For coverage of the 2002 MTV VMAs, click here.
I have seen the future of popular music, and it is lying in the gutter, dying a slow death. By the time this is published, it may already be dead. It is painful to witness, to endure, and though there may be those with the nerve to turn away, others must dig deep for the stamina to sit through nearly four hours of what was once fun as awards shows go, but now wears tire tracks across its chest.
There were karmic indicators, signs that this would be a bad show. Take for starters the logo for the heavily advertised VMA's, where the "a" looked more like an "e." Just enough out of whack to make you think something would go wrong. Then there were all the overlooked artists. And perhaps most tragic was the death of Aaliyah, a promising and talented singer, whose plane crashed on location where she was making a video.
But on to the show. Jamie Foxx was this year's host, a position that requires some brutally good humor. Foxx started with a nod to Lincoln Center, singing popular hits in an operatic fashion and naming performers while in tails and top hat, assisted at one point by a Viking Brunhilda. His following monologue was hilarious, biting at times, but the audience seemed apprehensive, restraining laughter. When you consider that the crowd is the same one that greases women and men for the camera, encourages close ups on silicone enhanced anatomies, and advocates a somewhat looser lifestyle than your average Joe, the lack of response seemed odd indeed. After the Backstreet Boys presented the first award for best hip-hop video, Foxx offered band member A.J. a hit off a bottle of champagne. ("I'd just like say I've been sober for 64 days, and I'm proud of myself," A.J. said.) He added that it was just sparkling apple cider, but the uneasiness was apparent as they cut to commercial.
Personally, I was dying. For those who have seen Foxx, either on TV or film, he is extremely funny. Given the opportunity to really put the digs in, he must have been jacked up, but the response from the crowd seemed to quell his enthusiasm as time wore on. And as Will Ferrell of "Saturday Night Live" rushed the stage and climbed part of the set in a parody of last year's wackiness, the pain deepened. This was going to be a long show, a very long show. 15 minutes into it, and I'm thinking of tossing away everything and becoming a monk.
|Mary J. Blige at the MTV|
Video Music Awards, NYC
9/6/01, Photo © 2001 MTV.com
Janet Jackson delivered what began as a sad yet loving tribute to Aaliyah, quoting from a letter from a fan in Georgia that "We haven't lost anyone; we've gained an angel." Yet any tears welling were quickly dispelled as a trio that included Missy Elliot began checking their mic as Jackson neared the end of her speech. Jackson must have been confused, since she started reading their lines off the teleprompter, only to be interrupted by a deep and bold "Is this thing on?" from across the stage. It was messy, and an embarrassment. Could MTV not find a more dignified way of paying tribute, considering that Aaliyah was in a sense working for a product for them?
Though they did show a quick clip of the late singer, bright eyed, describing her joy in her career, the production values were terribly skewed for the event. Film snippets that sandwiched the nominated clips were of various wildlife situations, intended to be some way analogous to the type of music receiving an award.
Yet watching giant tortoises having intercourse for the best R&B video was a curious choice. Had MTV decided to spend as much time on the actual show as these nature videos, the show might have been more entertaining. Instead, cameras shot the wrong angles; Foxx introduced a performance by Jay Z, and instead out came Moby, Gwen Stefani, and Eve to present an award; U2 was sidelined from performing by a power failure; Missy Elliot had trouble getting out of a harness that dropped her from above, and so on. On the editorial side, MTV bleeped the word "niggaz" from the end of a J-Lo/Ja Rule duet, and saw fit to use asterisks in place of the letters that followed "H" ("a-s-h") for the title of Weezer's song "Hash Pipe."
Artists were quick to promote their products at the drop of a hat. Perhaps most blatant was Macy Gray, whose dress read "My new album drops Sept 18, 2001," on the front, and more directly, on her ass, simply "Buy it." DMX hawked his new disc, and Mark Wahlberg announced his upcoming flick, and they were only out long enough to intro a performance by Staind, who had the appearance of a work release group from a minimum security prison, and droned their way through an uninspired piece of music. Busta Rhymes began by saying, "Before we set this down, my album will be in stores..." before even bothering to read what was written for him off the prompter. Maybe this was an edict from the record companies, to push the sales of one's disc, or maybe the companies are just laying off sales and marketing.
And either the bulk of the artists were juiced up or high or whatever, or they couldn't read, or are unfamiliar with microphone technology, but the majority of them bent over like hunchbacks at the podium to speak into the mic. Moby actually pulled off the piece of tape stuck there that said, "Do Not Lean In." The only one who seemed confident was Mick Jagger. As he stood erect delivering the nominees for best video, Jagger looked good. He was introduced by Kid Rock, who held a cigarette tight in his right hand, wore a Bob Seger T-shirt, babbled on about mixing styles, and had obviously been drinking (or something). Even MTV's own Carson Daly stooped his shoulders when he was at the podium.
Surprisingly, all was not lost. There were some moments where a viewer could actually manage a chuckle. Foxx, as noted, was a riot, though he probably won't come back, and I wouldn't blame him. His exchange with Will Smith, where Smith kept acknowledging him as the wrong person, first by saying "Thanks Martin," then "How's your brother Keenan," was side splitting. Also funny were Mudvayne, whose members all had fake bullet holes in their foreheads, and Andy Dick as Daphne Aguilera, Queen of Pop, as he walked across the seats to get to Christina. The interchange between P. Diddy and Ben Stiller was good for several chuckles, as the latter stumbled his way through the latest slang. And Triumph, the comic dog, as he neared J-Lo and asked if he could sniff her butt.
"Hey," he explained, "for a dog it's like climbing Everest."
As for surprises, the self-titled King of Pop made a quick appearance dancing with 'N Sync for about 20 seconds. But it was difficult to watch him, as his appearance has become so gruesome, and his nose, now well past the Diana Ross model, is onto something more elf-like. Perhaps the only real surprise of the evening was when U2 was receiving their Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award. Bono started talking about the Ramones, and how many bands wouldn't have happened were it not for them, and of the passing of Joey, and that he would like to give an award to them. And as a chrome door slides open, out they come, leather jackets and faded jeans,
but as Bono tries to make something of the event, again, MTV goes to commercial.
|Mudvayne at the MTV Video Music Awards|
NYC, 9/6/01, Photo © 2001 MTV.com
I suppose there's nothing to be surprised at, after all. As MTV plods though its 20th year, it has outgrown itself indeed, there was even an award for MTV2, where videos are shown around the clock. What is amusing is the manner in which MTV restrains itself, or seeks to limit content it finds offensive. The aforementioned edited Weezer song title, for example, or the fact that they always pixilated marijuana leaves or raised index fingers. But when it comes to gyrating women in tight vinyl hot pants, it's open season.
Similarly, the awards show has that same attitude about it. Britney Spears can dance with what appears to be the former cast of Cats, and play with a snake while dressed in lingerie, but bring the founding fathers of American punk on, and you can't spend two seconds to hear them say thanks. And, finally, there's the award for best video that went to Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya, Pink, with Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott for "Lady Marmalade," a tune from '74 by Labelle that was featured in the movie Moulin Rouge. The video features the women prancing around like a Victoria's Secret commercial. Hey, ho, let's go.
More Awards Show Coverage from NY Rock:
- Grammys 2000: Dinosaurs, Diapers, a Heap of Hispanics. Oh, and Thanks to God (featuring Jennifer Lopez in the famous Versace dress)
- MTV Awards 2000: If I Only Had a Brain
- Golden Globes 2000: The Best Lobotomy in the West
- Oscars 2000: A Whole Lotta Cleavage Goin' On (find out who won the Award for Best Cleavage)
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