The 2000 MTV Video Music Awards: An Industry's Turning Point
Eminem, one of many Slim Shadys
YouTube Screen Capture
This Sunday is the MTV Video Music Awards. Hosted by Miley Cyrus, this year's ceremony looks to continue the recent upswing of great shows after some middling years in-between. Yes, we consider 2011's incarnation among the best ever, right up there with 1986, 1997 and 1999. No, the VMAs didn't stop being great just because you graduated high school. Truthfully speaking, whether you're down or up or up-and-down on today's music, the over-three decades of VMAs have managed to capture a moment in music history as a perfect time capsule better than any other broadcast, and perhaps that's why we have so many visceral memories of the 2000 incarnation burned into our minds.
It was the first (or last, depending how anal your friends were) year of the millennium. Not only was the music industry in the midst of the single most profitable year it would ever see, but MTV was holding the highest influence over the industry, and subsequently pop culture, that it would ever wield. Given this was the network's annual biggest night of the year, 2000's offering top-to-bottom boasts the most elaborate star power that the network ever assembled. The biggest names in music, the biggest names in Hollywood, the biggest names in entertainment. All under one roof for one historic night.
Typically, the reasoning behind watching the VMAs each year usually falls into hoping for at least one of two types of great moments. Either 1) a truly extravagant musical performance or 2) something unexpected and bizarre that we'll reference for months to come. These VMAs had no shortage of both.
First, the performances were pretty spectacular. Chances are, the mere mention of the 2000 VMAs conjures memories of either Eminem leading a battalion of fraudulent Slim Shadys into Radio City Music Hall (and subsequently giving Fred Durst's high five the cold shoulder), or Britney Spears' flesh colored striptease. Both were iconic moments for the artists and left a mark establishing both were entering the next level of their careers. You also had *NSYNC's downright impressive video-screen-face choreography.
As for the bizarre, you also famously had Rage Against the Machine bassist Tim Commerford climbing the stage during Limp Bizkit's Best Rock Video acceptance speech, in the moment that would disband Rage Against the Machine into a hiatus that's still vacant 15 years later. You also had Fred Durst joining Christina Aguilera on stage for an awkward duet.
Crossing the Venn Diagram of great performances and sheer bizarreness is how diverse the line-up was. Janet Jackson opened the show, and Blink 182 closed it. On the popular music spectrum, that's about as far as you can get, but both captivating the crowd in such different ways is a testament to how much MTV (who, even then, were getting "MTV Doesn't Play Music Videos" jokes) played different styles of music.
And those are just the performances. Who else was a part of the telecast brandishing Moonmen? How's this list of names: Robert Deniro, Jim Carrey, Destiny's Child, Sting, Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Mark Wahlberg, The Rock, Steven Tyler, Dr. Dre, Venus and Serena Williams, U2, Renee Zellweger, and Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown. Also, the biggest and brightest start of them all
Sir Richard Hatch of "naked guy on Survivor" fame. What more could you want?
But was it the best Video Music Awards ever? No, sorry Billboard. For all of these great, memorable moments, The Wayans Brothers did a horrific job hosting. For all the flack Ben Stiller gets today for his 1998 hosting gig just being OK/pretty good, people tend to forget how universally panned The Wayans' work was on the show, especially coming off the heels of Scary Movie. Even The Daily Show was making cracks about how lackluster it was. Perhaps that's why the show's lent itself so well to clipshow and YouTube-based nostalgia, allowing for their clunky transitions and uninteresting bits to not get in the way of an otherwise great broadcast.
Still, looking back the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards are probably most memorable for being the exact moment where things started to change for the music industry. With the network being a juggernaut, you had its VJ as certifiable stars. Carson Daly shared a podium with Napster creator Shawn Fanning, donning a Metallica shirt despite the band's lawsuit against the file-sharing software, and both were cheered. Later, when Metallica member and face of the lawsuit Lars Ulrich came out to introduce Blink 182, he was met with an unwelcome reception. Things were definitely heading the way of the internet.
Yet, between Eminem and *NSYNC especially, this was the year the live performances paid painstaking tribute to the art of the music video. MTV knew what their bread-and-butter was, and the artists knew what brought them to the dance. At a time when "internet killed the video star" was a fairly common offhand joke that no-one took seriously, the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards were their crossroads. The annual award show, the internet and the music industry, would never be the same again.
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