The MTV Video Music Awards are airing Sunday, and along with the usual spurious awards and speeches, the VMAs will feature a tribute to Britney Spears.
While a tribute to the floundering starlet may have spiked the ratings 10 years ago, we expect it to be met these days with a nationwide grab for the remote. In Spears' place, we suggest three unlikely yet more deserving candidates for a tribute from MTV.
3. John Norris
The former MTV News correspondent was for many the face of the network during the last two decades.
That's not why we suggest paying him respect. We nominate Norris, whose tenure spanned from his 30s to his 50s, because he kept his on-air job with MTV despite being the antithesis of everything the network values.
Poisonously old to advertisers, Norris' twinkling demeanor made him a trustworthy source to millions of latchkey kid viewers, creating a conundrum to the youth-frenzied miscreants who paid his salary.
Norris' appeal remained even as he began to visibly age, with his eyes growing larger and more homicidal within the shrinking confines of his skull.
Part freakshow, part journalist, Norris also represented to viewers their first brush with the archetype of the “Hipster Old Guy,” thanks to his adoption of innumerable hairstyle fads, including the shaggy Strokes look; the highlighted buzz cut; and the Keith Urban aka midlife Lesbian look (see photo above).
Any guy who can rock so many bad haircuts in one lifetime deserves a trophy, if not a 30-second video montage.
2. Carson Daly
The former host of Total Request Live and current ringmaster of NBC's The Voice, Daly has for 10 years been the butt of scathing jokes from industry peers and the public alike. It's a safe bet that 90 percent of the comedians who perform on Daly's talk show have at one point mocked the man during their stand-up careers.
So why honor Daly? For his contributions to the VJ craft? For his ceaselessly upbeat persona? For his prescient decision to break up with Tara Reid? No. It's for his roach-like persistence and ability to sustain a TV career despite having no discernible talent.
MTV has employed at least one hundred personalities since its inception, many of whom were hipper, cuter, and more knowledgeable about pop culture than Daly. Almost all of these hosts are today sleeping under bridges, selling bottled water on Brooklyn street corners, or obsessively editing their three-sentence Wikipedia entries between bong hits.
Meanwhile, Daly, famously mocked by Jimmy Fallon as a “massive tool” and banished to graveyard time slots inhabited by Extenze infomercials, still performs the job of talking head as he approaches 40 with nary a wrinkle or chipped tooth.
Long derided as the cheesiest guy in the room, we suspect Daly is actually the most strategic of MTV's alumni. For that we urge his former employer to show him some respect during the VMAs on Sunday, albeit quickly – don't let him give too long an acceptance speech, or else these warm feelings will fade.
1. Jani Lane
The late Warrant singer was mocked mercilessly in the grunge years as the face of hair metal excess, thanks in part to MTV's wholesale abandonment of Lane's band and others like it for trend forecaster-approved depressives like Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins.
Although Lane would spend his final years paddling up sporadic waves of ironic appreciation, he was never taken seriously again as a performer, and if you believe the most fatalistic of his obituaries, a person.
Moralizers have long attacked MTV for its promotion of boneheaded hedonism like Jersey Shore, but few have ever taken it to task for its cynical manipulation of juvenile music fans and in some cases, performers themselves.
We suggest a tribute to Lane not so much for his artistic contributions – he wrote a handful of catchy songs, to be fair – but as a reminder to MTV of its shameless, pandering history and as a wake-up call to those the VMA's bathe in phony praise. After all, less than 20 years ago, Lane occupied the same front-row seats that throwaways like Ke$ha will be seated on Sunday night. At least Lane, dead at 47, wrote his own music, which is more than 90 percent of VMA attendees this year or any can say for themselves.