Possibly the most honest moment to come from the 2001 MTV video music awards last night at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York came from gravelly-voiced diva Macy Gray. Instead of the usual unrehearsed reading of a hackneyed joke, Gray commented on how music and video”s were “all well and good, but that the audience really needed to look at her dress. Printed on her dress in large white letters was an announcement for the release of her upcoming album. She turned around to show her posterior, which prompted the viewing public to “buy it.” It is assumed that this refered to her album. In an awards show that has become increasingly pre-fabricated and as slick as the boy bands it showcases, Gray”s brash commercialism and lack of restraint was admirable.

Paul Wong
Courtesy of MTV

The VMAs were originally shotty productions that sat atop the house of cards that is popular music. One fued between two rock prima-donnas or dueling rappers could place the entire show in jeopardy. As this year”s outing proved, though, every second of the telecast is now carefully accounted for, even the so-called “spontaneous” moment the show is famous for. Near the end of MC Jamie Fox”s opening monolouge, “Saturday Night Live” star Will Ferrell “bolting” onto stage screaming about how he was “raging” before beginning to climb the set, a-la the surprise incident with “Rage Against the Machine” last year.

The broadcast reached a sad note early in the hour, as artists mourned the death of 22-year-old Michigan native Aaliyah, who died last month in a plane crash. The singer”s brother appeared on stage to thank fans and also mention the others that lost their lives in the fatal crash.

The awards themselves seemed to honor happier circumstances, awarding such sunny acts as “NSync and the immensly colorful rendition of “Lady Marmalade” from the “Moulin Rouge” soundtrack. “Marmalade” took home top “Video of the Year” honors, as well as Best Video from a Film. The songs artists (Christina Aguilera, Lil” Kim, Mya, and Pink) were all in attendence. “NSync took four awards, including the much-coveted viewers choice award.

Five technical awards went to Fatboy Slim”s “Weapon of Choice,” including Best Director, given during the show, and four others given at an earlier ceremony. Christipher Walken, the video”s star, appeared as a crowd favorite and used surprising levity in introducing “NSync”s performance. Walken was amazed that he was appearing at the Met, and that he did not care to read the lines given him.

The three hour plus show had a variety of lackluster perfomances, starting with a touching rendition of “I”m Real” by J. Lo and Ja Rule. Next up was 311, make that Linkin Park showing off their generic hard rock. Between each act the producers pushed for breif moments of comic relief from Julia Stiles and Chris Kattan dancing interpretively to modern pop hits to Andy Dick dressing up in full drag as the bizarro Christina Aguilera, Daphne. Alicia Keys performed “Fallin” and was later awarded with the best new artist award. Like the past several VMAs, MTV went all out with elaborate sets, most apparent in “NSync”s strained recreation of their outlandish video “Pop.” It took a special guest appearance by none other than the “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson, to save the act. Showing age has not affected him, the former Jackson 5 frontman displayed an incredible array of moves, with the grand exception of the “Moonwalk” which he may be saving for his sold out show tonight at the Met.

Another eye-catcher was Britney Spears performance with live animals, shortly after 11p.m., when the show was scheduled to conclude. (Maybe producers were waiting for the zoo to close?) Britney, scantily clad in jungle attire, danced, lip-synched and coddling an albino snake. The brand new song, “I”m a Slave,” declares her departure from the ideals of feminism.

More of the sought after “Moon Men” went to such commercialized bands as Destiny”s Child, who”s “Survivor” video took best R&B Video, and Limp Bizkit, who took Best Rock Video honors for “Rollin.””

The greatest of all MTV honors went out to U2, this years recipiant of the Video Vangaurd award. The Award, MTV”s version of the “Lifetime Achievment Award,” goes to a band who has raised the bar for breadth and creativity of music videos throughout their career. The band thanked the network for their continued support of the group, and New York City for producing pioneer punk band, The Ramones. The three living members of that band joined U2 on stage to a standing ovation from the crowd.

Fox attempted to keep the show rolling, and while he faired slightly better than last year”s hosts, Shawn and Marlon Wayans, most of his jokes fell flat. He kicked off the show with medely of songs ranging from “Gin and Juice” to “Marmalade,” changing up the tempos and lyrics, Billy Crystal style.

The show will undoubtedly air repeatedly the next few weeks, as fans and analysts alike discuss the implications of the broadcasts.

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