MTV's big night just crass & clueless


September 7, 2001



An orgy of self-congratulatory hype. A model of cross-promotional corporate synergy. A celebration of all that is vapid, soulless and overcommercialized in popular music today.

Ah, yes: It must have been the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards, which were broadcast live Thursday night from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Established so that the monopolistic music network could applaud its own programming choices, the Moon Man statue itself has never had any credibility. But the VMAs used to be at least the edgiest and most entertaining of the music awards shows.

Reflecting the current lack of imagination at the top of the pop charts, MTV has been in a downward spiral for several years, however. And this year's edition of the VMAs was a stiff, leaden bore.


**Best video of the year: ''Lady Marmalade,'' from ''Moulin Rouge.'' n Pop video: 'N Sync, "Pop."

**Group video: 'N Sync, "Pop."

**Dance video: 'N Sync, "Pop."

**Direction: Spike Jonze, "Weapon of Choice," by Fatboy Slim.

**Breakthrough video: Fatboy Slim, "Weapon of Choice."

**Male video: Moby with Gwen Stefani, "South Side."

**Female video: Eve with Gwen Stefani, "Let Me Blow Ya Mind."

**New artist: Alicia Keys, "Fallin'."

**MTV2 Award: Mudvayne, "Dig."

**R&B video: Destiny's Child, "Survivor."

**Hip-hop video: Outkast, "Ms. Jackson."

**Rap video: Nelly, "Ride Wit Me."

**Choreography: Fatboy Slim, "Weapon of Choice."

**Cinematography: Fatboy Slim, "Weapon of Choice."

**Special effects: Fatboy Slim, "Weapon of Choice."

**Art direction: Fatboy Slim, "Weapon of Choice."

**Editing: Fatboy Slim, "Weapon of Choice."

**Best video from film: ''Lady Marmalade,'' from ''Moulin Rouge.'' n Viewers' Choice Award: 'N Sync, "Pop"

**Rock video: Limp Bizkit, "Rollin'"

**Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award: U2

The lack of inspiration was obvious from the opening skit. In a nod to Billy Crystal's Oscarcasts, miserably unfunny host Jamie Foxx launched the show with faux opera versions of pop hits, riffing on its setting at the Met's Lincoln Center home. But the parodies were better than some of the originals, so it sort of deflated the joke.

The most entertainment all night came from the pretaped award category introductions, which goofed on the Discovery Channel (i.e., two wrestling komodo dragons for best dance video, a herd of bounding gazelles for best hip-hop video, etc.).

As a testament to how dreadful many of the "live" performances were, thoroughly generic nu-metalers Linkin Park stood as a highlight. The band didn't play an original note or strike a distinctive pose, but there was at least a modicum of energy, and it was a lot better than plodding, angst-ridden balladeers Staind.

Alicia Keys, who claimed best new artist in a video for "Fallin'," tried to keep her performance real, but she didn't quite have the charisma or the vocal power to command the crowd's attention as she performed from behind her grand piano.

Striving to keep some street cred after her breakup with P. Diddy (who pulled up to the show rapping atop a tractor-trailer), Jennifer Lopez lip-synched a duet with rapper Ja Rule, who inexplicably sported a Burberry cap. How street is that?

Missy Elliott showed much more style and class, not to mention musical talent. Because she is less telegenic and model-perfect than the likes of Lopez or the "Lady Marmalade" combo of Christina Aguilera, Pink, Mya and Lil' Kim, she was shut out of the winners' circle, unfortunately.

Best group, dance, pop video and viewers' choice winners 'N Sync were outclassed during their performance of "Pop" by a Roy Lichtenstein-inspired stage set. And when Mr. King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, materialized to bust a few surprise dance moves, the moment was amazingly anti-climactic. ('N Sync is one of the long list of artists that Jackson has recruited to salute himself at two shows this weekend in New York's Madison Square Garden.)

Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake's girlfriend Britney Spears debuted her new single amid a cluttered stage number that looked like "Cats" meets "Caligula." Half-naked, Spears lip-synched a god-awful track while fonding a snake. Does anything else really need to be said?

Winner of the Video Vanguard Award, U2 delivered a solid performance of two recent songs before paying awkward tribute to the Ramones, but the band's set almost failed to make the telecast because of technical glitches. "MTV didn't pay its electric bill," Bono joked.

The show attempted to add a touch of poignancy with Janet Jackson and a procession of hip-hoppers paying tribute to the late R&B singer Aaliyah. But the stars were wooden as they read from their cue cards, and a video montage would have been much more effective. It's probably too much to ask MTV to stoop to playing some of her music, even though that's what the channel is supposed to be about, and that's why the artist was so beloved.

As for the awards, alt-poppers No Doubt might not be going anywhere these days, but Gwen Stefani is good luck for other artists: Eve won best female video for "Let Me Blow Ya Mind," and Moby (who sported a T-shirt honoring hard-core punks Minor Threat) won best male video for "South Side." Stefani appeared in both clips.

Spike Jonze won best director for Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice" (a k a the video with Oscar-winning weirdo Christopher Walken, which claimed a total of seven awards, including best director); Limp Bizkit took best rock video ("Rollin'"); Outkast claimed best hip-hop video ("Ms. Jackson"); Nelly took the duplicative best rap video prize ("Ride Wit Me") and in the night's biggest robbery, Destiny's Child beat Chicago's R. Kelly and red-hot newcomer Jill Scott for best R&B video for a weak "Survivor."

In the end, the most rock 'n' roll moment came from Walken, not a musician, but former song and dance man on the Broadway stage.

When the famous poker-faced actor appeared to introduce an award, he refused to read the TelePrompTer copy.

Good for him! Now when will the music scene follow his lead and finally turn its back on MTV?