Photos by Thomas Prior
There is a place where YouTube exists IRL. Inside this place M.I.A. hula hoops next to a gigantic pink box created by Earl Sweatshirt. Eminem is there too, as is violin wunderkind Lindsey Stirling, Avicii, and a bunch of other people you know from YouTube and the regular tube. This place is Pier 36 in New York City, and it’s the setting for the first-ever YouTube Music Awards, happening this Sunday. There is a laundry list of artists and directors involved, all overseen by creative director Spike Jonze.
In the interest of full disclosure we should mention that we are one of the producers behind this whole operation. And while that probably means we’re a bit biased, the stuff happening right now inside Pier 36 is objectively batshit insane. The 90-minute live show is hosted by Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts, with live performances on separate stages by the folks mentioned above, as well as Arcade Fire, CDZA, Walk Off the Earth, and Avicii. “The whole night should feel loose and spontaneous and creative like a YouTube video,” Spike told us yesterday.
Adding to the weird is the fact that Jason and Reggie don’t have scripts, and have been essentially locked out of the building. “Yeah, we kicked them out of all the writing sessions,” Spike said. “And we won’t let them come to rehearsal because we want the first time they do it to be on camera. We had written a script but it sounded like an awards show and we didn’t want to do that. So we threw it all out and then started planning stuff that Jason doesn't know about.” There will also be a few surprises thrown in for the sole purpose of messing with the hosts. “Hopefully we will send Jason to the hospital by the end of it,” said Spike.
Production designer K.K. Barrett, who has worked with Spike a bunch in the past, is heading up the set design. Unlike old timey award shows where the stage keeps changing and the performers are boring, for this show each act will have its own stage, meaning there are a plethora of them in the studio. K.K. told us he wants to “relax it a little bit and let it be more like a festival experience where you're going from stage to stage to stage.” But the things that the directors and performers created are more than stages. “You're really going from set to set because every creative performance and collaboration between the artist and the director required a different environment,” said K.K. “So they're environments rather than stages.”
The whole thing is meant to be as spontaneous as possible, so there’s not a whole lot to say about it before Sunday night. Look at these photos from inside the bowels of Pier 36 and then imagine a scriptless Jason and Reggie trying to navigate that scene while hosting an award show and dodging a bunch of stumbling blocks created by Spike to intentionally screw them up, and you’ll have an idea of what Sunday is going to be like.
Watch the YouTube Awards below on Sunday at 6 PM.