MTV’s spontaneous night of crazy fun

Two hours into the Video Music Awards -- watching Madonna tongue-kiss Britney, Christina ape Cher, Eminem beat up a puppet -- I entertain a dark thought: Could this all just be an excuse for entertainers to shill their products?

Topics: MTV, Britney Spears,

Welcome, friends. For the next five hours, I’m going to be watching the 20th Annual MTV Video Music Awards so you don’t have to. From the first screaming minute of the despicable red-carpet ceremony to the last moment of spontaneous yet somehow pre-scripted narcissistic pop-star mayhem, I’ll be here, in front of the TV, brain leaking out of my ears. Don’t expect any meaningful pronouncements about The Way We Live Now. Don’t expect me to examine the shifting contours of celebrity worship. I’m just going to try to endure. And now we begin.

5:32 p.m.
I’m informed that this is the longest red carpet in the history of the world, 336 feet. I try not to have grumpy thoughts about wasteful spending during a near-depression. This is made more difficult when Ashanti tells Soo-Jun Park and Kurt Loder that she’s wearing $3 million earrings. Then one of the guys from Good Charlotte says he went to the ATM today and got out 40 bucks, which means a lot to him, because, you know, Good Charlotte’s had a hard road. Another Good Charlotte guy tells the red-carpet interview guy that he loves his suit. It doesn’t take much to poke holes into the punk-rock claims of Good Charlotte. Predictably, the five Queer Eyes for the Straight Guy show up. Carson Kressley hogs the camera, instructing the host how to button his jacket. Great. Six weeks ago, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” was a delightful surprise. Now for the rest of our lives we’ll be forced to endure Mr. Blackwell version 2.0.

5:46 p.m.
The Olsen Twins are interviewed. They claim to have been offended by the pictures in their recent Rolling Stone cover story that declared them “America’s Fantasy.” Soo-Jun Park assures them that the pictures were beautiful.

Ashley says the VMAs are “very crazy but lots of fun.”

Mary-Kate informs us that “anything can happen” at the VMAs.

5:59 p.m.
Christina Aguilera has decided to go with a dress made entirely of pink feathers. She breathlessly informs us that big surprises are in store. The host says that MTV is pulling for her in every way. Another of the endless stream of red-carpet reporters speaks with the monstrous Nelly, who informs us that he’s pimpin’ a new energy drink, whose name I can’t quite make out. “It keep me up all night,” Nelly says. “I need it. I need it.”



Mya, with whom I must admit I’m not familiar, says that her stylist e-mailed her pictures of her Dolce Gabbana dress while she was in Canada. “Thank god for my stylist,” Mya says.

6:09 p.m.
A taped feature appears to inform us that Eminem and 50 Cent are up against each other for four awards, and that this competition is going to be bigger than “Bush vs. Saddam.”

“That’s big, yo,” the narrator says.

Carson Kressley, Kim Cattrall, Simon Cowell and a funny cartoon baby named Stewie handicap the race amusingly but also annoyingly. 50 Cent shows up live on the red carpet wearing the baddest-ass pinstriped silver suit I’ve ever seen. He’s with Vivica A. Fox, and is definitely winning this game called life. “50 Cent, two years ago, you were recovering from nine bullet wounds, and now you’re up for four awards,” the host says. Oh. I feel so small and alone.

6:24 p.m.
Beyoncé appears and is beautiful, laid-back and charming, in direct contrast to Pamela Anderson, who wears a tank top promoting the upcoming “Scary Movie 3.” There’s also Snoop Dogg, backed by his ridiculous consort, the king of Pimp Chic, Bishop Magic Juan. In another life, Bishop Magic Juan was an actual pimp in Chicago, as opposed to a wacky pimp-advice “character,” and he hung out with actual murderers, as opposed to entertainers with a somewhat dangerous past. Black Eyed Peas perform. I’ve always liked Black Eyed Peas. Then again, I’m a white guy with a soft spot for message rap.

6:38 p.m.
Apparently, Duran Duran is back, looking pretty good for a bunch of withered Eurofags. Their new album will be out next year sometime, delayed from this fall. I feel relieved. That’s slightly less competition for the Neal Pollack Invasion’s new album, “Never Mind the Pollacks,” to be released Oct. 7 by the Telegraph Company. I’m really excited. It’s great to be here at the 2004 VMAs. Last year at this time, I was covering the awards from home for Salon, but now I’m on the red carpet and it’s so amazing! I really want to meet Mary J. Blige.

Sorry. Daydream.

6:44 p.m.
John Nichols interviews Justin Timberlake and the lead singer of Coldplay at the same time. Neither of them is particularly annoying. “It’s an ass-kissing contest!” Nichols says.

7 p.m.
Britney Spears opens the show on top of a wedding cake, wearing a bridal veil, and a dress like Madonna’s from the 1984 awards while singing “Like a Virgin.” Did you know that Britney does 500 sit-ups a day? Christina Aguilera emerges wearing an identical costume and sings even worse. Then, amazingly, Madonna rises from the top of the same cake. She’s wearing a top hat and one of Liza Minnelli’s outfits from “Cabaret.” After much pose-striking, she begins to sing her unctuous radio hit “Hollywood.” The camera shows Carson Kressley having too much fun. May I attempt a Carson-style line? “Madonna, honey, you look like Shania Twain meets Dorian Gray.”

Britney and Christina and Madonna — 20 years of slutty pop iconography! — dance together somewhat suggestively and sludge through “Hollywood,” which ends with a complaint about how the radio plays all the same songs all the time. I don’t have to explain the hypocrisy. Missy Elliott busts out of a “Wedding Chapel” rapping that stupid “Work It” song. The four of them gallivant around for a while. Everyone else is going to make a big deal of the fact that Madonna tongue-kisses Christina and Britney, but to me it just reeks of desperation. Tatu is hotter, ladies.

Chris Rock appears and does a stand-up act that’s funnier than anything I’m writing here. Then high-priced NBA chattel LeBron James comes out, shills for Sprite, and drools over Ashanti. They gave the best hip-hop video award to Elliott, in a true stunner.

7:29 p.m.
Good Charlotte, you are so not punk rock! You think you’re so hot with your red Mohawks and your backward baseball caps and your lame tattoos! But you suck, Good Charlotte! A real punk-rock band does not beat-box into the microphone! Oh, my, you destroyed your drum set and kicked over the amps! How dangerous! Like you had to pay for them.

“Good Charlotte,” says Chris Rock. “More like a mediocre Green Day.” Thank you, Chris Rock.

7:34 p.m.
Beyoncé wins best R&B video for “Crazy in Love,” which plays 75 times an hour on BET. I must admit that I think that “Crazy in Love” is one of the catchiest songs of all time. I can’t say the same about the video, which, three-quarters of the way through, takes a ridiculous turn when a car explodes and Beyoncé starts strutting around Jay-Z in a fur coat. Just inexplicable. But then Beyoncé gets drenched under a waterfall for about 30 seconds, and all is well again.

7:52 p.m.
Nelly comes out with some hip-hop fellow whose name I didn’t catch. Nelly says that “every female should have an apple bottom. You know, a fine ass.” If she can sing, Nelly says, “that’s a plus.” Christina Aguilera emerges from the floor as an anti-exemplar of Nelly’s type, standing astride a jungle gym full of whirring fans. She proceeds to Perform As Cher, another notch in her Evolution As An Artist.

Next, Iggy Pop and Outkast, who in my dreams are so stoned they can barely function, read their stupid lines as they promote their upcoming albums. My god, I realize. This show is nothing more than an excuse for entertainers to promote their new products! Why, it’s not crazy and spontaneous at all! My modest illusions are further shattered when Iggy, or, as he’s known in my book, God, presents the MTV2 award, the only one of the night that vaguely celebrates musical talent. Fittingly, the award goes to AFI, the worst band nominated.

8:09 p.m.
P. Diddy makes his Christ-like appearance wearing a “Remember Barry White” T-shirt, but rather than doing anything mockable, he pays tribute to Barry White, Gregory Hines and Jam Master Jay. Curse you, P. Diddy! The surviving members of Run DMC (did I just write that phrase?) award the best rap video to 50 Cent. In a classy, prescripted move, Eminem joins 50 Cent on stage. 50 Cent thanks the people from retail and radio and “everyone who purchased my CD.”

8:23 p.m.
Coldplay wins the best group video award over the White Stripes. When will the true genius of the White Stripes be recognized? Justin Timberlake — the camera loves him — stands alone and applauds Coldplay’s very modest acceptance speech. Take a humility memo, Justin.

8:24 p.m.
Eminem, on his third costume change that I can see, appears in a funny skit about violence with one of the puppets from Crank Yankers. Dude! Did you see Eminem beat up that puppet? That shit was crazy, dog! 50 Cent comes out and sings his enlightened hit about being a P-I-M-P.

Chris Rock says, “Today is the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Isn’t it wonderful that his dream came true?” Really, Chris Rock gives me all my best tag lines.

8:36 p.m.
The “Gay Beatles” do a runway walk and babble nonsensically with Jimmy Fallon about … You know what? I’m about done making fun of “Queer Eye.” But I will say this: My first job was as a part-time reporter at a community newspaper in Chicago. Ted Allen, Mr. Food and Wine, was one of my co-workers. We used to hang out, really, me and Ted, with all our friends in Chicago! He’s a great guy, and he looks fabulous! Ted. What’s Beyoncé really like? It’s been too long. Call me!

8:46 p.m.
Hey, guess what? I’m drunk. Which is good, because Fred Durst, who, according to Chris Rock, is the proof that “rap metal is affirmative action for white people,” introduces Jack Black, who then proceeds to be “funny,” but not as funny as the fact that my dog just ate a bloody bandage out of the garbage can. Look, people. Linkin Park just beat out the White Stripes for an award. I can write whatever I want.

8:54 p.m.
Mary J. Blige! Showin’ us how it’s done!

9:02 p.m.
A seemingly austistic Kelly Osbourne pushes Avril Lavigne out of the limelight and decries the supreme injustice that Duran Duran has never won a VMA award. Duran Duran appear sheepishly. The crowd rises as one as Duran Duran receive their lifetime achievement award for iconographic nostalgia. The band suspects that it’s been “Punk’d,” ha, ha. Simon LeBon says the band’s current reunion really “kicks ass.”

9:16 p.m.
The lead singer of Coldplay has written “Make Trade Fair” in chalk on his moody piano. Yes. And also, we should End Racism Now. Then Justin Timberlake wins best male video over Johnny Cash. “My grandfather raised me on Johnny Cash,” Justin Timberlake says. “In some cool way, I share this award with him.” Actually, Justin, you don’t. But thank you for following your publicists’ advice and calling it a “travesty” anyway.

9:32 p.m.
Beyoncé, hanging by her feet, drops from the ceiling, lies on a red velvet divan and is sexually molested by Mummenschanz. Five minutes later, the Super Bowl halftime show ends. My erection subsides.

9:42 p.m.
The headlines on the AP wire: “North Korea: Official Vows to Test Nukes;” “U.S. Struggles to Get More Help in Iraq.” Meanwhile, Good Charlotte wins the “viewer’s choice” award, which shows that I’m the only person in the world watching this who’s not a 12-year-old girl. The leader singer of Good Charlotte, ever classy, says, “I just shit my pants.”

9:54 p.m.
Snoop Dogg and Adam Sandler play Ubby Dubby while Bishop Magic Juan lurks darkly in the background. In the only truly spontaneous moment of the evening, Snoop Dogg’s nephew runs onstage and babbles incoherently. “Slide over to the left, nephew,” says Snoop. Missy Elliott beats Johnny Cash for video of the year. Not a travesty to her, apparently.

Metallica then performs a limp show-tunes medley of MTV’s greatest rock hits. I picked out “Seven Nation Army,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and “Beat It.” Metallica plays one of its own songs, to slightly greater effect, but cannot undo the fact that they’ve just killed rock ‘n’ roll. The hall fills with silvery confetti. I take a deep breath and a slug of wine. And then I am free.

Neal Pollack is the author of the literary satire "The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature," among other works of fiction and nonfiction. His latest book, "Open Your Heart: A Matt Bolster Yoga Mystery," will be released in paperback on November 14.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>