Eight years ago, when MTV assembled its first Video Music Awards shows, the cable operation was looking for two things: first, a chance to recognize and reward the year's most interesting and entertaining music videos (something no other music award show did); and, second, an excuse to get a lot of rock stars in front of cameras at the same time.
Much has changed since then, of course. Both the Grammys and the American Music Awards have video categories now, and MTV no longer needs an excuse to invite rock stars on the air. But the only thing that ever seems to change about MTV's Video Music Awards bash is its size -- the damned thing just keeps getting bigger.
Tonight's telecast (live from Los Angeles at 9 on MTV) promises to be so full of famous people that you may need a program to keep track. In addition to longtime host Arsenio Hall and Video Vanguard Award winner Jon Bon Jovi, there will be such celebrity presenters as George Michael, James Brown, Cindy Crawford, Cher and Spinal Tap. Plus performances by Prince, Paula Abdul, Mariah Carey, Van Halen, Guns N' Roses, L.L. Cool J and Metallica, among others.
And somewhere along the way, they'll hand out a few awards.
Granted, MTV doesn't quite put it that way. As with any awards wing-ding, the question of "Who's gonna win?" is emphasized at every opportunity, if only to build suspense as the show works up from technical awards like Best Special Effects to such crucial categories as Video of the Year and Best New Artist in a Video.
Inevitably, though, what people remember most about each year's telecast isn't who won, but who performed. Could anyone forget Madonna's first appearance on the show, writhing across the stage in her bridal gown and "Boy Toy" belt as she introduced "Like a Virgin" to an unwitting world? Or how about Andrew Dice Clay's X-rated ad libs in '89, which cemented his "bad boy" reputation (and got him banned-for-life from the channel)?
It's anyone's guess whether tonight's show will deliver any similar revelations, but it will have its share of firsts. For instance, tonight will be Van Halen's first non-video appearance on television (strange, but true); it will also be L.L. Cool J's first appearance with a band instead of just a DJ. Perhaps the evening's most interesting peek will be at Paula Abdul's new stage show (which gets its official launch in Florida next month).
As for the awards themselves, allow me a few predictions: Best Video will go to R.E.M.'s quirky, painterly "Losing My Religion"; Best Male Video to George Michael's "Freedom" (in which the singer, ironically, never appears); Best Female Video to Janet Jackson's pec-filled "Love Will Never Do Without You"; and Best Group Video to R.E.M. again, also for "Losing My Religion."
Major MTV Award nominees
Best Video: R.E.M. "Losing My Religion"; Chris Isaak "Wicked Game"; Queensryche "Silent Lucidity"; Divinyls "I Touch Myself"; Deee-Lite "Groove Is in the Heart"; C+C Music Factory "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)."
Best Male Video: Jon Bon Jovi "Blaze of Glory (Young Guns II)"; Chris Isaak "Wicked Game"; George Michael "Freedom"; Gerardo "Rico Suave."
Best Female Video: Janet Jackson "Love Will Never Do Without You"; Amy Grant "Baby Baby"; Neneh Cherry "I've Got You Under My Skin"; Madonna "Live a Virgin" (from the film "Truth or Dare"); Paula Abdul "Rush Rush."
Best Group Video: R.E.M. "Losing My Religion"; Queensryche "Silent Lucidity"; Black Crowes "She Talks to Angels"; Divinyls "I Touch Myself."
Best New Artist in a Video: Deee-Lite "Groove Is in the Heart"; Jesus Jones "Right Here, Right Now"; C+C Music Factory "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)"; Seal "Crazy"; Gerardo "Rico Suave."
Best Rap Video: L.L. Cool J "Mama Said Knock You Out"; Monie Love "It's a Shame (My Sister, My Sister)"; Ice-T "New Jack Hustler"; 3rd Bass "Pop Goes the Weasel"; DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince "Summertime."
Best Dance Video: C+C Music Factory "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)"; Deee-Lite "Groove Is in the Heart"; Bingo Boys "Show Me How to Dance"; EMF "Unbelievable."
Best Metal/Hard Rock Video: Aerosmith "The Other Side"; AC/DC "Thunderstruck"; Queensryche "Silent Lucidity"; Warrant "Uncle Tom's Cabin"; Guns N' Roses "You Could Be Mine"; Faith No More "Falling to Pieces"; Black Crowes "She Talks to Angels"; Alice in Chains "Man in the Box."
Best Alternative Video: Jesus Jones "Right Here, Right Now"; R.E.M. "Losing My Religion"; Jane's Addiction "Been Caught Stealing"; the Replacements "When It Began."