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TELEVISION REVIEW

MTV Video Music Awards

Victory For Hill and Praising La Vida Loca

By Daniel J. Katz

Staff Writer

Last night’s edition of the MTV Video Music Awards didn’t quite capture the energy and excitement the program possessed years ago, but it was a definite improvement over last year’s mediocre outing. For once, a few awards found their way into the right hands, and some of the performances and surprises actually turned out well.

A few major themes dominated the proceedings. As in most awards shows, a majority of the winners and presenters gave in to the uncontrollable urge to promote their new projects, the most shameless example appearing when Wyclef Jean gave the retail price of his upcoming single. A more unique motif was based on the show’s location, the Metropolitan Opera House. Video montages were preceded by renditions of the nominated songs on more classical instruments, and the opening of the show featured Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba” performed by a full choir.

The impact of MTV’s Total Request Live was evident in the nominated artists. Since it’s inception, TRL has become the central focus of MTV’s programming day, and last night’s contenders were almost entirely alumni of the daily viewer-voted playlist. Rapidly improvising host Chris Rock was quick to mock those artists, beginning the awards with a twelve-minute monologue attacking boy groups, white rappers, the Latin invasion, and for good measure, the Blair Witch Project.

Korn led the nominations, but the dominant force of the evening was somewhat predictably Ricky Martin. “Livin’ La Vida Loca” triumphed in the Pop and Dance categories, as well as the Viewer’s Choice awards in Latin America and, frighteningly enough, Russia. His sweep was not complete, however, as Lauryn Hill deservedly gained a Best Video of the Year Award to display next to her Album of the Year Grammy.

A more pleasant surprise came in the form of three awards for “Praise You,” Fat Boy Slim’s minimalist masterpiece directed by the fictional Torrance Community Dance Group. Actually consisting of veteran director Spike Jonez and a bunch of random dancers, the group remained in character as Jonez claimed they had been together for seven years and accepted the Best Director award with the unabashed glee of an amateur. And perhaps the greatest Cinderella story was that of TLC, who beat Billboard chart dominators Backstreet Boys and Limp Bizkit to claim the award for Best Group Video.

Entirely too many performances were partial songs crammed into awkward medleys. Jay-Z attempted to fit all of his singles to date into about four minutes of performance time. Ricky Martin jumped into “Livin’ La Vida Loca” from “She’s All I Ever Had,” destroying the effect of both. The worst showing of all came during the pre-show, when Blink-182, given the opportunity to perform two songs, made both of them sound rough, empty, and out of tune.

Performance highlights included Lauryn Hill and her diverse backing entourage, as well as Nine Inch Nails, who debuted an impressive new song from Trent Reznor’s upcoming album amidst towering rotating lights. The showstopper came very early though, in the middle of Kid Rock’s set. The first surprise was the appearance of Run DMC to accompany “Bawitdaba.” The second was the appearance of Aerosmith, who joined Run DMC in a reprise of their legendary collaboration on “Walk This Way.” It was a reminder that Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit aren’t the first artists to skirt the rap-rock boundary.

As is the standard for MTV awards shows, the show extended beyond the awards themselves. A parade of male Madonna impersonators and Tom Green’s Viewer’s Choice promos made up the irreverent side, while more serious mood was achieved by the Beastie Boys’ plea for protection of women at concerts and the appearance of the mothers of 2Pac and the Notorious BIG.

But the defining moment of the show was when Chris Rock publicly exposed the performance of ‘N Sync and Britney Spears as a lip-sync to a huge crowd ovation. It was a wonderful illustration that one night a year, MTV finds time to look at itself and laugh. Last night was that night, and in that respect, the Video Music Awards were a great success.