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