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SPINfighting: What’s the Worst Video to Receive a VMA Nod This Year?

'Cause baby now we got bad blood

As the roundtable format has grown into an effectively direct way for a publication to think out loud for its readers’ perusal, we’re happy to debut SPINfighting, a new column where the SPIN staff will debate about a new wrinkle in the musical landscape every week. In this edition, we asked ourselves what is the worst video nominated for a major award at this Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards.

Brennan Carley: Former pop star and current queen of taking vacations Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty really tried to go full-patriot earlier this year with her X-Ambassadors-penned “American Oxygen” a treacly, sugar-spun nothing of a song. Then there’s its video (nominated for Best Video With a Social Message) — Rihanna stands in front of a waving American Flag because literalism will never die. That’s intercut with scenes that are meant to evoke… some kind of emotion, probably? Look! It’s a man saluting! There’s the Obamas! The stock market and an Occupy Wall Street protest. I feel nothing.

Andrew Unterberger: Hard to hate on an old-school soundtrack vid — they used to have their own separate category at the VMAs, y’know —  like “Love Me Like You Do,” (nominated for Best Female Video), with clips from the accompanying movie and everything. Though maybe not that hard when the movie is 50 Shades of Grey. The film clips are edited over Goulding’s bombastic MOR to pass the movie off as a lightly sentimental rom-com like Notting Hill; a pretty tough sell with some of those creepy-ass Jamie Dornan facial expressions. The super-low-hanging chandeliers are kinda cool, but does every Ellie Goulding video have to have a section where it looks like she’s singing from inside a fort of white bedsheets?

Harley Brown: Certain things are meant to be thought and not spoken, and just about anything Ed Sheeran writes falls in that category. “Thinking Out Loud” is especially egregious: it’s a retirement song, both literally (he sings about still being 70 years old) and figuratively, with its bland piano melody meant to fade into the background of a linoleum-lined hall. It’s a cookie-cutter Hallmark wash. But the visual (nominated for Best Video, Best Male Video, Best Pop Video, and Best Cinematography), with its tepid choreography — like a much lower-budget version of the transformative ballroom dance scene in Beauty and the Beast — might be even worse.

Dan Weiss: Even as a Jew, I was bowled over by Katy Perry’s “Birthday” video last year, which proved her to be a formidable comedian somewhere between Borscht Belt and Borat. It doesn’t matter so much that it was staged, because her facial expressions and full-body nerve put her in the vintage Jim Carrey zone regardless. But Maroon 5’s similarly gonzo clip for “Sugar” (nominated for Best Pop Video), where the band crashes as many wedding as one day (well, one shooting budget) would allow, to the tune of several screaming brides, is as dull as the interchangeable band themselves.

Watching, I didn’t believe for one second that these women worked this hard planning, only to be upstaged on their own special day. And especially not by an unweeded dickface like Adam Levine, who (s)mugs into the camera at his own clever idea to make the biggest moment of several couples’ lives All About Him. So good thing it’s fake; a champagne bottle to the head might’ve messed up his hair.

Rachel Brodsky: I feel bad as I write this. Because I adore Taylor Swift, her music, her cats, and her entire collection of crop-top outfits. So why wouldn’t I like Taylor Swift channeling her inner Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element alongside every It Girl ever (and Kendrick Lamar) in “Bad Blood” (nominated for Best Video, Best Collaboration, and just about all the technical awards)? Well, after watching endless cameos from — here we go — Karlie Kloss, Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez, Cara Delevingne, Ellie Goulding, Jessica Alba, Lily Aldridge, Cindy Crawford, Gigi Hadid, Mariska Hargitay, Martha Hunt, Ellen Pompeo, Serayah, Hailee Steinfeld, Hayley Williams (who totally should have been playing Leeloo instead, imo), and Zendaya, things just start to feel like a pre-cutting room episode of Too Many Cooks: Revenge of the Antelope-Limbed BFF Squad Edition. Spread out over the course of a two-hour arena show, the parade of guests can be welcoming rather than numbing. In a four-minute clip it’s a starf–k seizure.