There are VJs again. Lots of them.
MuchMusic hosts used to roam Queen Street, filming interviews and between-video hits in and outside of the Queen and John studio “environment.” They were a strange version of celebrities, both ineffably cool keepers of Canadian youth culture and somehow-approachable twenty-somethings next door.
The VJs disappeared about a decade ago, around the same time the Bell Media-owned channel dropped “Music” from its name, killed the MuchFACT video grant, cut out music videos and started loading up the programming with reruns of South Park and Seinfeld. Even the last vestige of the brand, the MuchMusic Video Awards, became the much glossier iHeartRadio MMVAs, then fell off the schedule a year before the pandemic gave them a built-in excuse – and still few people seemed to notice.
But the idea of MuchMusic never really goes away, and now there are not one but two versions of the nation’s former music station.
The official new version of MuchMusic, owned by Bell Media, launched on July 7. Though the TV channel is still just Much, there are new MuchMusic on TikTok and YouTube channels – complete with a new crop of VJs.
Not long after the announcement, former puppet VJ, Ed The Sock (aka Steven Kerzner), came out and said he was in talks with Bell about his own version of a Much relaunch before an exec shakeup killed the plans.
He and his wife/longtime content partner Liana K went ahead with their own plans anyway, crowdfunding a channel with the “spirit” of the old MuchMusic called NewMusicNation. It also launched in early July, a week before MuchMusic – and came with its own batch of VJs, including Ed himself.
So which is truer to the Much so many Canadians know and love? I binged a bunch of both to find out.
MuchMusic without the music videos
The first thing you should know about MuchMusic is there are no music videos.
They’re still called VJs – short for “video jockeys” if you’ve forgotten – but the personalities are more like influencers. They’re not there to set up a batch of song clips, but to create their own content out of the sheer force of personality – though still playing off music and pop culture content of the minute.
Head to @much on TikTok and you’ll find deep dives into fan theories about new Lil Nas X material, original novelty songs about The Bachelor, man-on-the-street “complete the lyrics” interviews, jokes about the new Kanye West drops (i.e. how did he make a song about Giannis winning the NBA championship? Did he finish the album the day of his listening party?)
The original press release promised a revival of a few different Much shows, including Video On Trial, Intimate & Interactive and Much Spotlight. Only the latter is on the channel so far, and instead of its original format – a show that plays chronological videos and interviews from a specific artist, or a chance for you to see the early Spanish-language songs by Shakira – it’s a quick-hit spotlight on a musician or creator. So far, it’s pointed us at a “did you know a Toronto man is trending?” inquiry into Blockboi Twitch and a producer named Suave Lee who makes beats based on your TikTok picture.
Kanye is a genius. ##kanyewest ##bagofair ##donda ##review ##hypebeast♬ original sound – MuchMusic
There are other series, too, and those seem to be their strengths. MuchMashups is an original mashup of two different artists, but their use of AC/DC already got one clip muted due to a copyright claim. Diss Barr’d is a trip into diss tracks from rappers like Gucci Main. #Underr8ed is a discovery series, introducing TikTok to new Canadian artists like the very smooth (and previously unknown to me) Shamir Virgo.
All of those series are hosted by Kwesi Kwarko-Fosu a.k.a. @kwedog, who’s established himself as the star so far. He’s full of energy and bursting with Toronto slang, the truest version of the old Much strategy we never got to see brought into the 2020s – basically, give the fun guy at the party a mic and see what he does.
The others are establishing themselves too. Teddy Tong seems to be the goofy one, asking people outside the Drake if it’s named after Drake and trying to break into his old high school. Myah Elliott is the music nerd, talking earnestly about her favourite artists and listening deeply to their lyrics. Georgia is the interviewer, asking Tate McCrae about her raspy voice. Verdah Ansari and Sadé Powell are still establishing themselves, though they have potential.
They do feel like what VJs would have evolved into on the old TV channel if you forget the later years when they started bringing in glossier personalities with a specific ambition for broadcasting – casually charismatic and diverse, willing to play around and see what people pick up on. The format of TikTok makes it harder to experiment since they have just a minute or so each time to make an impression, but you can see it starting to come through.
There is a YouTube channel as well, which are mostly longer versions of the clips that make it onto TikTok. They have the opposite problem, going on a little too long. There’s a clip that quizzes the VJs on popular TikTok songs with often misheard lyrics, which is a fun concept but goes on way too long with 12 rounds. A video about unwritten rules of concerts is also an easy engagement topic, but could use some trimming down. There’s got to be something between 30 seconds and 11 minutes.
Ed The Sock is playing music videos again
One of the fun things about old MuchMusic of the 80s, 90s and early 2000s was its shaggy quality. Most of the best programming wasn’t tightly-edited clips filled with jump cuts and post-production gags – it was live, seat-of-your-pants TV.
If you’re missing that, Ed The Sock’s NewMusicNation is the one for you. The format of all the shows will feel instantly familiar to anyone who watched too many hours of Much back in those days. It’s a simple format: a host with a mic somewhere on the streets of Toronto (or London, Ontario) introducing a handful of music videos.
Instead of Canadian and American music industry breakthrough acts like Sum 41, Avril Lavigne, Swollen Members, Nelly Furtado, Christina Aguilera or the New Radicals (can you tell what era I grew up on?), the videos are all from independent Canadian artists and are all self-submitted. Kerzner tells me that was something he always pushed for on Much, but they tended to run artists signed to major labels. “With their touring and performances cut off for 18 months, they need the exposure to help them recover,” he says. Instead of getting DMCA takedown notices on YouTube, they actually get to monetize the music for artists who registered their music. There have been over 800 submissions.
There are different hosts for different genre shows. The Punk Projekt is hosted by John Tard, himself an old punk from the band 3Tards, who used to be standards of crusty punk bars in Kensington Market and Queen West. Rapsody is hosted by SUM-01, a conscious rapper from London, ON. Eventually there will be country specials by country artist Ty Baynton, a series on LGBTQ+ artists, a pop culture series by Liana K an Indigenous series by a host from Inuvik named Dez, and a metal series from a hesher named Robbie Stevenson who will also host the return of Power Hour.
Kerzner hosts a bunch of shows as Ed The Sock, including Yo Canada! and Video Overload, both shows dedicated to Canadian videos, and Are You Kidding?, which focuses on funny videos. He’s often at Yonge-Dundas Square and loves to chat with the characters he finds there, some who remember (or misremember) the raspy cigar-smoking sock, and some who are more likely to talk about the imminent return of Jesus. Your mileage may vary with the Ed schtick, but there is a certain nostalgia to seeing him do what we remember him for – wisecracking with weirdos and making fun of self-serious bands who use the word “ethereal” in their bios.
The reason your mileage may vary is because Kerzner has been trying to revive his Ed The Sock character for years now in various different formats. With the zeitgeist reexamining the mean-spirited gossip culture of the mid-2000s, it’s hard to write off Ed’s biting commentary on artists like Britney Spears as “of the time” if he’s still here doing his thing. Lately, he’s gotten more into the political sphere and his centrist politics have turned off some would-be fans on Twitter. (Did you always want to know what Ed The Sock thinks about Israel? Now you can!) But he leaves politics mostly out of NMN, keeping things light and scrappy.
So which version of Much is “more” Much? That depends on what you’re looking for.
MuchMusic is a bit like Saturday Night Live. Nobody can speak with any sort of objectivity. Your opinion on what the glory years were is probably whenever you were between the ages of 12 and 16.
Not to generalize a generation, but if you’re that age now, you likely don’t remember much about Much. There’s also a good chance you watch all your music videos on YouTube and the idea of just tuning into a channel that will play you videos you didn’t choose to watch yourself, or that aren’t fed to you by an algorithm, is a foreign concept.
There’s also a really good chance you’re on TikTok. Watching a meme about the new Camila Cabello record might appeal to you more than tuning into a facsimile of the Punk Show or the Wedge to discover the next CD to buy at HMV. Even if you do remember those days, there’s stuff for you to enjoy on that new Much channel – a way to engage with new music in a way that’s not your Discovery Weekly playlist or an overly earnest Pitchfork review.
NewMusicNation is more likely to appeal to someone nostalgic for that old model. Throwing on a music video show and leaning back to watch whatever is on, good or bad, scratches an itch I didn’t know I had. I’m someone who keeps up with new independent artists – it’s my job – and most of the artists I saw were still new to me. There was backpack rap, goth metal, skate punk and quite a lot of power pop from all across the country. It felt like an actual expression of ground-level independent music, like showing up to a random bar like Rancho Relaxo during Canadian Music Week.
There’s room for both, each doing their own thing, but each feels like a genuine outgrowth of MuchMusic. As much as you might eulogize it, Much might never truly die.