Despite what the ads promised, the real star of the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards wasn't big winner the Smashing Pumpkins, who won in virtually every category in which they were nominated, including Video of the Year. Nor was it a multiple winner such as Coolio (who took the Best Dance and Best Rap Video awards), Best Female Video winner Alanis Morissette, or Viewers' Choice winner Bush.
It certainly wasn't one of the performers, despite what Neil Young, the Fugees or KISS did on stage. It wasn't even one of the celebrity presenters, despite the best efforts of Rosie O'Donnell, Dennis Rodman, Jenny McCarthy, host Dennis Miller or the MIR cosmonauts.
No, the real star of the show was the seven-second delay that kept most of the show's profanity from reaching the viewers at home.
From Miller's sex-obsessed opening monologue to Rodman's dismissal of the New York Knicks, the broadcast was full of words nobody at home heard, but most understood anyway. It was almost as if the folks at MTV were so interested in pushing the envelope of acceptable on-air content that they forgot about the purported purpose of the show: celebrating music videos.
Wait a second -- MTV play down music in favor of sex, celebrity and salaciousness? What am I thinking?
After all, the 1996 Video Music Awards broadcast was chock-a-block with live performances.
Starting with the pre-show, which featured live-outside-Radio City performances by Beck and No Doubt, the VMAs did their best to show that pop music award shows don't have to be as lame as the Grammys.
Things got off to a suitably spectacular start as the Smashing Pumpkins, augmented by a small string orchestra, soared through "Tonight, Tonight." Compared with the ragged, raucous show they gave on "Saturday Night Live" a year ago, the Pumpkins sounded as polished and assured as they did on the album -- an achievement almost as impressive as the heavily nominated band's win in the Best Alternative Video, Best Direction and Breakthrough Video categories.
Nor were the Pumpkins the only band to shine. The Fugees, backed by a lean but solid live band, offered a stunning rendition of "Oh La La La," proving that rap can, indeed, take it to the stage. Then, after a suitably moody run through "Ready or Not," the group was joined by Nas for a short but pungent version of "If I Ruled the World." Had the show ended there, it would have beaten any other of this year's awards shows hands-down.
Until, of course, KISS closed the show with a version of "Rock and Roll All Nite" that boasted more fireworks than the average Fourth of July.
But let's be honest -- those won't be the moments people will remember. No, what viewers will most remember is the odd and disturbing segment in which Flea and Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers grossed out supermodel Claudia Schiffer by threatening a striptease. Even though the camera pulled waaayyyy back as Flea did his thing, it was still painfully obvious that the guy wore no underwear.
Still, that was hardly as tasteless as most of the jokes Miller told. Kicking things off with a monologue built around cheap sex jokes, Miller made it quite clear why he's done better on cable than on regular TV.
No wonder Miller frequently found himself in the uncomfortable position of being upstaged by celebrity presenters. Beginning with Mariah Carey, who wisecracked that she had to "make this quick, because Dennis Rodman is waiting backstage for this dress," the pre-presentations patter was probably the best part of the show -- particularly when Rosie O'Donnell offered her own rendition of all the videos nominated for the Best New Artist award. (Her Tracy Bonham was priceless.) So never mind whether Metallica -- whose rendition of "Until It Sleeps" was taken literally by much of the audience -- really deserved the award for Best Hard Rock Video, or if Alanis Morissette was, indeed, the Best New Artist with a video. What really mattered was whether or not Jenny McCarthy's blatantly braless dress was less or more revealing than Toni Braxton's painted-on ensemble, or if Miller's lost-in-translation shtick with the MIR cosmonauts was, indeed, the most embarrassing moment of his career.
Maybe it was, but at least he got to watch David Lee Roth not only rejoin Van Halen to present the Best Male Video award to Beck but get the evening's longest sustained bleep. Not that it stopped the group from getting a standing ovation -- heck, it probably helped.
Hey, there's a reason they promote this channel as "Must-Smell TV." Or, as another ad put it: "MTV: Not known for its good taste."
You were expecting maybe A&E;?
Best in the biz
Winners at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards, presented last night:
Video of the Year: Smashing Pumpkins, "Tonight, Tonight"
Viewers' Choice Video: Bush, "Glycerine"
Best Male Video: Beck, "Where It's At"
Best Female Video: Alanis Morissette, "Ironic"
Best Group Video: Foo Fighters, "Big Me"
Best Rap Video: Coolio featuring LV, "Gangsta's Paradise"
Best Dance Video: Coolio, "1,2,3,4 (Sumpin' New)"
Best Hard Rock Video: Metallica, "Until It Sleeps"
Best Alternative Music Video: Smashing Pumpkins, "1979"
Best New Artist in a Video: Alanis Morissette, "Ironic"
Best R&B; Video: Fugees, "Killing Me Softly"
Breakthrough Video: Smashing Pumpkins, "Tonight, Tonight," Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, directors
Best Direction: Smashing Pumpkins, "Tonight, Tonight," Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, directors
Best Video From a Film: Coolio featuring LV, "Gangsta's Paradise" (from the movie "Dangerous Minds")
Best Choreography: Michael Rooney, for Bjork's "It's Oh So Quiet"
Best Editing: Scott Grey, for Alanis Morissette's "Ironic"
Best Special Effects: Chris Staves, for the Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight, Tonight"
Best Art Direction: K.K. Barrett and Wayne White, for the Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight, Tonight"
Best Cinematography: Declan Quinn, for the Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight, Tonight"
Pub Date: 9/05/96