Aerosmith may have been the home audience's favorite, winning the Viewer's Choice Award along with the ones for Best Video of the Year and Best Group Video, but it was R.E.M. that came away the big winner at last night's MTV Video Music Awards, taking home four of the coveted Spaceman Trophies.
Too bad they were all technical awards: Best Direction, Best Editing, Best Cinematography and Breakthrough Video. Big whoop, huh?
But that was the kind of evening it was. Even though the annual awards show is usually one of the most amusing and unpredictable awards shows on TV, last night's broadcast was hardly a blue-ribbon show.
Not only did the awards themselves seem only to reward the status quo -- Janet Jackson (Best Female Video), Bruce Springsteen (Best Video From a Film), Tom Petty (Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award and Best Male Video) and Salt-N-Pepa (Best Dance, Best R&B; and Best Choreography in a Video) -- but the show lacked the razor's-edge audacity that made previous broadcasts so memorable.
Even Roseanne, emcee for the evening, proved disappointingly tame. Despite an intensive ad campaign that all-but-promised tube-searing insanity from our hostess, she was surprisingly staid in her role. After opening the show with a chorus line of tap-dancing transvestites (definitely not Rockettes material), she turned to the dancers and asked, "Which one of you [not nice word] was sleeping with my ex?"
"Who isn't?" they answered in unison. Hyuck-yuck-yuck!
More divorce humor followed. "People ask me ifI'm upset about my divorce," she said. "No, I'm only upset I'm not a widow." From there she made jokes about Mick Jagger's physique ("Hey Mick -- nice ribs. What are you, 50? Put on a shirt!"), getting tattoos with Henry Rollins, and having switched the musicians' heroin with Folger's Crystals.
But her only truly tasteless joke, which had to do with MTV VJ Kennedy's fondness for Rush Limbaugh, was quickly quashed by the show's seven-second delay. Kennedy, for her part, made sure to get her licks in when announcing the Viewer's Choice Award winner. Meow meow, girls.
True, we did get to see Michael Jackson kiss his bride (joked the happy groom, "Just think -- nobody thought this would last!"). But that was nowhere near as bizarre as when Sandra Bullock and Adam Sandler came out to announce the winner in Best Video from a Film. Bullock, seeming more than a little ditzy, read too far on the cue cards and said to Sandler, "So what was it like kissing Keanu Reeves?"
Realizing her mistake, she blurted, "Oh, God, that's your line!" But Sandler picked up the ball and ran with it, launching into a lengthy monologue on Reeves' smoochability.
Hoo-kay . . .
One of the most surprising things about the show was how old many of the people onstage were. Although Roseanne joked early on that she was "the oldest woman ever on MTV -- except for Cher," she was in fact no more ancient than much of Aerosmith. And when Jan Wenner came out to give a Lifetime Achievement Award to the Rolling Stones, Tony Bennett began to look uncannily typical of the MTV demographic.
Still, the Stones sounded pretty good when they took the stage to run through "When Love Is Strong" and "Start Me Up." Sharper still, though, was Aerosmith, who prefaced "Walk This Way" with an impressively funky dip into James Brown's "Hot Pants." Tom Petty, yet another older rocker, also came off impressively.
By contrast, the younger bands on the bill ranged from disappointing to downright embarrassing. Only the rap and R&B; acts came off with any class at all, with Snoop Doggy Dogg offering an impressively large-scale staging of "Murder Was the Case."
On the other hand, the alternative acts were generally underwhelming. The Beastie Boys offered a sloppy but enthusiastic rendition of "Sabotage" that was notable largely for their outfits, which seemed to have been inspired by Kevin Costner's wardrobe from "The Bodyguard." Still, that was better than Smashing Pumpkins, whose performance of "Disarm" was a muddy, semi-metal muddle that sounded as if it were mixed by someone with a grudge against the band.
No wonder the Best Alternative Video Award went to Nirvana, who -- needless to say -- did not perform. Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl did introduce an odd and touching tribute to their late bandmate, Kurt Cobain.
Awards they didn't give and should have included:
* Most Bizarre Moment Not in a Video: The Leningrad Cowboys performing "Sweet Home Alabama" with a Red Army Chorus.
* Most Surprising Couple: Best Video presenters David Letterman and Madonna. ("And you thought we wouldn't last," cracked Ms. M.).
* Most Oddly Matched Hair: presenters Bjork and Coolio.
* Best Celebrity Cameo: David Letterman, smacking Beavis in the back of the head with a popcorn box.
* Funniest Institutional Add: The MTV lotto-girl spot. Low production values have rarely looked as good.
* Most Sobering Sight of All: Charlie Watts in his Saville Row suit. I didn't know my broker played drums with the Stones . . .
MTV Video Award winners
This is the list of winners in the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards:
4 * Lifetime Achievement Award: The Rolling Stones
* Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award: Tom Petty
* Best Video of the Year: Aerosmith, "Cryin' "
* Best Male Video: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, "Mary Jane's Last Dance"
* Best Female Video: Janet Jackson, "If"
* Best Group Video: Aerosmith, "Cryin' "
* Best Rap Video: Snoop Doggy Dogg, "Doggy Dogg World"
* Best Dance Video: Salt-N-Pepa featuring En Vogue, "Whatta Man"
* Best Metal/Hard Rock Video: Soundgarden "Black Hole Sun"
* Best Alternative Music Video: Nirvana "Heart-Shaped Box"
* Best New Artist in a Video: Counting Crows, "Mr. Jones"
* Best Video from a Film: Bruce Springsteen, "Streets of Philadelphia" (from the film "Phil
* Best R&B; Video: Salt-N-Pepa featuring En Vogue, "Whatta Man"
* Best Direction in a Video: R.E.M., "Everybody Hurts," Jake Scott, director
* Best Choreography in a Video: Salt-N-Pepa featuring En Vogue, "Whatta Man," Frank Gatson/Randy Connors, choreographers
* Best Special Effects in a Video: Peter Gabriel, "Kiss That Frog," Brett Leonard/Angel Studios, effects
* Best Art Direction in a Video: Nirvana, "Heart-Shaped Box," Bernadette DiSanto, art director
* Best Editing in a Video: R.E.M., "Everybody Hurts," Pat Sheffield, editor
* Best Cinematography in a Video: R.E.M., "Everybody Hurts," Harris Savides, director of photography
* Breakthrough Video: R.E.M., "Everybody Hurts," Jake Scott, director
* Viewer's Choice Award: Aerosmith, "Cryin' "