Sun, 06 Jul 2003

'MTV' VJs: Throw a bit of attitude our way, please

Hera Diani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

There once was multitalented Jamie, and cheeky, cool Sarah -- but the list stops right there.

Ever since MTV Asia began broadcasting in 1995, there has been a revolving door of mostly forgettable pretty young things in a job that their peers dream of having.

We can only come back to the two who left a lasting impression. Jamie Aditya, who is a musician, was brimming with a winning combination of craziness and creativity, smartness and maturity without being arrogant.

With her girl-next-door looks, Sarah Sechan was fun, savvy to the latest trends but also a bit self-deprecating, the very personality that many teenagers can relate to.

She has now graduated to an editorial position at women's magazine Kosmopolitan.

All the others lacked any defining characteristics. Nadya Hutagalung, now a Singapore resident, did not deliver much beyond undeniably good looks, an Australian twang and a concern for wildlife.

Since round-the-clock MTV Indonesia was launched in March last year, a bunch of fresh new faces are being beamed into the living rooms of some 15 million households across the country.

On the whole, they have the requisite good looks, plus the perfect American-accented English, but they only succeed in coming across as wholly pretentious.

And then there is Edi Brokoli, a former vocalist of alternative band Harapan Jaya. With his gigantic Afro hairdo and far from model-material look, it could be argued that a pretty face is not all that gets you on screen at MTV.

Unfortunately, rather than bringing some cutting edge spirit to the channel, Edi's style is pretty lame; he looks like he is grasping on so hard to be cool. Case in point is his feeble attempt to be cool by wearing a "F--k Sheila on 7" T-shirt, mocking the popular teen music group, on recent show.

Teen viewers are not impressed by what is on show.

"After Sarah left, I don't think there are any VJs who are representative enough," said Dina, 19. "All of them try so hard to be funny and funky."

Hery, 27, said viewers expected the cutting edge and rebellious attitude that MTV has claimed for itself since it began broadcasting in the early 1980s in the U.S.

"That is something that the VJs of MTV Indonesia cannot provide, that attitude. They don't have to be all funky, with crazy haircuts or outfits. Just look at Carson Daly. He wears regular clothes, but he's aware," said Hery, a scriptwriter.

Daly has carved out a name for himself in the U.S. as a fun and funky VJ, drawing both teens and older viewers -- and becoming as much of a celebrity as the stars he introduces and interviews.

It's interesting to note that in the United States, MTV VJs, and also those of their main competitor, VH1, have always been 20- or even 30-somethings with a quirky personality and style to match, people like "Downtown" Julee Brown or a young Rosie O' Donnell.

Here, it's not just the overriding emphasis on looks, but also the lack of musical knowledge that irks viewers.

"They barely know anything about the music industry, and they ask such typical questions when they interview musicians. Like 'this is album number what?'. Well, try to ask that question to (dangdut star) Rhoma Irama, he has produced so many albums he would probably lose count!" said Boby Priambodo, the guitarist of renowned indie band Cozy Street Corner.

MTV Indonesia's head of marketing & communication Kiki Rizki said the company based its VJ selection on audience preferences.

"Based on the research done by Synovate earlier this year, it showed that Indonesian audiences react well to VJs that have brains, understand Indonesian youth, are attractive and have the ability to speak English," she said.

"Again, based on our research, the audience here is more receptive of those who are still in their age group, unlike Jamie or Carson."

Kiki added that the channel is happy with their recent VJs, but "we always try to improve their quality, either the English speaking ability or their knowledge about music and youth culture as well as the industry as a whole".

To that end, the channel recently conducted another one of its VJ hunts. It attracted a massive response, with more than 4,500 applicants. During six road shows from March to April, the competition pulled not less than 2,500 audience members per city per day.

Out of 10 finalists, the jury picked Daniel Mananta, 22, a graduate of the business school at Australia's Edith Cowan University.

But the jury that really counts -- the viewers -- have yet to return their verdict on whether he has the right stuff to be the next Jamie.