Jamiroquai tops night of MTV madness Awards: The pop music spectacular presents a mix of the brilliant, the provocative and the tasteless.

September 05, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

The MTV Video Music Awards is not your parents' award show. And unless you're in a state of arrested development, it probably wasn't your idea of an award show, either.

A star-studded exercise in celebrity bad taste, the 1997 VMA show epitomized MTV's strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side, it offered some brilliant performances, some provocative thoughts, and the widest range of popular music in broadcasting today.

On the minus side, there were all the things parents fear about the Home of Beavis and Butt-head -- tasteless humor, barely bleeped bad language, and the sad spectacle of a guy from No Doubt in diapers. It was seldom a pretty sight.

There were awards, of course. Beck took the Best Male Video honors for "Devils Haircut," Jewel did the same with Best Female Video for "You Were Meant for Me," Prodigy won the People's Choice Award for "Breathe," Puff Daddy & the Family won Best R&B Video for "I'll Be Missing You," and Notorious B.I.G. Earned Best Rap Video for "Hypnotize."

Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity" was the Best Video of the Year.

Some of the winners had trouble containing themselves onstage. When No Doubt won the Best Group Video trophy for "Don't Speak," singer Gwen Stefani whooped for joy, then proceeded to get herself bleeped. Twice. Sublime, whose "What I Got" clip earned the group the Best Alternative Music Video award, ambled onstage looking like yokels and thanked Lynyrd Skynyrd. Best Video from a Film winner Will Smith thanked his parents "for being horny that night."

Even when they tried to get serious and make a statement, the winners often ended up embarrassing themselves. When the Spice Girls accepted their award for Best Dance Video, Sporty Spice (Melanie Chisolm) dedicated the award to Princess Diana, saying "it was a great loss for our country." Then Ginger Spice (Geri Halliwell) broke in to add, "It's what we're really about, what Lady Diana had -- she had real girl power." Um, yeah.

Fortunately, not all of the stars were as shamelessly self-promoting. Fiona Apple, voted Best New Artist in a Video, told viewers to think for themselves. "You shouldn't model your life about what you think that we think is cool, and what we're wearing and what we're saying and everything," she said. "Go with yourself. Go with yourself."

But it was Madonna, looking schoolmarmish in a tight black skirt and tie, who offered the evening's deepest thoughts. Addressing the furor surrounding the complicity of the paparazzi in the death of Princess Diana, she said she wasn't going to "rant and rave" about tabloid journalism.

"Because even if they never change, there is still something all of us can do," she said. "It's time for us to take responsibility for our own insatiable need to run after gossip and scandals and lies and rumors, to live vicariously through other people's misery. It's time to realize that everything that we say and do has an effect on the world around us, that we are all connected, that we are all one. And until we change our negative behavior, tragedies like this will continue to occur."

Things got off to a fairly raucous start as host Chris Rock sometimes seemed to forget he wasn't on HBO, and used the "S" word twice in the show's first three minutes. Unfortunately for MTV, the 15-second delay hadn't quite been turned on yet.

Language aside, though, Rock was funny and on the money. He riffed on has-been artists -- "Sir Mix-a-Lot ain't mixin' as much as he used to" -- and joked that the Spice Girls "are kinda like heroin. You know somebody's doing it, but nobody admits it."

Still, nothing he said could have possibly seemed as over-the-top as Puff Daddy & the Family's performance. As flashpots blasted and blue-haired dancers shimmied, Puff and Mase were flown in from the ceiling. A great entrance, but one which the duo were hard-put to match, as Mase came on like a scared school kid. Then Sting, looking freshly stuffed, dropped by to add a bit of "Every Breath You Take" to a choir-fattened rendition of "I'll Be Missing You." It was amazing, extravagant, but not terribly moving.

That was hardly the evening's only attempt at spectacle. Marilyn Manson staged a massive performance of "The Beautiful People" that was part bondage pageant, part fascist rally, and totally spectacle. It was an amazing bit of theater, but did we really need to see Manson's pasty posterior?

Jamiroquai brought its own moving floor for "Virtual Insanity," Beck had what looked like the June Taylor Dancers join his band for "The New Pollution," and Li'l Kim and her crew did "Ladies' Night" as if it were a production of "Anthony and Cleopatra."

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