MTV Awards - NY Times Sept 1996
At the MTV Awards, All the world's a stage
By Neil Strauss

(Sent to us by E C Stahlberger)

The MTV Video Music Awards on wednesday night attracted a spectacular array of pop stars and celebrity hangers on. from Sharon Stone, to the Smashing Pumpkins, from Dennis Rodman to Claudia Schiffer, they presented awards, won awards or just watched, basking in the glow of a show dedicated to their favorite art form:themselves.

It was a night when celebrities sold themselves and were sold. Actors and actresses were introduced themselves announcing their latest project, "PLease welcome the star of the upcoming film...." and Tim Robbins gleefully promoted the soundtrack to his film Dead Man Walking before presenting the award for best alternative video. other took a more grassroots approach to promotion. The rapper 2-pac walked around the after show party at Bryant Park surrounded by more than a dozen men in matching tee shirts, as well as signs and banners the label he records for Death Row.

If celebrities were selling themselves it was only because people were buying. In Radio City Music Hall'a basement was a labyrinth of press rooms and most presenters and ward winners were led through after leaving the stage. the area for photographers was as loud as the bleacher section at a baseball game, with caterwaul cries of turn to the right Dennis! To your left! Pick up the girl! when Dennis walked into the room with Toni Braxton.

In the journalist's room most people had their own agendas. Few seemed interested in asking about the event. Instead a woman from a children's magazine asked Metallica "If there was a Metallica sandwich what would it be?" Concert magazines asked the bands about their coming concerts; fashion magazines asked the stars about their favorite designers; foreign magazines asked musicians what they thought of other countries. All were competing for the words and images of celebrities those ubiquitous but valuable commodities in a media saturated society.

Few awards shows matter. most of them put together an appealing menu of stars, place then onstage with bad scripted dialog and wait to see what happens. When it comes to this there are few presenters more talented than MTV. But when it comes to recognizing video as an art form MTV is lacking. (How about more awards for the medium, bring more directors on stage and not censoring parts of videos shown during the broadcast).

Nonetheless the show had many memorable moments: Mariah Carey recoiling from a kiss from Pat Smear of the Foo Fighters; the first on stage reunion of Van Halen and their original front man David Lee Roth in a decade; Joe Perry of Aerosmith misreading his cue cards; the Smashing Pumpkins using the word happy and seeming to mean it "Were happy were alternative"; the host Dennis Miller improvising jokes after a satellite link up with a Russian space satellite turned out to be as boring as it sounds.

In their one song performances many bands tried to replicate videos, with Bone Thugs N Harmony bringing a horse drawn carriage onto the dry ice filled stage during The Crossroads and LL Cool J performing on a motorcycle with a bump and grind dancer. Even the iconoclastic Neil Young used images, performing an appropriate, condensed version of the NEedle and the Damage Done (via satellite from Cleveland) with a photograph of Kurt Cobain in the background.

Then there was the on stage highlights that the MTV cameras purposely missed. It wasn't just all of the celebrities who tried to be punk rock by swearing. It was Oasis's bratty act, an example of English arrogance by this English band that put most American acts to shame.

As the cameras focused on guitarist Noel Gallagher, his brother, Liam Gallagher was swearing up a storm, knocking over the microphone, spilling beer, spitting, making lewd gestures and criticizing the lameness of the event as he sang Champagne Supervova intentionally off key, off rythem, and with the wrong lyrics.

Meanwhile all kinds of unscripted dialogue could be heard as Sharon Stone, Snoop Doggy Dogg and others filed through the corridors with huge entourages consisting of everything from make up people to bodyguards. "Considering the lines they gave you to work with you did pretty well, " the MTV host Jenny Mccarthy was told by her boyfriend and agent ray Manzella.

A manager type of Mr. Roth who is in need of a hip replacement: We don't want him walking up and down stairs." At the lavish after show party in Bryant Park, it was easy to spot the celebrities. They were still working nearly all of them had the lights of television cameras shining in their eyes.

It wasn't until the private after show party given by the Smashing Pumpkins at the Four Seasons Hotels that the celebrities could stop performing and lift off the burden of their fame and become just people again. A small gathering with a fantastic array of musicians (the Pumpkins, Courtney Love, Metallica, Beck, the Foo Fighters, Seal, Van Halen, Bush Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, Bjork, Ric Ocasek), supermodels (Helena Christensen, Amber Valleta,Shalom Harlow, Trish Goff) and athletes (four New York Mets), it was like any other late-night party.

There was a good disk jockey, but it was Ben Watt of Everything but the Girl; there was a woman criticizing her boyfriend for not paying attention to her, but he was Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins; there was a man talking about the bachelor party he had just come from, except it was the E street band guitarist Steve Van Zandt. There were people walking around looking for drugs, except they too were familiar musicians.

OH, and who won the MTV music awards? The same people who had the foresight to plan a party...

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