Outrageous behavior set to the top videos Awards: Tonight's MTV Video Music Awards may again be secondary to the live shenanigans.

September 10, 1998|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

People remember different things about MTV's Video Music Awards broadcast.

In addition to the expected trophy-distribution rituals, each program features comedy bits, celebrity cameos and performances by some of the biggest names in pop music. This year's show -- which airs live from Los Angeles at 8 this evening -- has Ben Stiller as its host and will include music and mayhem from such stars as Madonna, the Beastie Boys, David Spade, Tyra Banks and Jackie Chan.

Some people remember the comedians who played host and will argue passionately over who was lamer, Dana Carvey or Arsenio Hall. Some people remember the musical performances and can describe Madonna's Louis XIV staging of "Vogue" (from the 1990 show) with frightening vividness. A few people even remember who actually won the awards.

What most people remember best, though, are the things that probably shouldn't have happened. Like, for instance, the time Andrew Dice Clay decided to do his usual sexist, profanity-laden routine and got banned for life by the channel, or the incident two years ago when Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, while presenting the Best Dance Video award, did an impromptu strip-tease as co-presenter Claudia Schiffer looked on in horror.

Even the people who put the show together have their share of did-I-really-see-that? moments. Sally Frattini, the show's executive producer, says the most disquieting moment she can think of came last year, when Marilyn Manson decided to let it all hang out in a pair of bottomless leather pants.

"Manson was pretty shocking to me personally," she says, over the phone from Los Angeles. No one at MTV had any idea beforehand that Manson was planning to expose his pasty posterior. "We had a feeling there would be some danger involved [in having Manson perform], but he didn't put that on for dress rehearsal. So it shocked everyone."

She laughs, and adds, "I was just hoping my kids weren't watching."

Still, there were no hard feelings at MTV. In fact, Manson will be performing again this year, along with such acts as Madonna, Hole, the Beasties, the Dave Matthews Band and Master P. There will even be a duet performance by Brandy and Monica of their chart-topping hit, "The Boy Is Mine."

Getting all those acts on stage isn't easy, particularly since some of the bands involved are on tour and don't always have time to come to L.A. a week in advance for rehearsals.

"Typically, a lot of them come in and will rehearse off-site, so the director and the producer would have the opportunity to take a look beforehand," says Frattini. "But some just come off the road so then end up coming on stage with a limited amount of time [to rehearse]."

Fortunately, MTV has a coordinating producer whose entire job amounts to dealing with the artists who will be performing during the show. "She works very hard at trying to track [the artists] down, and get stage plots, and have discussions with the various art directors and lighting designers," says Frattini. "It's a bit of a jigsaw puzzle to make it all work."

"It's rare that we don't know what they're doing at all," she adds. "There's a lot of conversation that goes into this and a lot of sleepless nights for the woman who handles it."

It's unlikely that there are as many sleepless nights over who will win the Video Music Awards, even among the nominees themselves. After all, making a good impression before the millions watching at home is far more important than having a spaceman statuette on the mantelpiece.

Still, it's worth noting that this year's ballot is far edgier than in years past. Although the biggest contenders -- Madonna and Garbage, with eight nominations each -- are clearly MTV favorites, many names on the ballot are less than familiar to MTViewers.

Radiohead is competing in four categories, putting the group just behind Will Smith, with five nominations, but ahead of such triple-nominees as Aerosmith, the Verve and Puff Daddy. Fiona Apple, Natalie Imbruglia and the Backstreet Boys have two nominations each.

Perhaps the most surprising nominee is the outlandish techno band Prodigy, which is up for four awards despite the fact that its "Smack My B - - Up" video aired maybe a half-dozen times on MTV -- and then only after midnight and proceeded by a disclaimer. Other little-seen-but-nonetheless-nominated clips include Sean Lennon's "Home," Death In Vegas' "Dirt" and David Bowie's "I'm Afraid of Americans (nine inch nails remix)."

Nominees of choice

Here are selected nominees for tonight's MTV Video Music Awards:

Video of the year: Brandy & Monica, "The Boy Is Mine"; Madonna, "Ray Of Light"; Puff Daddy & The Family, "It's All About The Benjamins (Rock Remix)"; Will Smith, "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It"; The Verve, "Bitter Sweet Symphony"

Best male video: David Bowie featuring Trent Reznor, "I'm Afraid Of Americans (Nine Inch Nails Remix)"; Busta Rhymes, "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See"; Eric Clapton, "My Father's Eyes"; Brian McKnight, "Anytime"; Will Smith, "Just The Two Of Us"

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