Keep It Lit, Northern Ireland
They came, they saw, they 'caankered'. Joe Nawaz looks back at an awards ceremony to remember
OMG!! MTV!! EMA!! LMFAO!! The acronyms and exclamation marks could literally go on forever.
Well, as 'literally' as when Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody commented that Belfast was 'literally vibrating with joy' at staging the 18th MTV EMAs. Being a nice middle-class boy from Bangor, Lightbody clearly confused Belfast’s usual convulsive weekend DTs for something more celebratory.
And so, MTV came, MTV saw, MTV 'caankered'. Sweeping into the smallest ever host city, or Belfast, as locals prefer to call it, the bejewelled awards juggernaut laid waste to collective sanity, reserves of chilled Sancerre and traditional Sunday torpor. In exactly that order.
The disconnect between the enormity of what was about to happen and the fact that it was about to happen in Belfast proved too much for some. As each new name was revealed, it became so surreally silly that it just all had to be true.
Justin Bieber: confirmed. Lady GaGa: confirmed. Queen: the first visit by English royalty (albeit of the rock n roll variety) to excite Sinn Fein’s DCAL minister, Carál Ní Chuilín, if her twittering was anything to go by.
Coldplay? OK. Red Hot Chili Peppers? The same. Katy Perry? Aye, go on then. Selena Gomez to host? But isn’t she Justin Bieber’s other half, as well as being a million-selling singer/actress in her own right? That’s just crazy!
The list of celebrities, artists and reality show shunters did often read like a who’s who of Celebsville – that’s when it wasn’t a 'who’s that?' For every Jessie J or Bruno Mars, there was a Sheamus the Wrestler (not his real surname), or a couple of glamorous transvestites from Jersey Shore.
As the Red Hot Chili Peppers brought the house down at the Ulster Hall, it was comforting to know that Boyce Avenue probably weren’t doing the same outside City Hall, and that Chris Martin of Coldplay had walked undetected all the way through Victoria Centre on Saturday to get an emergency McFlurry. Hard to say whether this is testimony to Belfast folks’ unflappable attitude toward stardom, or Martin’s uncanny resemblance to an Apple Store assistant.
Locals battled for tickets as news of allocations to mainland European sorts horrified those with a sense of regional entitlement. Who can forget the frantic, last chance bogling, chuntering and gurning that went on at the Waterfront Hall last week, when those with 'the MTV look' did anything to nab free tickets for the ceremony? Turns out there’s a right and a wrong way to looking like a yelping, gyrating psychopath.
The media furore was also something to behold. The UTV hotline alone was literally ringing several times a day, and BBC Online had topical comments about MTV such as 'like abt tyme Ar wee province had good noos' as pundits ruminated profoundly and passionately over whether GaGa would wear an Ulster Fry dress (she didn’t), whether Bruno Mars was made of Teflon (he’s probably not) and whether we’d be able to recognise the cheerleader from Heroes (we weren’t).
As the circus unfolded, so too did the rumours concerning who, what and where began to circulate. Lady GaGa partying in the Merchant? Come on – that’s just where well-heeled locals go in the hope that other well-heeled locals will spot them, surely. Justin Bieber hitting the Crown? He’d better have convincing ID. Kanye West getting into a tangle with a couple of local Amnesty International chuggers? Actually, that’s plausible.
But really, truly, the MTV pink carpet was the place to star gaze, as German, French and even Belgian pop fans nestled alongside the lucky locals who’d managed to blag a ticket in a Eurozone we’d all be happy to bail out.
Former heartthrob Jared Leto of 30 Seconds to Mars fame looked like an off-duty district nurse. Ashley Rickards of Awkward (semi) fame looked stunned, either by high levels of Belfast hospitality or valium. David Hasselhoff was... well, more of the Hoff in a moment.
GaGa won four awards – including Best Song, Best Fans and, puzzlingly, Best Female. 'I never anticipate or perceive that anything will come easily to me,' she said. 'It's always a fight from the bottom up.' So that’s how she conceives those costume designs.
GaGa’s Little Monsters proved to be the dominant tribe on the evening, but Beliebers and Selenators gave them a run for their pocket money in an airbrushed, inane and barely pubescent variation of the Brighton Beach May Day face-offs of yore.
If Lady GaGa made off with the silverware, the disturbingly frictionless David Hasselhoff made off with the hearts of all but those who can’t stand him. Complimenting the Asian MTV reporter on the pink carpet on his excellent tan, the Silvio Berlusconi of pap and author of German chart hit/threat ‘Jump in my Car’ also had some technical problems in working out how to hand over that Best Female trophy to Ms GG.
'I was trying to find her hand,' he revealed tellingly. 'But I ended up having to hold the award.'
Elsewhere Justin Bieber surely put paid to those rumours of fathering the child of a 20 year old fan by demonstrating pretty conclusively that he has yet to experience the maturated world of the baritone. It was good to see America’s Sweethearts together though.
Like an MTV generation Mary Archer, Gomez has stuck by her man admirably. Amidst her myriad costume changes and showbiz affectation, the authenticity of the youngsters' romance really came to the fore as Belfast got to witness firsthand their public display of association.
The perfect evening was marred a tad – not by Bruno, but by a streaker who bounded on to stage to have words with actress Hayden Panettiere (the cheerleader from Heroes, who he clearly hadn’t recognised). There’s always one attention seeking exhibitionist who wants to hog the limelight... But Panettiere took the distraction well.
It was ultimately a night for the city though – to paraphrase Snow Patrol so loosely as to make the sentiment redundant. As helicopters roared overhead in a manner unheard of since Gerry Adams kept voice actors in employment, the MTV EMA represented what one or two more verbose local showbiz gossip columnists were calling a paradigm shift in how Belfast will be perceived on the international stage.
The original controversy about certain elites getting preferential treatment and easy access to tickets was soon dispelled by the indelible sight of local civic representatives 'getting down' at the front to David Guetta and R&B sensation Jessie J.
Whatever legacy there is from this remains to be seen. But in terms of social cohesion, there was a collective sense (or madness) that Belfast had experienced something truly special.
Even the PSNI were fulsome in their praise of the public, as that vague catch-all 'other crime' was very low, apparently. Chief Superintendent Alan McCrum even went as far as to say: 'Northern Ireland can host international events successfully and safely.' Peace of mind for international events organisers everywhere.
The burghers of the city are adamant that this one evening will generate over £10 million of revenue for the city. 50 local companies were hired by MTV and hundreds of local people worked for the evening.
Plus, as well as Lady GaGa and Co filling out the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle, almost every hotel room in Belfast was booked, not just by stars and their extended entourages, but the ticket holders who came flooding in from all over Europe for one insane and somewhat enchanted evening.
Now the fairy dust has settled, the empty champagne bottles are being recycled and teen heartthrobs are rubbing their pained temples, hoping they’ve avoided another messy paternity suit, Belfast goes about its business.
If it isn’t McIlroy-shaped or sounds like Liam Neeson, we’re usually hard to impress, but we were duly impressed on Sunday. Any city that makes Jason Derulo feel at home can’t be all bad, can it? But, as a city, we also like to look forward – for good sound historical reasons, and sure haven’t we got Van Morrison and WWF Smackdown coming up? 'Keep it lit,' as Selena Gomez would say.