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Image: Justin Bieber in "Baby"
Pamela Littky  /  AP
Justin Bieber, right, is shown during the filming of his music video, "Baby."
By
TODAY contributor
updated 9/9/2010 12:27:09 PM ET 2010-09-09T16:27:09

The first Arianah Brown ever heard of Justin Bieber was when the 12-year-old daughter of one of her friends posted a link of the teen singer performing an acoustic song on Facebook. It didn’t surprise Brown when she learned a few years later that Bieber had become a pop sensation, since he’d already become an online one.

“I thought he had a good image that appealed to 13- and 14-year-olds,” said Brown, an Indiana-based musician. “I believe social media had a lot to do with it because that’s where these kids are.”

Social media, not radio or MTV, has become the way much of the public now becomes acquainted with new music, as anyone who has spent more than a few minutes with Facebook, Twitter or Apple’s Ping can attest. This changing of the guard is now being reflected by MTV’s Video Music Awards, which airs Sunday at 9 p.m., ET.

Slideshow: Justin Bieber

This year, the program’s Best New Artist nominee Bieber sits at the very top of YouTube’s Most Watched videos rankings as of early September 2010. Last year’s Best New Artist was Lady Gaga, whose “Bad Romance” holds the second spot. Last year’s Video of the Year, Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” was a viral sensation in both its original form and the various parodies and tributes it spawned.

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The packaged rebellion of the 25-year-old program began to seem passé during the past decade, but renewed interest in music video has given the VMAs a new lease on life. According to MTV, last year, viewership was up 17 percent from the year before, with 27 million viewers tuning in on MTV, MTV2 and VH1. The year before, ratings grew 26 percent on MTV and MTV2 according to Cable Fast National data.

“Tik Tok” by VMA Best New Artist nominee Ke$ha is a good example of a song that became a hit largely because it was a viral sensation, said Jennifer Fowler, the vice president of digital marketing for the RCA Music Group. “Thousands of viral ‘Tik Tok’ videos started popping up on YouTube many of which clocked in tens of thousands of views,” said Fowler by email. “It was clear to us that ‘Tik Tok’ was a certified viral smash.”

Spreading the buzz
If social media doesn’t pique people’s interest in tuning into the VMAs ahead of time, it will sometimes lure them there when the program is in progress, said Amy Doyle, MTV’s executive vice president of music and talent. Doyle said she’s heard tales of people tuning in after receiving messages on Twitter about one of the outrageous events that have become the show’s trademark.

Story: Viral video makes the VMAs relevant again

“Say you’re on Twitter and your friend tweets ‘Oh my God did you just see what happened on the VMAs?’ immediately you’re going to go and turn on the TV so that you can be part of that conversation,” Doyle said.

Social media has also bridged the gap between artists and their fans and that’s made a new crop of VMA viewers “feel like they’re really invested” in who wins in the program’s 16 nominee categories.

“You have artists who are tweeting from their seats,” Doyle said. “And you have the fans at home who are talking about what they’re tweeting. So the buzz is happening in real time and it really does continue to bring an audience to the show even if you don’t happen to be there at the beginning.”

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Doyle said Bieber is an excellent example of a new performer who has used social media shrewdly because he is “constantly giving his fans a reason to go back to his Facebook page or to constantly check in with him on Twitter.

“He really develops an emotional connection with his fans and that has absolutely helped him develop this very rabid fan base,” said Doyle.

A new video age
Another reason for renewed interest in the VMAs is that there may be a new golden age of music video underway, said YouTube spokesperson Chris Dale. Dale said artists today are raising the bar of the art form in much the way early 1980s artists like Duran Duran and Madonna did.

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“I’ll give you a great example: the Arcade Fire did this really cool video for ‘We Used to Wait,’ for Google’s Chrome browser,” Dale said. “It’s experimental and was based on the coding language HTML5. As a guy who grew up on (Van Halen’s) ‘Hot for Teacher’ and Twisted Sister, it is frankly the most amazing music video I’ve ever seen.”

“There’s a renewed interest in video online,” said Whitney Matheson, the author of USA Today’s entertainment blog Pop Candy. “As far as music video goes, it’s in the artist’s best interest to create videos that can be spread and go viral. Lady Gaga is a perfect example of that. Her videos are short films that have all been so incredibly well received.”

Slideshow: Lady Gaga

One reason videos are becoming more interesting Dale said, is because the global reach of YouTube, music blogs and the Web sites of recording artists have actually expanded the audience for them. “I know Lady Gaga’s manager said recently that when they’re making their videos, they have YouTube in mind,” Dale said. “That’s the place the world gets a chance to see it.”

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Dale also said some of the most popular videos of the past few years have made their premiere on YouTube including Lady Gaga’s “Telephone,” Justin Bieber’s “Never Let You Go,” Gorillaz’s “Stylo” and OK Go’s “This Too Shall Pass.”

Both Dale and Matheson said it’s ironic that even though MTV produces and airs the VMAs, the music channel’s focus has drifted away from music video. “I discover nothing from MTV,” Matheson said. “All the bands that I discovered this year are from music blogs.”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Photos: VMA's most shocking style moments

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  1. In the beginning ...

    It's been almost three decades since the first-ever MTV Video Music Awards. And from the very beginning, stars like Madonna aimed to please their fans by shocking them, with a combination of risque routines -- remember that "Like A Virgin" floor dance? -- and outre fashion. So, in anticipation of the award show's 27th iteration, which airs on Sunday, Sept. 12, at 9 p.m. ET, InStyle looks back at some of the most memorable VMA performances and appearances ever, and wonders: Can we still be shocked, or have we seen it all? We'll be watching to find out. (InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 'Like A Virgin'

    At the inaugural ceremony in 1984, Madonna attained instant superstar status thanks to a scandalous rendition of her already-controversial single, "Like A Virgin." Clad in a lingerie-inspired "wedding dress," complete with veil, "boy toy" belt, gloves and a see-through polka dot skirt, she danced atop a giant cake, writhed on the floor and generally set the bar sky high for all subsequent would-be pop stars.


    InStyle.com: Madonna's transformation

    InStyle.com: Lady Gaga's most gaga outfits

    InStyle.com: Britney Spears' transformation
    (InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Lil' Kim

    Lil' Kim didn't perform at the 1999 show, which may have been for the best, given the extreme precariousness of her glittering purple ensemble. Instead, she presented the award for Best Hip-Hop Video with the help of a slightly nonplussed-looking Mary J. Blige and Diana Ross, who couldn't resist reaching over and jiggling the pasty-covered part at the podium. (InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Pamela Anderson

    Her date, Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, was dressed as a flasher, but it's unclear what look Pamela Anderson was going for at the 1999 ceremony. Nevertheless, her combination of sparkling pants, a white corset top, and a giant, furry pink hat demanded -- and received -- plenty of attention.


    InStyle.com: Madonna's transformation

    InStyle.com: Lady Gaga's most gaga outfits

    InStyle.com: Britney Spears' transformation
    (InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Britney Spears

    It was Britney Spears's second time at the VMAS -- she'd debuted the previous year, singing a relatively tame version of her first single, "... Baby One More Time." But in 2000, she stepped up and changed the game, opening with a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" (which she performed while dressed in a menswear-style pinstriped suit), before segueing into her hit "Oops! ...I Did It Again," and tearing off her shirt, jacket and pants to reveal a surprising nude-tone two-piece bodysuit. (InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 'Slave' girl

    The next year, Britney's biggest challenge was topping herself: She managed, though, while singing "I'm A Slave 4 U," thanks to a super-skimpy, vaguely harem-esque ensemble complemented by a 7-foot albino python.


    InStyle.com: Madonna's transformation

    InStyle.com: Lady Gaga's most gaga outfits

    InStyle.com: Britney Spears' transformation
    (InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. The kiss

    In 2003, VMA MVPs Britney and Madonna teamed up (along with Christina Aguilera) for a startling performance that nabbed each of them additional spots on our list. The show opened with each of the younger stars paying tribute to Madonna's first-ever VMA appearance 19 years earlier, singing "Like A Virgin" in not-so-virginal white. Then the Material Girl herself turned up in a suit to sing "Hollywood" ...and to kiss Britney, then Christina, on the lips. (Missy Elliot popped out of a "wedding chapel" to rap the finale. (InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Pink

    When Pink donned a purple one-sided jumpsuit in 2009 -- exactly 10 years after Lil' Kim generated controversy with a similar getup -- people barely noticed; we were too mesmerized by the death-defying trapeze routine she performed while singing her hit single "Sober."


    InStyle.com: Madonna's transformation

    InStyle.com: Lady Gaga's most gaga outfits

    InStyle.com: Britney Spears' transformation
    (InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Lady Gaga

    Lady Gaga began her performance at last year's VMAs precisely where Madonna ended hers 25 years before: dressed in white and rolling on the ground. But it's difficult to imagine anyone -- even Madge -- engineering the spectacle that followed as Gaga ran through "Poker Face" and "Paparazzi," then wrapped things up by rubbing fake blood all over her torso, face and hair. (She even got some in her eye, for maximum ick.) The other ensembles she donned that night were only slightly less startling: Her sheer red Alexander McQueen dress, topped with a lace mask and matching crown, was a standout. (InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
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