You wouldn't know it from watching MTV's Video Music Awards, but most stars don't have all that much to do with their videos.
The majority just flash a quick thumbs up or down on ideas dreamed up by others, show up on the day of the shoot and hit their marks.
None of which stops the big-name stars from seizing the lion's share of attention each year at the MTV awards ceremony (which takes place for the 12th time tonight at 8 p.m. on the cable channel). At the shindig, you'll see the usual brand names -- Michael Jackson, Green Day, TLC -- beaming over the statuettes, while the real visionaries -- Michel Gondry, Michael Haussman, Mark Romanek -- remain glued to their seats behind rows of record-company heads of promotion.
Not that viewers exactly commit to memory who wins these things, anyway. Far more focus is on who makes the most desperate plea for attention. While no one remembers who won last year's trophies, it's a rare American citizen who can't recall precisely where he was when Michael Jackson planted that sloppy kiss on a squirming Lisa Marie.
This year, Mr. Jackson promises to perform something less important to his career -- a song. The evening also features musical turns from R.E.M., Bon Jovi, White Zombie and more. To present the actual awards, MTV has tapped everyone from Ma
donna to Ricki Lake. Dennis Miller will act as hapless host.
In between Mr. Miller's snipes, 22 awards will be forked over. Amazingly, many of the year's biggest nominees actually deserve the hosannas.
Mark Romanek's video for Michael Jackson's "Scream" -- the most nominated piece of the year -- far outperforms Mr. Jackson's lousy mess of a song. Mr. Romanek fashioned an original take on '70s sci-fi, offering a wry comment on antique notions of the future.
Spike Jonez created an equally time-obsessed piece for Weezer. His clip for "Buddy Holly" fits the band seamlessly into the world of TV's "Happy Days," thereby offering a kind of double nostalgia. It expresses '90s lust for a '70s notion of the '50s.
Director Mark Kohr did equally well for Green Day, putting them in a loony bin and tinting the frames to create a cartoonish look. F. Gary Gray created the year's most technically advanced piece with TLC's effects-saturated "Waterfalls."
Still, the year's creative zenith arrived in Jean Baptiste Mondino's "Human Nature" for Madonna (nominated for Best Dance video). The clip finds a rash of dancers hopelessly entangled in Madonna's webbed outfit; thus, they're forced to paw the star even as they try to push her away. It's an ideal dance equivalent to the song's lyrics, which describe how the press and public remain simultaneously riveted and repulsed by the star.
In a better world than this, "Human Nature" would win everything. But deciding who trots off with the big prizes has less to do with what's actually onscreen than with the current popularity, or credibility, of the artists starring in them. With that in mind, here are some predictions:
Best male video: Michel Gondry's clever, sepia-toned piece for Lucas' "With the Lid Off" may outclass the others here, but it got the least play. Chris Isaak's "Somebody's Crying" got equally short shrift, and Elton John's "Believe" caters more to the doddering VH1 crowd. Which leaves Tom Petty's "You Don't Know How It Feels" as the clear winner.
Best female video: Forget P. J. Harvey's "Down By the Water." Too arty. Likewise, Des'ree's "You Gotta Be" loses points as a first effort, leaving Annie Lennox's overacted "No More I Love You's" and Madonna's sumptuous "Take a Bow." Since the latter was Madonna's biggest hit in 10 years, it can't lose.
Best group video: Stone Temple Pilots get no respect, even after singer Weiland's heroin arrest, so count out "Interstate Love Song." David Fincher's decision to make the Rolling Stones taller than the Empire State Building (in "Love Is Strong") may be an arresting sight gag. But Green Day ("Basket Case") and TLC ("Waterfalls") have the most nominations. Because MTV takes rock bands far more seriously than girl singers, bet on Green Day.
Best dance video: How did C+C Music Factory's "Do You Want To Get Funky" get in here? No one saw it. Paula Abdul's "My Love Is for Real" also bombed big-time. Entries from Montell Jordon and Salt-N-Pepa may have sass, but they're no match for Madonna's "Human Nature" and Mr. Jackson's "Scream," which will win by dint of its sheer number of nominations.
Best new artist in a video: Count out Filter's "Hey Man, Nice Shot." Too edgy. Also ditch Jeff Buckley's "Last Goodbye." Not popular enough. Des'ree got lots of play for "You Gotta Be," but seemingly nothing can stop the bland Hootie & the Blowfish, with its nondescript "Hold My Hand."
Best video of the year: No contest here. No one takes TLC seriously. Green Day and Weezer may get laughs, but neither can stand up to the number of nominations -- and the sheer hype -- behind Michael Jackson's "Scream." Look for this one to take the most trophies, with Mr. Jackson hogging the limelight over the clip's more deserving star, director Romanek. Don't it make you wanna scream?