God love ya, television. Of the many things filmed this SXSW, there was nothing quite as flashy as the mtvU Woodies. What started as a sunny day festival that included Woodies nominees and artists on the rise soon transitioned into a rigidly planned spectacle of quick performances and promo spots. The many lighting trusses of the main stage looked like a pyramid of luminescence as LA quartet Haim finished up their set. “I want to fuck MTV!” yelled one of the Haims as the band quickly cleared the stage and the real show began.
Hosts Tegan and Sara were visibly uncomfortable with their duties and – alongside Woodie of the year winner Machine Gun Kelly – made for an odd team when faced with teleprompters and production assistants. The sisters quickly found their footing, however. Tegan and Sara breezed through a quick four song set evenly split between old hits and new tracks off their latest LP Heartthrob. The performance was a decently energetic warm-up to what was to come, breaking up the monotony of essentially silent spots staged for the sole purpose of their appearance on television.
Though not every award was “given out” in front of the tightly packed audience, a majority of Woodies were handed out in some capacity. Aforementioned winner Machine Gun Kelly awarded Earl Sweatshirt with the Breaking Woodie. A particular highlight of Earl Sweatshirt’s acceptance speech was the sheer fact that he didn’t really say much of anything; rather, he asked for a member of his crew to translate his sentiments to the audience. Machine Gun Kelly also had the proud honor of awarding a Woodie to someone far more disheveled than even him: the completely vagabond-esque Danny Brown, who won Best Video for “Grown Up”.
Though the next musical guest, twenty one pilots, were adamant about being unknown and constantly announcing themselves, nobody legitimately knew of The Lonely Biscuits as they accepted their Chevrolet Sonic College Artist Woodie. You can’t fault MTV for no longer breaking music, I guess; twenty one pilots included. The idiosyncratic duo provided the most surprising set of the evening, kicking things off with full skeleton costumes that included luchador masks. From backflips to lead singer Tyler Joseph climbing a lighting truss and the grand finale of Joseph and drummer Josh Dun engaging in a drum battle downstage, the gimmicks were turned up and the results were electric.
A few backstage interviews took place care of grandaddy (hell, it’s mtvU; anyone above 25 is ancient) VJ Sway, who presented Macklemore and Ryan Lewis with the Breaking Woodie. “We don’t even know what this is but it’s heavy!” squealed the indie rap superstar before rapper and beat man took the stage. Clearly the most anticipated set of the evening, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were relegated to playing just four songs as well. Megahits “Thrift Shop” and “Same Love” got the all-star treatment from an insanely hyped audience. People were clapping, rapping, and most definitely capturing their experience via smartphone and iPad.
Something mtvU didn’t bank on was hotshot dubstepper Zedd to have a far sparser audience, however. As soon as Macklemore beckoned all who attended to his newly purchased 1990 Cadillac limousine, (which was older than many in the audience, the Seattle rapper noted) a flood of folks fled the Woodies in favor of something, anything but Zedd. Many in attendance were disenchanted despite the impressive, succinct performances. According to some, last year’s Woodies actually felt like a seamless award show – something to be a part of – while this year it seemed that the only important thing was what happened between “action” and “cut.”