[17 November 2003]
MTV’s Europe Music Awards in Edinburgh was just another awards show, one that one billion people watched. And though a spell of anticipation was cast during the arrivals on the Tartan carpet, the effects wore off as the winners became obvious and the performers failed to dazzle.
I listened eagerly as the juvenile presenters (nameless and irritating) counted down the minutes to the show. “Juvenile” is what one expects from MTV, but the overenthusiastic fan approach to every interview only shrank the scope of the show from international event to something like a homecoming dance. Stars such as Beyoncé, Pink, and Justin Timberlake know how to ingratiate themselves to fans and to MTV, but it was hard to ignore the lack of stars in their eyes as they said how happy they were to be in Scotland.
Beyoncé‘s show opener (“Baby Boy”) had to be a letdown after her much applauded appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards (“Crazy in Love”) just a few months ago, especially as it seemed to suffer from technical difficulties. And JT, who looks good in anything and probably nothing too, swapped the classy suit worn at the VMAs for a t-shirt and thrift-store slacks. Perhaps they were just following the lead of hostess with the most-ess Christina “Elvira” Aguilera, demonstrating that they had all really just come “to Par-tay.”
According to the arriving celebrities, the most anticipated performance of the night was The Darkness. England has embraced these self-proclaimed stadium rockers, tongue in cheek or not, and it seemed that the affection was catching. Whether or not this expectation was fulfilled in Edinburgh is hard to say, but for television viewers, The Darkness fell flat performing their latest and greatest single, “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” They looked as old and tired as the men who wore the cat suits the first time around. The lack of energy might be attributed to the production: the pyrotechnics were slow and when the lead singer was blocked from view by a smoking pillar, it seemed as if director Hamish Hamilton (who will also direct The Brit Awards in February) had borrowed from Spinal Tap, seriously. The Darkness deserved better than this.
The stage itself was another hindrance. Built inside a gigantic circus tent rigged especially for the show, it featured an off-center ramp leading to a circular platform just above the head of the fervent audience. While beautifully designed to showcase dance and r&b acts such as Kylie Minogue and Missy Elliot, the stage was a killer for bands. An interesting oversight, considering this has been heralded as the “Year of Rock.”
In fact, the EMAs’ primary purpose seemed to be decorating the pop prince of the year, Justin Timberlake. With his old Mickey Mouse Club cohort and summer touring partner Christina Aguilera hosting and his close personal friends Kelly Osbourne, Pharell and Chad presenting him with gongs, and a live performance of his collaboration with the Black Eyed Peas, “Where is the Love?”, the show seemed like one big party for Mr. NBA Reporter.
I don’t mean to take anything away from the talented Timberlake. He has left behind the boy band to become a superstar of the highest caliber. But when so many people are watching and the awards are named “Europe,” one hoped for a little less focus on an American white male. Isn’t it a bit surprising that in today’s political climate, when the U.S. is perceived as more arrogant and imperial than ever, that its most prominent export is still homogenised pop?
The uniqueness of these awards came through in the evening’s second small success—Christina. Her years in children’s telly paid off as she-of-little-clothing proved to be an effortlessly energetic and commanding host. Live broadcasts are often completely undone when the hosts lose control. There was no worry of that happening with Xtina in charge. Perhaps she carried a riding crop off camera to keep those presenters and winners on time with their speeches. She was certainly never late herself, despite her multiple costume changes. Her success made it even sadder when Vin Diesel—in a black leather kilt—announced the viewer-voted winner of Best Song as “the most beautiful girl here… Beyoncé.” With Aguilera’s “Beautiful” one of the nominees in this category, and Diesel’s dramatic pause, I am sure Christina thought for a moment she had triumphed.
As is its privilege, MTV (and its offspring MTV Hits in Europe and MTV2 in the States) are currently rebroadcasting the EMAs almost daily. In catching bits and pieces of the repeats, this thought occurs to me: The EMAs do play second fiddle to the VMAs, in production as well as industry prowess, but as the world shrinks with more live international broadcasts, it is possible that we will see more of those unique approaches which would help MTV Europe to move out of the shadow of its older American sibling.
For a review of Christina Aguilera’s multiple costume changes and a complete list of winners, go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/news/index.shtml?link.