Monday, August 15, 2016

Oh Shit We Watched The '99 VMAs

We watched this over a week ago at this point, and since then we got bored with old MTV shit. The only other VMAs we might have on tape is from 2002 and we're not sure where it is at the moment. Despite Paul McCartney's embarrassing cameo alongside Madonna, he did mention one interesting reminder: The 1999 VMAs was MTV's final awards show from the only full decade when the channel would care about music throughout its entirety.

#1 The Death Count

See, the thing about "The Death Count" is that when you're watching these for the first time since the year they premiered, it starts to feel like the tape could potentially be a live broadcast in some parallel dimension. And this specific awards show - for some reason - seems to encapsulate everything that signaled the beginning of pop's modern era. A live event in 2016 with this exact gathering of celebrities might pull in the type of audience size that could rival any recent Super Bowl. So when the dead celebs show up, it almost feels like a dream - or perhaps the opposite, that real life is a dream, and these people aren't actually dead at all.

- David Bowie was in the red carpet "Opening Act" portion, and later he introduced Lauryn Hill's performance. (Pretty sure Chris Rock's introduction was "Alright, this next presenter has a black wife. Give it up for David Bowie!")
- Prince - then known as "The Artist" - introduced TLC, who he claimed was his favorite group. Apparently he was asked to perform "1999" and originally accepted the offer, but declined within the days leading up to the show.
- Adam Yauch accepted an award for "Intergalactic" with the other B-Boys.
- Jam Master Jay performed in part of Kid Rock's medley as part of Run DMC.
- Buddy Hackett was warmly received (which would never happen today) as he presented an award with the 3 central cast members of The Blair Witch Project.
- Tupac's mom, Afeni Shakur, presented an award with Biggy's mom and Will Smith.
- "Left Eye" (again) performed "No Scrubs" with TLC.
- Aaliyah was nominated twice for "Are You That Somebody," but didn't win, and she was never shown as far as we could tell. (It's possible she was interviewed during a portion of the pre-show that we didn't catch on tape.) It would have been pretty cool to see her accept an award, but no dice, although she would go on to accept two VMAs for "Try Again" in 2000.

#2 Highlights

- Lauryn Hill and Jay-Z's performances were both huge stand-outs. (Jay-Z's medley was supposed to be alongside DMX, who was a no show.)

- Ad-Rock's portion of Beastie Boys' acceptance speech for "Intergalactic" surpassed the 2-minute mark as he publicly addressed the sexual assault at Woodstock '99: "I read in the news and heard from my friends all about sexual assaults and the rapes that went down at Woodstock '99 in July, and it made me feel really sad and angry.... We can talk to the promoters and make sure that they're doing something about the safety of all the girls and the women who come to our shows... I think we can talk to the security people to make sure they know and understand about sexual harassment and rape and they know how to handle these situations."

Just seeing that he was coming from a place of pure sincerity, intelligently and concisely speaking off the dome and offering plausible solutions, felt so powerfully inspirational in a way that might not have immediately resonated with many teenagers in the '90s. SPIN's devastating report on Woodstock '99 (from the issue with Kid Rock on the cover) had hit magazine stands at Borders only days prior. So we definitely shared Ad-Rock's sadness and anger, while also partially and secretly bummed that Paul's Boutique-era Beasties weren't using the moment to express something more fun. But it had to be addressed. MTV viewers needed to be confronted with this instead of just forgetting that it had ever happened.

Let's put the gravity of this moment into perspective real quick: The ratings for the VMAs throughout the '90s had never surpassed 10 million - typically meandering around the 5-6 million mark. 7 million in '97. 8 million in '98. And then finally 1999 happened: 11.94 million. (Since then, MTV's live events have only been topped twice: The 2002 VMAs with 11.95 million, and the 2011 VMAs with 12.4 million.) It took serious courage for this guy - typically known as the partiest party boy among the Beasties - to speak his mind to nearly 12 million people, undoubtedly disappointing many misogynist mook-metal bros in the process, during the same ceremony when Fred Durst made an ass out of himself for congratulating Heather Locklear's "breasts" prior to presenting their award.

#3 Other notes

- The jump in production value between 1997 and 1999 seems shockingly and unexpectedly huge, as if MTV truly was anticipating the biggest live event they've ever hosted. Within that moment, September of 1999, it could have easily been dubbed "The TRL Awards," since TRL was unquestionably the most exciting live music-related TV series of the moment and was constantly dropping reminders about VMAs night falling on 9.9.99.

- We know we're supposed to think Diana Ross jiggling Lil Kim's boobie was the night's most memorable moment, but when the time finally arrived, we sorta knew what was going to happen and it felt pretty anticlimactic.

- Chris Rock was equally on-point as he was 2 years prior. "Lotta white boys rappin', My GOD." (The Wayans Brothers would host the following year and may have been the worst VMAs hosts in the show's history.)

- Nine Inch Nails narrowly missed out on the night's highlights only due to their song selection. We recall being very excited upon hearing "The Fragile" at the VMAs, mostly because it was our first time hearing anything from The Fragile besides "The Day The World Went Away" which was just a disappointingly horribly shitty lead single. In retrospect, MTV was clearly hoping for a 4-minute blast of insane catharsis along the lines of the "March Of The Pigs" video (or at least a moment of controversy on par with "The Beautiful People" in '97 or "The Dope Show" in '98). A tortured "Hurt"-style ballad like "The Fragile" seems like such a boring and inappropriate choice. Even a mid-tempo blast like "Into The Void" would have been cool. Trent, you're killin' us.

- This was the first year that "Best Pop Video" was a category which presumably replaced "Best Alternative Video."

- And the winner is "Some guy named Laurence Hill." That's really what he said. Throughout the history of awards shows, it might be hard to place a more embarrassing reading of a major award winning moment from anyone - from fucking Paul McCartney of all people, and for a "Video Of The Year" moment that was seen by nearly 12 million. He was clearly trying to have a fun time, and in a typical McCartney moment of arrogance, he ended up forgetting that the moment wasn't entirely all about him. It's possible that this moment lead MTV to encourage stricter policies to prevent deviation from the words on the teleprompter, leading to the un-fun current manifestation of the VMAs.

- Tom Green is so incredibly "of the era," and we fucking love him to death. His contributions to the show included pre-taped segments where he bothered people on the street about the Viewers Choice Awards while donned in snorkeling gear.

- Every performance besides TLC, Fatboy Slim and NIN were medleys.

- Chris Rock introduced Britney and *NSync's performance with the question "Are you ready for some lipsyncin'!?!? I said, Are you read for some real lip-syncin'???" Besides the Britney/*NSync medley, Backstreet and TLC also performed with fake headsets. As much as we love TLC, the lip-sync portions of the night were definitely low points.

- Since the advent of Youtube, videos like "Praise You" became a dime a dozen. But it was somewhat infamous at the time, not only beating hugely superior videos like "Freak On A Leash" and "Gimme Some More" for the Breakthrough Video award, but also being granted a 2-minute performance slot with Spike Jonze and the "Torrance" dancers putting on an abbreviated version of their routine while Fatboy Slim pretended to play piano behind them. And just for some context, Being John Malkovich (also directed by Jonze) premiered about 7 weeks later. (Chris Rock responded, "Fatboy Slim? Looked a lot more like Whiteboy Retarded!")

- As far as the performers who actually sang, Ricky Martin was notably awful.

- Kid Rock's rap-rock medley was crashed by Run DMC and Aerosmith. Kinda boring.

- We didn't notice this so much at the time, but Eminem - possibly as a nervous tic - frequently utters "y'know what'm sayin'." He said it once during his acceptance speech, and again during a post-show interview. Every word that came out of his mouth was so grossly white and douchey. How the fuck did anyone ever take this dude seriously? P.S. His performance was also crashed by guests - Dre and Snoop - who closed Eminem's medley by performing the night's final song, "Nuthin' But A G Thing," in its entirety. (SPIN had named the song #1 on their "Top 20 Singles of the '90s" about a month prior.)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

We Watched The '97 VMAs

We still haven't seen any MTV Classic, although we DVR'd the stuff that looked most interesting over the weekend. We'll get around to it eventually.

We found a fun-looking tape labelled "1997 Video Music Awards / Radiohead Live at the 10 Spot / 120 Minutes with Marcy Playground." And we were happy to discover that nearly all of the VMAs from September 4, 1997 was included with red carpet intro, post-awards outro, and most of the commercial breaks.

#1 The Death Count: 1997 didn't present as many dead celebrity appearances; instead, there seemed to be countless tributes to people who had died only recently.

- Princess Diana died 5 days prior on August 31st. Madonna spoke about her for at least 2 minutes. The Spice Girls dedicated their performance of "Say You'll Be There" to her memory, plus Sporty Spice mentioned it during their VMA acceptance speech. There were at least two other tributes - I know Elton John spoke at one point, but I don't remember if he mentioned Diana. LL Cool J may have mentioned it also.
- "Mo' Money Mo' Problems" is one of our all-time favorite songs (#38 in fact), which makes it all the more upsetting that we've been forced to place the "Mo Money Mo Problems"/"I'll Be Missing You" medley as our 2nd-worst performance of the night. MTV retrospectives have frequently cited the surprise guest appearance from Sting among their most cherished live moments. At the time, we found it kind of confusing and weak, and 19 years of hindsight has not changed this particular POV. The strongest and most heartfelt tribute to Biggy came later as "I'll Be Missing You" and "Hypnotize" picked up awards providing Biggy's mom a chance to say "Big ups to Brooklyn" and speak publicly for the first time.
- Sublime won "Best Alternative Video" for "What I Got" which didn't result in a tribute as extensive as Diana or Biggy. In fact, the drunken acceptance speech from the bassist (Eric?), the drummer (Bud?), their DJ (Miguel?) and Brad Nowell's wife (or at least we think it was his wife) was very lighthearted and jokey. Towards the end, the bass player finally said "this is all for Bradley Nowell," followed by the drummer saying something to the affect of "a lot of people have died recently for really stupid reasons, and it needs to stop."
- Puffy and LL Cool J both briefly mentioned Gianni Versace who passed away over the summer.
- Actual death count: Left Eye performed with Lil' Kim, and ODB presented an award with Wu-Tang. Not nearly as intense as 2 years prior.

#2 Highlights

- Marilyn Manson was clearly the most exciting moment of the night, closing the ceremony with "The Beautiful People." This also provided Chris Rock with arguably his best response of the night: "Run to church! Get your ass into church! Or you're going to hell."
- Wu-Tang Clan was brought out to the podium not to accept an award, but to introduce the "Ladies Night" performance from Lil Kim, Left Eye, Missy Elliott and Da Brat. In fact, Wu-Tang weren't nominated for any awards. So then, exactly how did Ol' Dirty Bastard obtain the moonman that he's waving around during their monologue?

#3 Other notes

- Chris Rock is probably the greatest VMAs host that's ever happened. Even when the stuff he said seemed wrong or inappropriate or incorrect or stupid, he still delivers every joke with that classic Chris Rock charisma.

- LL Cool J was the first hiphop artist to receive the Video Vanguard Award. And Mark Romanek was the first non-singer or non-band to receive the award for video direction. We always appreciated Romanek's speech about how the upper tier - the top 2% of the best music videos - may have provided the world with some of the best film making of the '80s and '90s.

- During the pre-show, Foo Fighters played "Monkey Wrench" and "Everlong." We're not sure if it made it onto live TV or not, but afterwards Pat Smear announced that it was his last show in Foo Fighters. He wouldn't play with them again until 2011.

- Bruce Springsteen played "One Headlight" with The Wallflowers, but as we watched the performance, their drummer grabbed our attention. No way, is that Matt Chamberlain? Wikipedia confirms that he played in Wallflowers throughout 1996-1997 before performing on Fiona Apple's When The Pawn which is how we typically associate his drumming style.

- Pretty sure Hanson was present but won nothing. They were nom'd for Best New Artist, which went to Fiona Apple, whose acceptance speech was clearly the greatest of the night and possibly the entire decade.

- Best Director wasn't presented on TV, but somehow Beck won the award despite being up against Jonathan Glazer, Hype Williams, Mark Romanek and a Dayton/Ferris collab with none other than Joel Schumacher.

- Prodigy may have been our least favorite live performance of the night. We love "Breathe," but the vocal performances were just straight garbage and nothing that deserved to be on the VMAs.

- Jewel was supposed to sing "Foolish Games" but instead made a last minute change without telling anyone and played "Angel Standing By."

- This may have been near the close of the era when presenters and monologues weren't treated as seriously as in subsequent years. Busta Rhymes, Adam Sandler, Fiona Apple, Chris Tucker, David Arquette and John Popper all treated the teleprompter as if there were a huge "optional" sign pointing in its direction. Busta, Sandler and Fiona all seemed especially stoned while Arquette may have been coked out of his mind.