Has success spoiled the MTV Video Music Awards?
For most of its first decade, it was clearly the cutting edge of music awards shows. Where the Grammys seemed stodgy and the American Music Awards sounded glib, MTV's Video Music Awards somehow managed to sizzle. This was where Madonna introduced "Like a Virgin," writhing on the stage in a wedding dress and "Boy Toy" belt; where Andrew "Dice" Clay got mad and turned the air blue; where Prince let it all hang out (literally) during a performance of "Gett Off."
With luck, there will be more of that magic when the 10th Annual Video Music Awards airs tonight (at 9 on MTV). Certainly, the potential is there, given the kind of talent that will be on hand in Los Angeles. Among those scheduled to perform are Madonna, Pearl Jam, U2, Janet Jackson, Aerosmith, R.E.M. and Naughty By Nature -- heavy hitters by any measure.
Add in such celebrity presenters as Sharon Stone, Dr. Dre, Martin Lawrence, Shaquille O'Neal, Tony Bennett and Beavis and Butt-Head, and the show takes on the hallmarks of big-time entertainment.
That may not be as good a deal as it seems, though. Because as last year's broadcast demonstrated, bigger is not always better -- it can lead to self-consciousness, bad humor and the sort of smarmy, show-biz attitudes regular MTV rebels against.
We'll have to wait until the show airs to know if X-Gen icon Christian Slater possesses the requisite cool to carry off the job of Award Show Host, or if the show itself lives up to the 10th Anniversary hype MTV has been pitching.
Oh, yeah -- we'll also find out who won the awards.
Somehow, the awards themselves -- ostensibly the whole point of tonight's broadcast -- have been given short shrift in MTV's media blitz. Everybody knows that trophies will change hands tonight; why else would there be so many presenters? What you may not know is which acts are likely to walk away with one of the 18 spaceman statuettes being awarded tonight.
Best Video of the Year. Looking at the list of nominees -- Aerosmith's "Living On the Edge," En Vogue's "Free Your Mind," Peter Gabriel's "Digging In the Dirt," Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" and R.E.M.'s "Man in the Moon" -- some viewers might be tempted to quip, "None of the Above."
Now, now. This may not be the strongest slate MTV has ever posted, but neither is it a disgrace. True, the En Vogue clip is more flash than substance, while the high bug-and-worm content makes "Digging In the Dirt" a little too creepy-crawly for comfort. And though the Aerosmith video is inventive and imaginative, the song itself drags on too long to support the visual content.
That leaves R.E.M. and Pearl Jam. "Man in the Moon" is easily the wittier of the two, and R.E.M. is more likely to benefit from voter good will than any other act on MTV. But as clever as "Man in the Moon" is, it lacks the emotional wallop and cinematic sparkle of "Jeremy" -- which is why Pearl Jam should win in a walk.
Best Male Video. With what is probably the strongest field of the evening, this is the toughest category to call. George Michael's "Killer/Papa Was a Rolling Stone" is a great clip, but its burlesque of ad imagery is a tad hackneyed; Sting's "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You" is visually dazzling, but the song itself is too VH-1 to carry much clout. And though Peter Gabriel's "Steam" had perhaps the most refreshing view of sex anywhere on MTV, it's no match for the kinetic energy and stylish '60s-meets-'90s look of Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way."
Best Female Video. Forget Annie Lennox, Neneh Cherry and k.d. lang; there's no way this award will go to anyone but Janet Jackson. Not only does "That's the Way Love Goes" find her looking like a million, but the muted colors and casual choreography perfectly capture the music's gentle groove.
Best Group Video. Apart from Depeche Mode's Warholian "I Feel You," the nominees here repeat the Best Video lineup. As such, look for Pearl Jam to take this one, for the same reasons it will take the biggie.
Best Rap Video. Dr. Dre's "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang" is sexist, sloppy and loaded with drug and gang images (though the marijuana leaves were blurred out of recognition by MTV); that's why it won't win, even though it's a stronger clip than any of the competition. A better bet would be Arrested Development's "People Every Day," which has a strong message and nice sense of narrative, but even that is unlikely to top the be-bop cool and stylish, black-and-white photography of Digable Planets' "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)."
Best Dance Video. If by "dance music" they mean the kind of stuff that gets played in clubs, RuPaul's "Supermodel" will win in a sashay; on the other hand, if they mean "videos with dancing," look for Janet Jackson's "That's the Way Love Goes" to nose out En Vogue's "Free Your Mind."
Best Metal/Hard Rock Video. It would be great to see Helmet's "Unsung" win, if only because it would be the first time in history that guys with short hair won a heavy metal award. But since this category boils down to a shootout between Aerosmith and Pearl Jam, that's unlikely. Expect this category to be Aerosmith's consolation to losing Best Video to Pearl Jam.
Best Alternative Video. Given the visual flair that crops up on "120 Minutes" and "Alternative Nation," you'd think they could have fielded a stronger group of nominees than these oh-so-predictable clips. Both Stone Temple Pilots and 4 Non Blondes are hobbled by having better music than visuals, and while the Nirvana-in-drag tack made "In Bloom" politically daring and visually arresting, it's doubtful the group will win any awards for it. So look at this one as a showdown between Porno for Pyro's texturally inventive "Pets" and Belly's straightforward presentation of "Feed the Tree." And though Belly has the better video, don't be surprised to see them burned by Porno for Pyros.