Out went the teen pop and in came the garage rock at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards. But though bands like the White Stripes, the Hives, the Strokes and the Vines muscled boy bands and teen tarts off the ballots and the stage this year, there were plenty of other familiar flavors keep the regular VMA viewer from suffering pop-culture shock.
Unlike the show-starting spectacles of previous years, this year’s VMA show kicked off on a more introspective note. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s heartfelt performance of the title track from The Rising — played on a rain-soaked stage outside the American Museum of Natural History — served as a subtle reminder of the looming anniversary of 9/11.
But once the cameras moved twenty-seven blocks downtown to Radio City Music Hall, the VMA show was up to its old tricks again. Host and Saturday Night Live cast member Jimmy Fallon wowed the crowd with his song-and-dance skills as he parodied several of the evenings nominees. Deftly transforming from Robin-as-rapper (Eminem’s “Without Me”) to a Lego-fied rocker (the White Stripes’ “Fell In Love With a Girl”) to a tank-top-clad alterna chick (Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated”), Fallon displayed the sketch-comedy skills that earned him the SNL gig. Unfortunately, as the night wore on, it became clear that his standup skills are considerably less, as his nervous-guy shtick drew more yawns than yuks.
The show’s big one-two punch came early when, at the end of his opener, Fallon brought out James Brown. Shortly after, the awards officially got underway with Britney Spears bringing out Michael Jackson to celebrate his forty-fourth birthday. So what should you expect from a show whose opening acts are the Godfather of Soul and the King of Pop? Apparently, a lot of rock & roll.
Yep, good old-fashioned guitar-and-drums rock was the order of the evening. Pink — betraying her moniker with a shock of raven hair — started the trend, delivering her power-ballad “Just Like a Pill” backed by a full band. Later, dance-diva Shakira followed suit with her performance of “Objection.” At one point flanked by two guitarists, she showed off some hip maneuvers that would have made Elvis blush, and later she even surrendered herself to the mosh pit.
But it was the “Battle of the Bands” between Sweden’s the Hives and Australia’s the Vines that really got the crowd’s ya-yas out. Though it seems the Vines were the foregone winners as they got to play on the bigger stage, both bands unleashed some incendiary garage-punk with “Main Offender” and “Get Free,” respectively. Hives frontman Pelle Almqvist proved he’s watched enough Mick Jagger footage to expertly wield a mike stand, while Vines vocalist Craig Nicholls showed his allegiance to Pete Townshend and Kurt Cobain by tossing his guitar into Hamish Rosser’s drum kit at the end of their song.
In keeping with the gritty rock & roll attitude, the fashion motif for the night seemed to be “enough black leather to outfit a gay-biker bar.” Spears looked like she stepped out of a Helmut Newton photograph in her form-fitting dominatrix dress and cop cap, while Pink’s leather hot pants and bat-winged half-top looked like a loan from Elvira’s closet. Even girl-next-door Gwen Stefani sported a saucy, studded leather skirt. (Christina Aguilara, who apparently didn’t get the memo, created her own navel observatory by harnessing her breasts with a scarf and wearing a skirt the size of a cocktail napkin.)
All this isn’t to say that the show has lost its taste for pomp and circumstance. A conservatively suited Eminem performed “White America” behind a podium emblazoned with the seal “United States of Emerica,” while a row of “legislators” pelted him with paper airplanes. Ja Rule and Ashanti — dolled up in Zoot suit and flapper dress — performed “Down 4 U” as a classic musical number. And Justin Timberlake made his solo debut by rising out of an oversized boom-box and launching into his upcoming R&B-flavored single “Like I Love You,” while displaying some dance moves that showed he was paying attention when Michael Jackson made his cameo with ‘N Sync at last year’s VMAs.
But predictably, the biggest set piece came from P. Diddy who rose onto a platform via lift heralded by “Bad Boy for Life,” then descended to the stage where he was joined by Usher — dressed as Michael Jackson circa 1983 — and a phalanx of dancers for “I Need a Girl.” Always the showman, Diddy then brought on Busta Rhymes, Pharrell Williams and a troupe of acrobats for his show-stopping finale of “Pass the Courvoisier.”
The show had its moving moments as well. The first came with the announcement of the formation of the Lisa Lopes Aids Scholarship, a $25,000 educational grant for students involved in the fight against AIDS. TLC members Tione “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas came onstage to thank the fans, somber and teary-eyed, and clearly still struggling with the loss of Lopes, who was killed earlier this year in a car accident.
The other moment came when former New York City Mayor Rudolph Guliani showed up to thank the music community for their support in the aftermath of 9/11. “Music has a very special way of bringing people together,” he said, and introduced Sheryl Crow, who delivered the night’s standout performance with “Safe and Sound,” performed as a montage of images of New York and New Yorkers was shown on nearby TV screens.
Undoubtedly, the night’s most surreal moment came when the show’s finale brought Guns ‘n Roses back from the grave. Gn’R 2K2 featured a robust-looking Axl Rose fronting a cast of refundable rockers that included ex-Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Fink, ex-Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson, and masked guitarist Buckethead. This Frankenstein monstrosity served up passable versions of “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City,” and an unnamed ballad presumably from their promised album Chinese Democracy.
Of course, there were some awards handed out between all this musical mayhem. Eminem walked off the winner with four moonmen — though he also received the most boos when he announced that he’s not above hitting a man with glasses, in reference to Moby. White Stripes were a close second with three, and grabbing two awards were No Doubt and Pink, who apparently “got the party started” early, announcing, “I’m too drunk for this,” when accepting the award for Best Female Video.
But even without all her wits, Pink and the other oft-loopy award presenters and recipients were more entertaining than Fallon’s painful between-act banter. As MTV gets ready to plan next year’s VMAs, there’s one “rock” artist they might want to add to the roster: Chris.
Best Video of the Year: Eminem, “Without Me”
Best Male Video: Eminem, “Without Me”
Best Female Video: Pink, “Get the Party Started”
Best Group Video: No Doubt, “Hey Baby”
Best Rap Video: Eminem, “Without Me”
Best Hip Hop Video: Jennifer Lopez featuring Ja Rule, “I’m Real (Remix)”
Best R&B Video: Mary J. Blige, “No More Drama”
Best Dance Video: Pink, “Get the Party Started”
Best Rock Video: Linkin Park, “In the End”
Best Pop Video: No Doubt, “Hey Baby”
Best New Artist in a Video: Avril Lavigne, “Complicated”
Best Video From a Film: Chad Kroeger featuring Josey Scott. “Hero”
MTV2 Award: Dashboard Confessional, “Screaming Infidelities”
Viewer’s Choice: Michelle Branch, “Everywhere”
Breakthrough Video: White Stripes, “Fell In Love With a Girl”
Best Direction in a Video: Eminem, “Without Me”
Best Special Effects in a Video: White Stripes, “Fell In Love with a Girl”
Best Choreography in a Video: Kylie Minogue, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”
Best Art Direction in a Video: Coldplay, “Trouble”
Best Editing in a Video: White Stripes, “Fell In Love with a Girl”
Best Cinematography in a Video: Moby, “We Are All Made of Stars”