On Sunday night, two television titans squared off against each other in a clash of old and new, awards-show glitz against prestige-TV glam.
It wasn’t even close.
Despite going head-to-head against MTV’s once-vaunted Video Music Awards show, HBO’s salacious sensation Game of Thrones set yet another high-water ratings mark, drawing 12.1 million viewers for its seventh season finale. (Another 4 million caught the episode via streaming channels.) That tops HBO’s previous GoT’s high water mark set just two episodes earlier, according to Nielsen. Indeed, Game of Thrones has reset its own ratings record four times just this season—and the season was only seven episodes long.
(And keep in mind, most experts believe the viewership is actually much higher, in part because it’s perennially the most pirated show, too. Euron Greyjoy, Westeros’ current pirate king of the Iron Islands, would surely be pleased.)
The MTV Video Music Awards couldn’t muster even half that audience. Despite being aired across 10 different networks, the VMAs only drew 5.68 million viewers. That’s the lowest ratings in the show’s history, and less than half of what the awards show attracted in its 2002 heyday (11.9 million viewers watched then). The VMAs did draw more teens than Game of Thrones did—and given the levels of sex and violence I saw in the finale, that’s probably a good thing.
But low ratings didn’t keep the VMAs from making some headlines anyway. Taylor Swift premiered her freaky, über-meta video “Look What You Made Me Do” during the show: The video’s now busy pulling down all sorts of YouTube records, having been viewed a staggering 73 million times in just three days. The awards show also replaced much of its signature shock antics for politically charged, socially aware moments, addressing Charlottesville, suicide prevention, Colin Kaepernick and the flooding in Houston. Perhaps P!nk’s emotional speech addressing her 6-year-old daughter, who recently said she felt that she was ugly, was the ceremony’s most tender moment.
“We don’t change,” she said. “We take the gravel in the shell and make a pearl. And we help other people to change so they can see more kinds of beauty.”
Oh, and some awards were apparently handed out, too.
Perhaps not as many people watched the VMAs this year because they were all listening to “Despacito,” which has now been at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for 16 straight weeks. The track has now tied Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s 1995 song “One Sweet Day” as the longest chart-topping single in history. (That said, Taylor Swift’s new hit will keep the mostly Spanish-language song from owning the record outright.)
Or maybe they were already lining up for the new iPhone a few months early, which is rumored to be able to recognize your face.
Or maybe they were simply too stoned to do much of anything, given that Netflix has developed its own strains of marijuana to sell (available only at a West Hollywood pop-up shop, apparently, and only to those who have a medicinal marijuana card).
They’re certainly not reading newspapers or magazines, given that newsstand sales continue to slide at record rates. Nor are they buying many novels and self-help books at the local Christian bookstore. And folks who live in Memphis can’t even go see the cinematic classic Gone With the Wind in a theater these days. The historic locale that screened it for 34 years decided to stop showing it because it is “insensitive to a large segment of its local population.”
(Those who live near an Alamo Drafthouse, though, may soon get clown-only screenings of IT, which sounds like just about the most terrifying movie experience ever.)
In other news this week, depression remains a consistent and troubling concern for teens, with teen girls being especially susceptible. Why are adolescent girls more prone to be depressed than guys? David Levine, writing for U.S. News, has some thoughts on that. Meanwhile, Google has unveiled a tool that might help people diagnose depression. Hopefully, you won’t have to tell Google your deepest, darkest secrets: Facebook, it seems, may know them already.
Finally, let’s say something good about a movie that hardly anyone says anything good about: San Andreas. This action flick starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was widely dismissed as being pretty light and very silly. But 10-year-old Jacob O’Connor found the film quite relevant when his 2-year-old brother nearly drowned in a swimming pool. Jacob pulled the boy out of the water and started doing chest compressions, just like he’d seen The Rock do in the movie. The boy survived, but he wouldn’t have without Jacob’s quick action—something that Dwayne Johnson himself lauded Jacob for. “You’re a real-life hero,” The Rock tweeted. “We’re all proud of you!”