- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2000

NEW YORK Quick quiz: Who has won the most MTV Video Music Awards? Bonus question: Who won the most awards last year?

Question three: Who cares? Awards are never really the point of the Video Music Awards, anyway.

The show's real purpose is to create those pop-culture moments that make you cringe or laugh out loud, preferably both. You're much more likely to remember Michael Jackson's creepy kiss with Lisa Marie Presley (1994), Busta Rhymes making time with Martha Stewart (1997), Prince's butt-less pants (1991) or the first post-arrest sighting of Pee-wee Herman (also 1991).

Pop music's annual outrageous party returns to New York's Radio City Music Hall this week, to be seen live Thursday on MTV at 8 p.m. Marlon and Shawn Wayans, hot off their "Scary Movie" collaboration, are the hosts.

They have a tough act to live up to. The 1999 Video Music Awards, with Chris Rock as host, had the highest ratings in the show's 16-year history and, with 12 million viewers, was the top-rated entertainment program in cable history.

Just because MTV's air time is dominated by such young acts as Britney Spears and 'N Sync, don't expect a G-rated slumber party.

"There is still a tremendous expectation on behalf of our audience to completely surprise them, shock them, take risks and do things that nobody else would do," says MTV president Van Toffler. "That hasn't changed even though the composition of the music has changed."

Mr. Toffler believes the openness of young fans to different forms of music is one of the factors driving up viewership in recent years.

"Having all of these stars, the biggest stars from all these genres of music, tends to bring in a bigger audience than we might typically get when we were doing just a rock show," he says.

The nominees for the year's best video reflect the diversity: rapper Eminem, punk rockers Blink 182, soul star D'Angelo, boy band 'N Sync and veteran rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Except for D'Angelo, each of those artists is scheduled to perform, along with Sisqo, Christina Aguilera, DMX, Janet Jackson, Rage Against the Machine and Miss Spears. Presenters include Dr. Dre, Chris Rock, the Rock and Sting.

Also, because he has been just about everywhere else, "Survivor" winner Richard Hatch will appear.

Mr. Toffler says he is hoping to persuade Mr. Rock (that's Chris, not the Rock) to join the Red Hot Chili Peppers on stage. He says viewers can expect Miss Aguilera to be joined on stage by someone unexpected which could mean rival Miss Spears or, if she really wants to push the envelope, Eminem.

"I think we've been pioneers in trying to take what's happening in culture at the moment and trying to flip it on its head and bring it to people in our awards show," Mr. Toffler says. "People have tried to imitate us, but you can't really plan for these kinds of moments."

Sure you can. Mr. Toffler remembers MTV executives "doing back flips" after they persuaded Mr. Herman to show up after he had been arrested for indecent exposure and utter the memorable line: "Heard any good jokes lately?"

If you care, Eminem and 'N Sync both scored the most nominations this year with six apiece. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Sisqo and Moss Aguilera have five each.

Oh, and to answer our quiz: Madonna, with 18 awards, is the all-time queen. Lauryn Hill won four last year.

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