The 2001 VMAs Get Boring With the Cheez Whiz
The 2001 MTV Video Music Awards made it perfectly clear that Pop is dead. For a show that has always offered at least a few bright spots, nothing in the performances, appearances, or posturing of the celebrities chosen to appear was remotely controversial, artistic, or even funny. The entire show was like Technicolor Malt-O Meal. And you know what that’ll look like when it comes out the other end. Like watching the final talent show at a summer camp you didn’t go to, the VMAs played out as a series of product placements masquerading as some celebrities playing charades in an elevator where the cable just snapped. Laugh it up, popstars: That was your fourteenth minute.
Sure, Britney’s not going anywhere for awhile. She’s too entrenched. Shit, if Virgin gives that old bag Whitney Houston a hundred million dollars for SIX albums, when all we’ve heard out of her for the past 4 years is “It’s not my pot!”, then it’s a good bet that Britney will survive the Poplife shitstorm that’s on the horizon. But what about Dream, Jessica Simpson, Mandy Moore, Willa Ford, Eve’s Crush, or even Christina? Sorry girls. I think Branson’s hiring, though. They should have known when they read the production notes for the VMAs that required the lot of them to arrive on stage at once, en masse, like a police lineup. (“Alright Mr Jenkins, can you pick out the diva that did this to you?”). MTV knows that they need to find a fatter cash cow toot suite, but they probably figured, “Hell, what’s one more awards show where we wring out the last of whatever saleable assets these galoops had in the first place?”
And that’s what happened.
All the popstars, thugs, and moan-rockers threw themselves and their record labels a big party, and hopped around on the platform in silly hats, yapping about their upcoming albums. After all, platinum football fields and wrist ice don’t come cheap. While Macy Gray took the product hawking to QVC-like levels, wearing a dress that proclaimed the release date of her forthcoming LP, no one else was any better, or less subtle. P.Diddy and his crew of Cosby kids opted to arrive at the VMAs not in a limo, but on the flatbed of a Peterbilt, slip-sliding about on the back end, rapping – no, pleading – “We ain’t goin’ nowhere.” I’m sure that Sean Combs/Puffy/P.Diddy/Puff Daddy/Diddy Pop would like to believe that, but nothing in his new material, or that of like-minded NYC rapper Jay-Z makes me think anything other than “Where’s the remote? Maybe I can catch the last few minutes of an old ‘Law & Order’ episode…”
That’s the anthem. Get your damn hands up.
The event began with the inevitable pre-show, which was about as exciting as Kurt Loder’s new haircut. Kid Rock showed up giving props out to the D with his vintage Bob Seger tour shirt. Sitting next to the Detroit player was some west coast pussy, Ms Pam Anderson, who seems to be giving Michael Jackson a run for his money in the surgery department. Poor Pammy looks like a cross between a blow up doll and a ‘Slippery when wet’ road sign. Next to take the stand in the court of Kurt was Britney and – I shit you not – Mick Jagger. While it wasn’t clear whether he was impersonating Austin Powers or vice versa, Jagger was definitely eyeing up Justin’s lady. “Aye Kurt, Oi seemply laawwve Britney’s work. Oi believe she perfawmed one of our sawngs, did she not?”, all the while wishing he had mirrors on the tops of his loafers. While the dichotomy of Jagger and Spears sharing space together was mildly interesting, the effect wore off after the 20th mention of their November album releases. Mick, next time just buy a billboard.
So the nizight went izon, with appearances by Snoop, DMX, Mark Whalberg, and — ? – Tizim Robbins. U2 smiled wanly through their interviews and a performance of “Elevation” that featured more technical glitches than a Soviet Internet café. Pizza Hut pitchman Carson Daly, bestowing upon the bewildered band a “Video Vanguard” award, referred to their work as “a fist in the air, a kick in the balls, and 2 hearts beating as one.” Well, that’s true, but for all that dope and his network know about Rock and Roll, they’ll christen Smashmouth as the progenitors of the “next big thing.” After a series of ill-timed bits and an appearance by Will Ferrell that just made you feel bad for him, the Remaining Ramones were trotted out as icons, and then promptly denied speaking time. J Lo and Ja Rule failed at being sexy. Alicia Keys, a bright spot in the Lauryn Hill Fallout Sweepstakes (Macy Gray, Nikka Costa, Jill Scott, etc.), blew up the arrangement of “Fallin'” into a groaning, teetering beast that devoured the simple pleasure of the song’s studio version. Oh well, I guess she’s just trying to be remembered in the midst of MTV Babylon.
The Lindsey Wagner movie airing opposite the 2001 VMAs on Lifetime was more edgy and controversial than MTV’s big event. In an evening dominated by Hip Hop and R&B, concessions were made to that other fading trend, Nu Metal. Staind moaned about something or other; Linkin Park’s squeaky clean lead singers won’t make anyone wasn’t to stay out past curfew (11:30pm) in Dad’s car. Aren’t these guys supposed to be scary looking? MuDvAyNe, the Eve’s Crush of the Moan-Core world, accepted their award with glittering mohawks and bullethole makeup. Ooh, I’m so scared. Jeez.
MTV won’t change. Its soulless programming of artists it chooses will continue unabated until a pop music movement comes along to either change or destroy it. Though the commemorative articles currently circulating think otherwise, Nirvana and their grunge brethren didn’t change the station. They were absorbed and compromised by it. Maybe Radiohead, Wilco, Ron Sexsmith, Bjork, Superchunk, Edith Frost, Smog, Lucinda Williams, and Ryan Adams will get together, form a summit, and change the musical lives of everyone out there thinking that MTV is a requirement on our cultural radar. But probably not. Britney Spears will release her new album in November, and it will most likely do very well. Even though her performance of “Slave 4 U” resembled a tribute to Scandal’s video for “The Warrior,” even though the song was the biggest piece of trash since her boyfriend’s performance of “Pop” 20 minutes before her, there’s no question that Britney will continue to sell records, at least until she becomes a full time actress. And MTV will be right there to analyze it, package it, and re-broadcast it until it’s time for them to give her a Video Vanguard award down the road in her career. She should be ready for that in about, oh, 3 years?
That’s the deal with this Pop life, and that’s why it’ll fade out.