Everything was lined up properly. This would be the year that the VMAs would recapture their long-lost glory. Two years of holding the show in Miami proved a bit disappointing for the network: people showed up on yachts but no one seemed to care. Two years ago, there was no central host. Instead, various people stopped by and hosted various minor segments. Was this approach effective? A bit, but not too much.
For the 2005 awards, they got P.Diddy (oh wait, that’s just Diddy, now) to host, which the less we talk about, the better. Come 2006, we were back in New York, with Jack Black hosting, and the evening’s frontrunner was the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ excellent clip for “llDani California"ll which stylistically mocked every genre of rock music from Elvis to grunge with perfection. Perhaps the VMAs would finally own up to its great past and acknowledge a group that is finally recapturing their critical and commercial peak as well as being an outstanding contributor to the oft-neglected art of music videos.
The fact that early on the Peppers were awarded an Art Direction win and nothing else should have been an indicator of the disastrous evening to come.
The evening, as always, was overstuffed with time-wasting presenters and rather lame performances. What hurt the most was how there was no real water-cooler moment to speak of this year. No Michael Jackson kissing Lisa-Marie Presley. No Michael Jackson thinking he just won the Artist of the Millennium Award. No Madonna-Britney tongue kiss. Just … awards and performers. Though Jack Black’s pre-taped opening segment about how he was going to “bring the thunder!” to this year’s show was an inspired start, things quickly devolved from there, with Lil’ Kim being the first presenter and having absolutely no presence whatsoever (“You can’t keep a good bitch down!” she shouted, despite the fact that Black introduced her with that exact phrase verbatim only moments before).
When Britney Spears appeared via taped segment with “K-Fed”, the lack of humor and energy (largely due to Federline’s half-there presence) was apparent, and you almost felt sorry for her and her ever-descending career. When James Blunt won for Best Male Video, he kept his acceptance speech short and sweet, which is the exact opposite of the nearly three-minute list of “thank you’s” that the Pussycat Dolls insisted upon reading when they won for Best Dance Video for “Buttons”. One wonders how these awards are determined in the first place. Hell, the technical awards were more interesting and well-thought-out than the actual awards itself (you’re damn right Gnarls Barkley is winning for Best Direction). Al Gore joined the fray to warn us that the earth is melting (again). Yet even he was kind-of-amusing. And brief. Perhaps he should run for President … of Viacom.
The performances themselves were predictably epic, but still shockingly dull. The big, hyped-up moment in the pre-show was the premiere of a new My Chemical Romance song. Shocking? Certainly not (unless you count singer Gerard Way’s new blonde-hair look shocking). The song itself? A Queen rip-off. We’ll see if the American Idiot-styled LP that it comes from is even in the same ballpark as Green Day’s landmark disc. Justin Timberlake opened the show by dancing sporadically for a few minutes before launching into a surprisingly good trance-styled number off his forthcoming album. Then he segued into “SexyBack” (which hit #1 on the pop chart that very day) with Timbaland coming out onstage to join him. Asking the audience to sing back “get your sexy on” every five seconds did not seem to rouse up the crowd in the way that they had hoped.
As a matter of fact, since just about every performance was pretty much a stage re-enactment of the videos that the songs sprang from, the change for surprises was minimal. “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira? Lots of Shakira shaking her hips and Wyclef Jean shouting stuff—just like in the video. “Ring the Alarm” by Beyonce? Ms. Knowles got manhandled by police and other trench-coat wearing women who broke into Janet Jackson-esque dance numbers. Just like the video. Even OK Go, a fine band, got suckered into lip-syncing their own track while re-enacting the amazing treadmill choreography for “Here It Goes Again”. What’s more, it was actually flawless, and they got the biggest response of the night. Go figure. Perhaps the most engaging piece, however, was at the very end, when Axl Rose inexplicably showed up simply to introduce the Killers playing their new single, “When You Were Young”. The best part? They sound even better live. A fitting end to the show.
The best moments of the evening, however, belonged to Kyle Gass. Jack Black kept the energy up despite the fact that the show’s writers gave him very little to work with. Yet when his Tenacious D partner was onstage, the chemistry was sizzling, and both walked away with some of the best lines (“No, Kyle. I’m like Jared Leto and you’re my 30 Seconds to Mars!”). When Kyle decided he was a member of the Black Eyed Peas and Jack Black determined their friendship was over (only to reunite and launch into a live rendition of “Friendship”, complete with swears, censors be damned), they were rivaled in coolness only by the “house band” for the night: the Raconteurs. The group truly rocked the house, and early on even brought out Lou Reed to launch into a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat”—one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded. They were later joined by ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons for a cover of “Cheap Sunglasses” and even director Jim Jarmusch for “Video Killed the Radio Star” (all delivered with lightning intensity). The Raconteurs should have won an award … for saving the evening.
Yet, there was still the big moment awaiting: Video of the Year. What shocked was that the only award that really mattered, the only one that actually carried any weight, the one that actually stood for quality work on MTV (a rarity these days), went to Panic! At the Disco, a shockingly mediocre band with a shockingly plain video that really doesn’t do anything outside of the norm at all (yes, children, circus performers have appeared in videos before). As we contemplate what people will think when they look back on this achievement awards show years from now, the
Highlight of the Night
went to “Six”, the man who walked onstage right before Panic!, took the microphone, said MTV never gave him his own show, shouted out Remy Ma (?!), and then was tackled by security. Even Jack Black acknowledged the oddity by saying “Looks like MTV has its own Soy Bomb!”. And the guy’s website he shouted out during his unexpected appearance? It takes you to AwardCrashers.com: a site where pranksters crash awards shows on a regular basis.
To think: the most water-cooler-worthy moment of VMA 2006 was done by some guy pulling a prank. Maybe there is hope for next year’s show, after all.