Ah, fall. The changing of the leaves, the shortening of the days and the passing of little moon men from one manicured celebrity hand to another. What better way to usher in a new season than with the annual MTV Music Video Awards.
Hosted by Ben Stiller, the comedian who made masturbation a trite topic of conversation, and peppered with every marquee one-name in music from Courtney to Brandy to Marilyn to Beck, this year's show boasted fewer snafus than its predecessors, but still left much room for controversy. For one, if MTV's video rotation pivots around urban artists, why does the show focus so much of its attention on rock? For another, if the intent of the awards ceremony is to honor the art of the video, why have artists perform live, out of the controlled setting of a video shoot, at all?
To answer the latter question, we call upon Madonna. The Material Girl segued the first of her two songs, a Hindu chant with Thai dancers, into the title track of Ray of Light, with a newly-coiffed Lenny Kravitz on guitar. In her sheer wife-beater tank top and raven hair, Madonna sang her lungs out, completely off-key, but still walked away with a staggering six awards for the song's sped-up video. With director Jonas Akerlund and some technical wizardry, she can rival any diva, but onstage and in the flesh, Madonna is a disappointment.
As for the rock, Hole's explosive performance, featuring the chameleonic Ms. Love, and Marilyn Manson's freak show, featuring his omnipresent ass cheeks, made the rest of the evening seem like amateur night. Courtney Love can't be anything but a rock goddess, and her leather jeans and unkempt hair crystallized the imagery she struggles so hard to convey. Fortunately, her glam version of "Celebrity Skin" was graciously paced far from Manson's Ziggy-in-Vegas "Dope Show," which trumped any other act in the VMA's 15-year history, including his prior performances. Rushing the stage in a blue vinyl coat with faux-fur collar, Manson stripped down to the paramilitary costume replicated on the cover of his band's soon-to-be-released album, Mechanical Animals, and strutted onstage before a trio of besequined back-up singers. Incontrovertibly, Marilyn Manson stole the show.
Even Wyclef Jean and his Refugee Allstars went rock for a spell during a live snippet from his Best R&B Video "Gone 'Til November," but smoothly transitioned into co-Fugees-member Pras' "Ghetto Superstar," with Lolita-esque Mya swaying in her four-inch spikes and the incorrigible ODB in model behavior.
And what's an awards ceremony without the ubiquitous political tirade from a socially conscious media star? While accepting his award, Clef articulately expressed his disdain for jokes at the expense of those with AIDS, and urged viewers to recognize the illness as a problem. Thankfully, the only other guilt-laden message was delivered by Adam Yauch, a k a MCA, of the Beastie Boys, while accepting his group's Video Vanguard Award. Just as he's been doing on tour, MCA expounded on the importance of non-violence and the need to understand that "most people from the Middle East are not terrorists." Perhaps he should enlist in a public speaking course under Wyclef's tutelage and then check back at the podium.
Speaking of racial tension, no one addressed it directly, despite the fact that of nineteen categories, only four awards were presented to black artists. But Busta Rhymes failed to mention what seemed to be obvious under-representation as he plugged his band, Flipmode Squad, during Puff Daddy's acceptance speech for his coveted Viewer's Choice Award -- although he did give props to hip hop and admonished the audience not "to front" about the importance of the genre.
But the skits were tight and the presenters, including a break-dancing Beck, a respectful Chuck D., and a heap of youthful pop-culture mainstays who have nothing to do with the music biz but look hot in designer duds (Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jennifer Lopez), spiced up the evening. Even some real spice showed up -- in the form of Geri Halliwell, better known as Ginger [Ex-]Spice, who sprinkled her sugar on the crowd with her conservative demeanor and dress, as she presented her idol, Madonna, with the Video of the Year Award for "Ray of Light."
And faster than a ray of light, it was all over. Just in time for a year's worth of reruns.
1998 MTV Video Music Awards:
VIDEO OF THE YEAR: Madonna, "Ray of Light"
MALE VIDEO: Will Smith, "Just the Two of Us"
FEMALE VIDEO: Madonna, "Ray of Light"
GROUP VIDEO: Backstreet Boys, "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)"
RAP VIDEO: Will Smith, "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It"
ALTERNATIVE: Green Day, "Time of Your Life (Good Riddance)"
ROCK VIDEO: Aerosmith, "Pink"
NEW ARTIST: Natalie Imbruglia, "Torn"
VIEWERS' CHOICE: Puff Daddy & The Family featuring The Lox, Lil' Kim, The Notorious B.I.G. and Fuzzbubble, "It's All About the Benjamins (Rock Remix)"
BREAKTHROUGH VIDEO: Prodigy, "Smack My Bitch Up"
R&B: Wyclef Jean featuring Refugee Allstars, "Gone Till November"
DANCE VIDEO: Prodigy, "Smack My Bitch Up"
VIDEO FROM A FILM: Aerosmith, "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing,"from Armageddon
DIRECTION: Madonna, "Ray of Light"
CHOREOGRAPHY: Madonna, "Ray of Light"
SPECIAL EFFECTS: Madonna, "Frozen"
ART DIRECTION: Bjork, "Bachelorette"
EDITING: Madonna, "Ray of Light"
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Fiona Apple, "Criminal"