MTV Music Awards 92 vs. 02 – What a Difference a Decade Makes.
Note: as sometimes happens, what began as a news article turned into a rant. So the following will include some reporting of what happened at the VMA’s as well as editorial commentary.
If you are looking for a clear example of how much popular music has declined over the past decade you need look no further than the MTV Music Awards. While MTV has always been mainstream, the 1992 awards offered a lot more diversity than this year’s ceremony and award winners.
2002 Awards at a glance.
Eminem was the big winner this year, walking away with four awards and took shots at Moby while behind the microphone. The other winners were just as predicable, Pink, Linkin Park, No Doubt, j.lo and MTV’s latest darling--Avril Lavigne.
Like in 1992, the show was hosted by an SNL castmember, this year it was Jimmy Fallon. Performances included Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Eminem, Pink, Shakira, p.diddy, Justin Timberlake and Busta Rhymes. But many viewers were buzzing about the battle of the bands between The Hives and The Vines, with the major consensus being that The Vines stole the show.
The big surprise of the night was when Axl Rose took the stage with his latest incarnation of Guns N’ Roses to perform a few songs. Since Axl performed at the 1992 show as well, comparisons are inevitable. In 1992, Guns N Roses were joined by Elton John for an unforgettable performance of “November Rain”. After the 2002 performance some of the reaction has been embarrassment for Rose, who doesn’t appear to have the same magic as a frontman that he did back during the heyday of Guns N’ Roses. Not to mention that few fans consider the Axl Rose band to be Guns N’ Roses in anything but name.
One of the strangest moments came when former Van Halen frontmen, David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar presented Linkin Park the award for best Rock Video. A rock veteran, Hagar appeared clearly uncomfortably giving the award to Linkin Park. David Lee Roth on the other hand was heard backstage congratulating Linkin Park, apologizing for Hagar and proceeded to show the group that he was a fan by singing a few bars of “In The End”. Linkin Park’s response? LP vocalist Chester Bennington exclaimed, "Diamond Dave is a fan. That rules!"
Of course if there is any one thing that the 2002 MVA’s will be remembered for it was Michael Jackson giving an acceptance speech for the “Artist of the Millenium”. The only problem with that is the fact that the award doesn’t exist. Jackson was brought on stage to be presented with a trophy and cake to celebrate his birthday, not to receive an award of any kind.
Being that the 1st anniversary of 9/11 is just around the corner, an homage to American patriotism was required. With the Clash classic, “Rudie Can't Fail” playing in the background, J.lo introduced NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who was there to thank musicians for their part in helping in the post 9/11 relief efforts. Giuliani said in part, "Music has a very special way of bringing people together and this next performer does this with style and grace. Here to perform for you is Sheryl Crow." Crow performed "Safe and Sound", backed by an orchestra with images of NYC firemen and policemen streaming across the hall’s big screens.
There were lighter moments. Aside from Fallon’s mocking of Eminem, Avril, The Dave Matthews Band and others, there were some other funny moments during this year’s broadcast including a fake tattoo adorned Pink announcing during her acceptance speech for Best Female Video, "I'm too drunk for this." A little while later Michelle Branch one-upped Pink when accepting her Viewers Choice Award by saying, "I was gonna leave because I didn't think I was getting this. … And, I think I'm drunker than Pink."
That is now but what about then? A look at the highlights of the 1992 MTV Music Awards.
When we look back, 2002’s ceremony will more than likely blend into the background like so many other MTV Awards shows over the years. But many point to the 1992 ceremony as one of the most memorable.
The 1992 broadcast started with an unforgettable introduction from Pee Wee Herman, who had recently been arrested for masturbating in an adult movie theater. Pee Wee opened the show by coming out and asking the audience, “Have you heard any good jokes lately?” Although the Vines performance this year was a highlight, the 2002 show pales in comparison when you consider that the 1992 show featured performances from Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Eric Clapton, Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2 and Guns N Roses (not just Axl and his new band)--who performed “November Rain” with Elton John.
Off the screen, Kurt Cobain and Axl Rose exchanged some angry words. Here is how Cobain later described the incident in an interview. “Well, apparently Axl was in a really bad mood. Something set him off, probably just minutes before our encounter with him. We were in the food tent and I was holding my daughter, Frances, and he came strutting by with five of his huge bodyguards and a person with a movie camera. Courtney jokingly screamed at him, ‘Axl, will you be the godfather of our child?’ Everyone laughed. We had a few friends around us, and he just stopped dead in his tracks and started screaming these abusive words at us. He told me I should shut my bitch up, so I looked at Courtney and said, ‘Shut up, bitch, heh!’ Everyone started howling with laughter and Axl just kind of blushed and went away.”
During the 1992 show a fistfight also broke out backstage between Poison frontman Brett Michaels and guitarist CC DeVille.
Howard Stern was also on hand to introduce his superhero character “Fartman” and Dana Carvey did a masterful job of hosting. Jimmy Fallon, while funny, isn’t quite Dana and Dana wasn’t pushing a music/comedy CD at the time either, just a little film called “Wayne’s World”.
Showing just how much things have changed in a decade, the big winner in 1992 was Van Halen, who walked away with the video of the year award for “Right Now” and a handful of others. Other award winners that year included Nirvana, Eric Clapton, U2, Arrested Development, Queen, and Annie Lennox.
It is just a sign of the times. The more things change, the more they stay the same and it really doesn’t matter in the end.
In the end, this year’s MTV Music Awards is just a sign of the times. We live in an age of disposable pop, hip-hop/rock hybrids, SUV’s, Punk classics being used to sell Jaguars and a collective attention span that is so short that a healthy dose of riddlin couldn’t cure pop culture’s case of ADD.
MTV is just doing what it has always done; presenting what seems to be the flavor of the day. While the 1992 show featured artists who have ultimately withstood the test of time and are still popular in many circles, the 2002 show had far fewer performers and award winners who would fall into that category. This is just another example of MTV pandering to the mainstream. The problem is the mainstream today has very little of substance to offer and that speaks volumes about what is wrong with the music industry at the moment. While record company suits point a blindly guided finger to the internet as the reason that they are losing money and ground over the past couple of years, the real reason for that decline can be found on screen when you switch to MTV or on the Billboard Charts where you see the latest crop of forgettable albums that landed onto the chart not because the music warranted the fan’s purchase but because the music and group were marketed to the hilt and almost every aspect of their career had been planned and mapped out against a focus group inspired marketing plan.
It’s true that 1992 had it’s fair share of contrived music as well but since then the trend has hit a critical mass and is actually headed down a road that may mark the end the music business as we know it. In the end, that may be a blessing in disguise, at least for a short period of time. You may find a few worthy groups on the charts and in the mainstream but for the most part, die hard music fan’s don’t turn to MTV and mainstream radio to get their music fix. So it really doesn’t matter what MTV shows or what CD’s top the charts.
I know it sometimes seems like a broken record, the rallying against MTV and for the most part, I personally try to ignore the channel and mainstream radio because really they cater to a whole different world than the one I live in. Where I live, “It’s the music stupid!” It has nothing to do with image and focus groups. But the MTV world, is more concerned with what Cameron Crow, in the script to his hit movie “Almost Famous”, called “an industry of cool” That is nothing new for MTV. The problem for many, is the fact that what is cool now isn’t as musically relevant as what was cool in the past.
The real reason behind this rant, isn’t’ to blast MTV’s shallowness or the emptiness of the mainsteam music of today. It really isn’t, the point is to show just how much things have changed in ten years and yet stayed the same. Another reason is to also further illustrate the writing that has been on the wall for sometime… “the mainstream music industry is heading straight towards a brick wall. Upon impact, it will either destroy itself or it will cause a temporary change in direction.” Of course, that change in direction like everything else we see while looking back at the history of popular music, will run it’s own cycle and we will once again be back to where we are now. Because the more things change, the more they stay the same and the music industry has a tendency to forever repeat the same mistakes over and over again. So a music revolution may be coming but like the revolutions of the past, it will be short lived and will ultimately be usurped by the “industry of cool” and turned into a marketing driven vehicle and yes, “trend”.
The music industry is a business after all and will always be operated with an eye towards the bottom line. Fortunately, there are times when the art of the music does take a frontseat and shines briefly in the mainstream but that’s the one thing that is cool, no matter what seems to be the “flavor of the day” or current trend in music, there will always be musicians who are driven by the need to make the best music they can, not with writing a song that will become a hit. So no matter what you see on MTV or what trends, good or bad, seem to be dominating the music industry, music for people who love the music will always be out there to be had. It just may take more effort to find it. And in that light, MTV, major record companies and radio don’t really matter that much, because a play on the often quoted line from “Field of Dreams” will always be relevant, “If they play it, people will come.”
So there is really no reason to fret over the decline of MTV or popular music, even when comparing the face of this year’s music industry with where it stood in the past. Trends come and go, but as long as there are people who want to listen to it, there will always be musicians and bands playing whatever kind of music they truly believe in and the fans can believe in, the mainstream be damned!
(Now if we can only get
marketing people to stop using classic songs in commericals, all will be
well with the world.) -aG