Behind the Scenes at the VMAs

September 11, 1998 12:00 AM ET

Nearly twenty years since the timeless Buggles track, the radio star has been officially killed. What could be a more thorough assassin than MTV conjoined with Hollywood's Universal City? That was the 15th annual 1998 MTV Video Music Awards, which featured live performances from Marilyn Manson, Hole, Madonna, the Beastie Boys, and hosts ranging from Jackie Chan, Shaq O'Neal, Puff Daddy, Hanson and Steven Tyler.

The big winners out front were Madonna's "Ray of Light" for best video, Backstreet Boys "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" for Best Group Video, Green Day's "Time of Your Life (Good Riddance)" for best Alternative Video. But the real action was backstage in the press tent.

"What do you know about punk rock?" snapped Green Day's Billie Joe at a journalist's question. "I am the king of punk rock. You sit down." Meanwhile, Madonna, sporting a traditional Brahmin forehead painting, couldn't get a word in edgewise during the press tent feeding frenzy of questions aimed at her, and left the podium with the simple Hindu expression, "Om shanti," Brahmin for "I am a soul at peace." Courtney Love, despite her predilection for Sikh yoga, was not. When asked if she thought President Bill Clinton was guilty of impeachable offenses, Love declared, "Stupid f---in' question," before castigating journalist Belissa Cohen - who is involved in an assault lawsuit against Love -- as suffering from "lithium problems."

Laker Shaq O'Neal, sporting a new 'do -- actual hair -- had an entirely different take on Courtney Love in the press tent too, though he couldn't remember her name. "That girl from Hole - the lead singer - I'd really like to get behind her."

For Shirley Manson of Garbage, who looked stunning in a small burnt-orange dress, the experience was different: "The highlight tonight was losing a multitude of awards to videos I didn't feel were as good as ours. I'm sure that sounds really dubious coming from me because I'm in the band, but I think Andrea Giacobbe is in incredibly talented director. And his video was complex and creative and leagues above all the videos it was in competition with. I don't give a f--- about us as a band not winning -- I give a fuck that he's amazingly creative and wasn't given his due. But as I said before, I *would* say that!"

Despite Chuck D's high praise for "punk rock white boys" the Beastie Boys' contributions to the "dark continent" of hip-hop, and that band's Video Vanguard award, and the Beastie Boys' own reference to U.S. racism regarding the recent bombing of the Middle East, the true essence of the MTV Video Music Awards was summed up by Puff Daddy in the press tent: "A little Versace, my girl Donatella, and Calvin Klein up top," he said, sporting a very fine gray suit.

The highlight of the festival for Steven Tyler of Aerosmith? "Marilyn Manson's cod piece."

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