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Other award shows can be totally stodgy, but this is MTV

With almost any awards show, the bottom line is "Who will win?" But to find out who the Best Whatevers are, the folks at home are usually forced to endure an unending stream of witless celebrities and pointless production numbers -- precisely the sort of time-wasters that leave most of us wishing there were a way to fast-forward through to the good stuff.

Not the MTV Video Music Awards, though. This special (which airs live at 9 tonight on MTV) is perhaps the only awards show on television that manages to remain interesting even when they're not announcing another batch of winners.

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Some of that has to do with the fact the music video has yet to become as stodgy as the rest of the entertainment industry. This year's Grammy Awards broadcast, for example, included a straight-outta-the-time-capsule rant against rock from songwriting fossil Irving Gordon that brought the show to a screeching halt. By contrast, the closest tonight's blowout gets to geezerhood is presenter Mick Jagger (on hand to anoint Guns N' Roses as 1992's Video Vanguard Hall of Famers), and even he stands a fair chance of seeming interesting.

But mostly, the edge enjoyed by the MTV Awards simply reflects the fact that its performers and producers are among the few people left who seem willing to take chances on live TV.

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For instance, who can forget the 1984 broadcast in which Madonna introduced "Like a Virgin," clambering down off a wedding cake to writhe on the stage in a wedding gown and "Boy Toy" belt? Or the show in '89 that found a ticked-off Andrew Dice Clay delivering his profanity-laden club act on live TV? (Clay was subsequently "banned for life" from the cable channel.) Or the bottom-baring trousers that Prince wore to sing "Gett Off" on last year's show?

This year's show should be no exception. For one thing, long-time host Arsenio Hall has been replaced by Dana Carvey, whose non-stop shtick should eliminate the risk of dead air. Nor is the list of presenters packed with the sort of celebrity shlubs that make other awards shows so tedious. Indeed, a couple of the awards-givers -- Magic Johnson, Howard Stern, Eddie Murphy, Denis Leary and Ice-T -- may prove to be more interesting than even the award winners.

Then there are the performers to consider. Even without the notoriously unpredictable Guns N' Roses on the bill, the musical portion of tonight's would be well-worth hearing, if only to catch the debut of Bobby Brown's stage show and what may be Michael Jackson's only U.S. performance this year.

And as ever, there are the awards themselves. Unlike the Oscars or the Grammys, MTV Award winners aren't especially easy to predict, since the 700 "members of the music industry" who vote on these things have yet to exhibit any obvious preference or fixations.

Still, since no awards preview piece would be complete without a few predictions, allow me to offer the following guesses:

For Best Video, look for the slo-mo sepia tones of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to nudge -- if narrowly -- Van Halen's text-heavy and unexpectedly pointed "Right Now."

For Best Male Video, although the star-studded gloss on the Hollywood rock scene in Tom Petty's "Into the Great Wide Open" makes it the most accomplished clip nominated, don't be surprised if Eric Clapton's touchingly sentimental "Tears in Heaven" wins instead.

For Best Female Video, although Vanessa Williams' jarringly edited "Saving the Best for Last" would seem the most obvious choice, look for the wide-open field to give Tori Amos' "Silent All These Years" an unexpected advantage.

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For Best Group Video, count on U2's image-saturated "Even Better Than the Real" thing being the only real competition for Van Halen's "Right Now."

For Best Rap Video, forget the teen-hunk appeal of Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch's "Good Vibrations," and watch the laugh-a-minute pace of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" edge out the visual poetry of Arrested Development's "Tennessee."

Nominees for the MTV video music awards

Best video of the year

* Def Leppard, "Let's Get Rocked"

* Nirvana, "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

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* Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Under the Bridge"

* Van Halen, "Right Now"

Best male video

* Eric Clapton, "Tears in Heaven" (performance version)

* John Mellencamp, "Get a Leg Up"

* Tom Petty, "Into the Great Wide Open"

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* Bruce Springsteen, "Human Touch"

* Weird Al Yankovic, "Smells Like Nirvana"

Best female video

* Tori Amos, "Silent All These Years"

* Annie Lennox, "Why"

* Madonna, "Holiday" ("Truth or Dare" version)

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* Vanessa Williams, "Saving the Best for Last"

Best group video

* En Vogue, "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)"

* Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Under the Bridge"

* U2, "Even Better Than the Real Thing"

* Van Halen, "Right Now"

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Best rap video

* Arrested Development, "Tennessee"

* Black Sheep, "The Choice Is Yours"

* Kris Kross, "Jump"

* Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch, "Good Vibrations"

* Sir Mix-a-Lot, "Baby Got Back"

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Best dance video

* En Vogue, "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)"

* Madonna, "Holiday" ("Truth or Dare" version)

* Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch, "Good Vibrations"

* Prince and the New Power Generation, "Cream"

Best metal/hard rock video

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* Def Leppard, "Let's Get Rocked"

* Metallica, "Enter Sandman"

* Ugly Kid Joe, "Everything About You"

* Van Halen, "Right Now"

Best alternative video

* Nirvana, "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

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* Pearl Jam, "Alive"

* Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Give It Away"

* The Soup Dragons, "Divine Thing"

Best new artist in a video

* Tori Amos, "Silent All These Years"

* Arrested Development, "Tennessee"

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* Cracker, "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)"

* Nirvana, "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

Best video from a film

* Eric Clapton, "Tears in Heaven" (from "Rush")

* Commitments, "Try a Little Tenderness" (from "The Commitments")

* Hammer, "Addams Groove" (from "The Addams Family")

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* Queen, "Bohemian Rhapsody" (from "Wayne's World")

Best direction in a video

* En Vogue, "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)," Matthew Rolston, director

* Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Give It Away," Stephane Sednaoui, director

* Sir Mix-a-Lot, "Baby Got Back," Adam Bernstein, director

* Van Halen, "Right Now," Mark Fenske, director

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Best choreography in a video

* En Vogue, "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)," Travis Payne, Frank Gatson, Lavelle Smith, choreographers

* Hammer, "Too Legit to Quit," Hammer, choreographer

* Madonna, "Holiday" ("Truth or Dare" version), Vince Patterson, choreographer

* Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch, "Good Vibrations," Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch, choreographers

Best special effects in a video

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* David Byrne, "She's Mad," Carlos Arguello, Michelle Ferrone, effects

* Def Leppard, "Let's Get Rocked," Ian Pearson, effects

* Michael Jackson, "Black or White" (short version), Jamie Dixon, effects

* U2, "Even Better Than the Real Thing," Simon Taylor, effects

Best art direction in a video

* Guns N' Roses, "November Rain," Nigel Phelps, art director

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* Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Give It Away," Nick Goodman, art director

* Sir Mix-a-Lot, "Baby Got Back," Dan Hubp, art director

* Rod Stewart, "Broken Arrow," Jose Montana, art director

Best editing in a video

* En Vogue, "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It), Robert Duffy, editor

* Metallica, "Enter Sandman," Jay Torres, editor

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* Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Give It Away," Veronica Labels, Oliver Gajan, editors

* U2, "Even Better Than the Real Thing," Jerry Chater, editor

* Van Halen, "Right Now," Mitchell Sinoway, editor

Best cinematography in a video

* Tori Amos, "Silent All These Years," George Tiffen, cinematographer

* Eric Clapton, "Tears in Heaven" (performance version), David Johnson, cinematographer

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* En Vogue, "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)," Paul Lauter, cinematographer

* Genesis, "I Can't Dance," Daniel Pearl, cinematographer

* Guns N' Roses, "November Rain," Mike Southon, Daniel Pearl, cinematographers

* Michael Jackson, "In the Closet," Rolf Kesterman, cinematographer

* Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch, "Good Vibrations," Dave Phillips, cinematographer

* Metallica, "Enter Sandman," Martin Coppen, cinematographer

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* Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Give It Away," Marco Mazzei, cinematographer

* Vanessa Williams,, "Running Back to You," Ralph Ziman, cinematographer

Breakthrough video

* Tori Amos, "Silent All These Years," Cindy Palmano, director

* David Byrne, "She's Mad," David Byrne, director

* Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Give It Away," Stephane Sednaoui, director

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* Van Halen, "Right Now," Mark Fenske, director


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