Kiss off the VMAs


August 29, 2003


Back in the days when MTV actually bothered to play music, its annual awards show was the most entertaining on TV.

Determined by the corporate powers that be, the Video Music Awards never had any real credibility, but they were usually good for a few kicks. In recent years, though, they've become as contrived, formulaic and predictable as the canned fare that now dominates the network.

In fact, except for host Chris Rock's bitingly sarcastic commentary about many of the winners and nominees, the 20th annual VMAs set a new standard for boring last night as they were broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

List of winners

*Best video: Missy Elliott, "Work It"

*Best female video: Beyonce featuring Jay-Z, "Crazy in Love"

*Best male video: Justin Timberlake, "Cry Me a River"

*Best group video: Coldplay, "The Scientist"

*Best rap video: 50 Cent, "In Da Club"

*Best dance video: Justin Timberlake, "Rock Your Body"

*Best rock video: Linkin Park, "Somewhere I Belong"

*Best pop video: Justin Timberlake, "Cry Me a River"

*Best new artist in a video: 50 Cent, "In Da Club"

*Best video from a film: Eminem, "Lose Yourself" ("8 Mile")

*Best R&B video: Beyonce featuring Jay-Z, "Crazy in Love"

*Best hip-hop video: Missy Elliott, "Work It"

*Viewer's choice: Good Charlotte, "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous"

*Best choreography in a video: Beyonce featuring Jay-Z, "Crazy in Love"

*Breakthrough video: "Coldplay, "The Scientist"

*MTV2 Award: AFI, "Girl's Not Grey"

You know that an awards show is in serious trouble when the most emotional moment of the night is when Kelly Osbourne and Avril Lavigne give a surprise achievement award to reunited '80s fluff-popsters Duran Duran, and when the big attempt at controversy comes from Madonna slipping Britney Spears the tongue.

Is there anyone with whom Madonna hasn't sucked face? And as for Britney, given her dirty dancing with a live python a few years back, making out with Madonna seems like a step backwards.

Musically, the only genuine highlight was a short but beautiful live performance by England's Coldplay, who won best group and breakthrough video, and whom no less an authority than Justin Timberlake (winner of the best dance, best pop and best male videos) called "the greatest band in the world."

After Justin "Yes, I am a punk'd bitch" Timberlake (who was at least charmingly self-effacing), the most ubiquitous presence during the endless three-hour hypefest was thick-tongued rapper 50 Cent, who kept turning up like a bad penny.

The marginally talented Eminem protege--whose biggest skill seems to be as a magnet for bullets--won best new artist and best rap video, lip-synced his way through a stilted performance, and inexplicably butted in on Mary J. Blige, whose usually soulful singing seemed canned as she did her thing to recorded backing tracks in the Rockefeller Center skating rink.

As for the other performances, Beyonce and Jay-Z were a snooze, except for when the diva was lowered upside-down from the ceiling, and the Wednesday Addams-imitating Christina Aguilera was notable primarily for her ongoing efforts to redefine the words "skanky ho."

Metallica continued its pathetic pandering to MTV with an instrumental medley of network favorites Lenny Kravitz, Nirvana, the White Stripes and Michael Jackson.

More than their equipment-trashing finale, the only bona fide excitement during the tune by viewer's choice award winners Good Charlotte came from trying to determine what was cheesier and more prefab--the Maryland rockers' shopping-mall punk costumes or their faux British accents.

"Good Charlotte? More like mediocre Green Day," cracked the red-hot Rock.

Earlier, the acerbic comic joked about the need to keep the Lolitaesque Olsen twins away from Chicago singer R. Kelly (who didn't show, and who lost out on best R&B video to Beyonce and Jay-Z).

Of Aguilera, Rock joked, "You'll be hearing these songs at strip clubs for years to come."

Then there was this introduction: "Our next presenter saves a lot of money on Mother's Day--please give it up for Eminem!"

It's encouraging that Rock could see beyond what was no doubt a considerable pay day--not to mention putting aside concerns for his personal safety--to give the evening's procession of unrepentant hacks and shameless hypes the dissing they so richly deserved.

In fact, if he's not asked back to host again next year, I intend to ask my bosses at the Sun-Times to recruit him to serve as guest critic for the 2004 VMAs. I'm sure he'd do them justice, and it would spare me the agony of watching.