, it feels like the end of an era. All the biggest summer hits have peaked and what you're left with are warm memories of driving home from the ocean with the pop station on and the windows down. I've got summer memories spanning from 2004's "She Will Be Loved" to last year's "Fancy," with a special emphasis on the summer of 2005, when I called the oh-so local 106.1 BLI almost every single day to request my favorite songs (come Mr. DJ, song pon de replay, anybody?).
Every year when the VMAs roll around, I eat dinner early and shamelessly set my DVR. I charge my phone so I can read live tweets during commercial breaks. I run to Dari-Land to get a large cup of ice cream to eat during the show. I watch the red carpet. I worry about my girl Taylor. I study the nominees. I think about how the VMAs aren't nearly as important or prestigious or even relevant as the Grammys, but February is a long time away and although I can’t quite remember why, I am always compelled to watch this shit show anyway. Every year when the VMAs roll around, I cringe. I criticize. I wonder why I am so compelled to watch this. I think about real talent and its major lack. I listen to pretentious comments from my dad; as he strolls from the TV in the garage to the TV in his bedroom, he scoffs at the living room TV and shames the youth of America (me) for buying into something that's so clearly "nothing but a commercial."
This year when the VMAs rolled around, it was Tori Kelly who saved the show. She sang "Should've Been Us" at the end of the night, when I'd been watching just long enough to begin to question whether or not I was truly a valuable member of society. The show as a whole felt like a night when you get lost driving home from your friend's house after midnight, and it's dark and there are deer crossing everywhere and your phone is dying and you can't remember anything about your own town. You feel this overwhelming sense of relief when you know where you are again; you get a rush of comfort and security. On this night, Tori Kelly was the first street you recognize during a dark drive; she was the first sign of refuge. Your intuition leads you home after that.
The performance reminded me why I love music, all music, even though pop music often gets a bad rep. "Should've Been Us" is a pop song with substance. It is a reminder of the potential of music in any genre to affect fans emotionally, especially during something as devitalizing as the VMAs. The song is universal and pertinent and common while still unique—it manages to take a ubiquitous experience and make listeners feel as if it was written specifically for their own particular situations; it ultimately defines a truly good pop song. The performance was not elaborate or gratuitous or focused on anything other than her talent; it was modest in its arrangement and stellar because of its lyrics, band, vocals, emotion, and simplicity. She had no competition that night; no other artist even attempted to reach her level. She played guitar for the first half of the song, and how many other VMA performers can even play an instrument? After remixing the album version of the song, she stripped it to just vocals. No other performance went with a less-is-more approach, or more accurately, a less-is-much, much, much more approach. Tori Kelly sold nothing other than an example of what true music and talent are. She was anything but a commercial.
Every year when the VMAs roll around, I tune in, hoping that an artist like Tori Kelly will remind me why I look forward to this show every summer. I hate the controversy of the show. I hate the parts that do feel like blatant advertisements. I hate the tired references to something about a foam finger and some guy who's gonna let you finish (except my own references, because your own jokes are always the best). But I stick with it for the moments that bring me to tears. Performances like these keep me hooked. Maybe next year it'll be Ed Sheeran or Shawn Mendes or Adele who saves the night. But 2015 belongs to Tori Kelly.
Music, feelings, and a little bit of feminism.
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