In less than two weeks, the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards will be held at Newark, New Jersey’s Prudential Center. Although full plans for the evening have yet to be announced, the cable network has revealed that Taylor Swift, Lil Nas X, Bad Bunny, Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello, Lizzo, Rosalía, and J Balvin are performing and that they’re giving Missy Elliott the Video Vanguard Award. As always, the actual awards are far less significant than the performances, but Cardi B, Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, Lizzo, the Jonas Brothers and Shawn Mendes will all battle it out for the Artist of the Year trophy.
Back in 1994, right before the internet arrived at households all over America and teenagers were suddenly more focused on their computers than their television sets, the VMAs were a spectacle of enormous cultural magnitude. Roseanne Barr hosted that night, but the show began with Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley welcoming everyone and then awkwardly kissing in a desperate attempt to prove this was a real relationship and not some public relations stunt. (Nobody bought it.)
They still let people over the age of 30 onto the MTV airwaves back then, so Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Bruce Springsteen and even the Rolling Stones were all given performance slots. But even though Snoop Dogg, Green Day, and the Smashing Pumpkins all had very strong nights, the Beastie Boys stole the show with an explosive rendition of “Sabotage.” Check it out right here.
The Spike Jonze-directed “Sabotage” video was an absolute masterpiece, but it had the misfortune of going up against Aerosmith’s “Crying,’” and R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” and got completely shut out of all the awards. When “Everybody Hurts” won Best Direction, Adam Yauch pulled a Kanye and rushed the stage dressed up as his Nathanial Hornblower character. “I’m from Switzerland,” he said as a very confused Michael Stipe looked on, “and since I was a small boy, I had dreamed that Spike would win this. Now this has happened, and I want to tell everyone this is a farce, and I had the ideas for Star Wars and everything.”
We probably would have heard more from Mr. Hornblower had security not whisked him off the stage. “At first I though it was Bono,” Stipe said later that night. “The Lucky Charms leprechaun? I think it might have been the ghost of Lucille Ball.”
If we’re very lucky, something like that will happen again in Newark later this month. Don’t count on it though.