VMA Sneak Peek: A Night Of Hundreds Of Stars… And Approximately 4,900 Lights

Just some of the nearly 5,000 lights that will illuminate the 2012 VMA stage.

As a dorky (but not tragically so – give me a little credit) kid growing up obsessed with both theater (that alone should tell you that I did not do sports… similarly, feel free to tweet me about "Newsies" at any hour of the day or night, ‘kay thanks) and music videos, I was always just as obsessed with was going on behind the curtain as what was happening in front of it. Where there’s glamour there’s usually gaffer’s tape, and I’ve always been equally intrigued by both.

So, as someone who, fortuitously, perhaps, had a magazine ad for the 1996 VMAs taped to my bedroom wall (next to my No Doubt and Tori Amos poster), getting to step behind the VMA lighting board at a late-night rehearsal inside the Staples Center was like standing at the altar where theater nerd and pop music disciple can freely worship.

You already know that 2012 VMAs will feature One Direction, Pink, Green Day, Rihanna, Frank Ocean, and Taylor Swift (just casually dropping just a few names). But behind the scenes at this year’s VMAs, you’ll find flower beams, gold specials, rolling heavenly Sharpies, atomics, GOBOs, and high bowls and low bowls. No, those aren’t types of weed or code names for bath salts. (Not that I’d know – I’ve only “read stuff.” Though I think I did once have a GOBO at a Phish show. Pure regret.) They’re just a few of the lighting effects of the 2012 VMAs, ready to turn each beat, bridge, and breath of each performance into sensory euphoria.

Check out more behind-the-scenes and behind-the-boards photos of the 2012 MTV VMAs after the jump.

When assembled, the entire lighting board setup takes up less than 20 feet. Dismantled, it could fit neatly in the backseat of your car with plenty of room for a friend. But (and perhaps this is not a good thing?), it’s more sophisticated than the control deck of the plane I flew in on yesterday; it’s the motherboard to the mothership that is the VMA stage, lit by 4,900 individual lights designed by veteran designer Tom Kenny (he's lit up everyone from The Who and David Bowie to Drake and Taylor Swift) all collectively capable of turning an arena usually known for plastic seats and cold concrete, into a stunning, nearly hallucinogenic (maybe there is some meaning behind those names) display of digital fireworks. A quick tap of the screen bathes the entire set in a stunning sea of gorgeous golds which give way to gunning strobes or menacingly sharp green beams that slice through the darkened house faster than you can say Alicia Keys.

We don’t usually give much thought (or credit) to something as technical as lighting on a night like the VMAs, when everyone (and by everyone, I first and most importantly mean myself) will be clamoring for a look at Miley’s new hair (AND RING!) or to see what Taylor Swift’s wearing or whether Pink shoots herself out of a cannon (please please please?). And you, like me, would happily watch them perform on a wooden platform lit by a single Edison bulb. Which would be pretty, sure, but where’s the fun in that? Behind the lighting board, with just the quick push of a slider (and a team of union laborers who spent a little over 90 hours hanging lights up to 150 feet in the air), is where the show comes alive via the silent spectacle of electricity dutifully designed to make every jaw in a 19,060 seat arena -- and the millions watching at home -- drop on cue.

The flick of a switch can light up the night like nothing you’ve ever seen before. And trust me – it will, and you haven’t.

Don't miss the 2012 MTV VMAs live from Staples Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, Sept. 6, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.


Photo credit: Ciel VanderVeen/ MTV

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