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Walking on the Moon: ’98 VMAs Report

The 1998 Video Music Awards reflect little of MTV’s programming, but still dish out some severe entertainment

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”

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