Photographers' Blog

The marketing of Miley

New York City, New York

By Lucas Jackson

Does anyone remember what happened during the MTV Video Music Awards in 2012? How about 2011? I would wager that the last thing you remember from any MTV video related anything would be when Kanye West walked up and snagged the microphone away from poor Taylor Swift in 2009.

Guess what, someone was counting on that this year. I haven’t a clue who, it might be MTV or Robin Thicke or most likely Miley Cyrus but someone was counting on creating one of these exciting “moments” for people to talk about the next day and boy did they hit the ball out of the park. I cover a fair amount of live music. I am not a concert photographer and I don’t go to every music festival but I cover enough to know when I see a performer putting on a good show. Lady Gaga almost always does it, she has the theatrics down.

A lot of groups who use large stage set-ups know that the show itself can be as important as the music but it would appear that the world is yet to catch up to the genius that is Miley Cyrus.

Sure it was risque but take a look at Robin Thicke’s original video from the song, Miley Cyrus’ video for her song, and finally Robin Thicke’s video for his new song that was just published and ask yourself if all of this isn’t just clever marketing?

I was in the room with my long lens waiting for something to happen and although Gaga’s performance was artistic and interesting due to the deeper meaning (starting with a blank canvas and moving through several iterations until she was standing before the audience in shells) it was not something that made for a ‘signature’ moment.

Hatching a plan to cover Lady Gaga’s egg

I’ve covered all of the big Los Angeles based award shows and multiple Grammy Award shows, but I’ve never seen something like this. Was Babylon 5 making a comeback? Nope – just Gaga being Gaga.

I started to set up my equipment at my assigned spot on the 53rd annual Grammy Awards red carpet around 10:15am. My assignment was to cover red carpet arrivals with Lucy Nicholson photographing the show and Mario Anzuoni backstage photographing winners with their awards. Arrivals began at 12pm and lasted until 5pm. At about 10:45am we had a visit from an organizer saying that 1pm would be a bad time for a bathroom break. We started to ask questions and the answers were vague such as variations of “believe me you will want to be here, trust me.” We began to deduct through cryptic messages that it was regarding Lady Gaga’s arrival as that was everyone’s best guess and it made sense after covering her in the past.

As more photographers started to show up, the word circulated about the 1pm slot and we were told that the red carpet would be cleared for “something”. Words with question marks floating around included a vessel, a cocoon, a carriage, an enclosure. Eventually the cryptic Lady Gaga talk ceased and all of us photographers were told that her enclosure would stop in the center of the backdrop, she would be inside and she would not come out of it to pose for photos. Would we even be able to see her? What is it? How large is it? We weren’t sure. Photographers were trying to come up with ideas of what was possible. Would she walk with a transparent cage around her? Would she be encased in a glass dome? Was it something attached to her? People were asking everyone to try to gather a clue on what to expect. For some reason I started to envision her inside a huge hamster ball or some sort of plastic balloon like how some gift basket companies package stuffed animal gifts.

Lady Gaga’s meat dress in hindsight

The biggest cheer at Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards came when DJ Deadmau5 played Led Zeppelin during a commercial break.

Lady Gaga holds her video of the year award for 'Bad Romance' as she wears a dress made of meat next to presenter Cher at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles, California September 12, 2010.           REUTERS/Mike Blake Oh yeah, the Meat Dress

The only thing going through my head when Cher announced Lady Gaga had won Video of the year was… where is the boom camera?

The shooting position was extremely far away inside the theater (I had to shoot with a 600mm on a Canon MK4 which is X 1.3 chip ASA1250@ 200th sec… even then the stage was still head to toe vertical). The boom camera had been taking me out all night long and I was constantly moving my position trying to second guess where it would go. Obviously, the picture was going to be her in her dress with Cher in her dress. The infamous Meat Dress… I had no idea it was a meat dress until I made my way out of the theater and across the street to where colleagues Sam Mircovich and Fred Prouser were editing the images from the show. Sam said, “Nice meat dress stuff” I answered, “What?” I had no idea! She was changing her dress after every commercial break and looking at her through long glass in low light I though it was some type of “Flintstones” outfit.