MTV: Behind the Music

VJs, Video Awards, and Li'l Kim's Boob

First of all I'd like to give a shout-out to God for letting me write this column. I also want to thank my mom, my dad, my grandma, my sisters and brother and every single person I ever met, including my manager, my business manager, my personal assistant, my personal publicist, my personal trainer, my personal stylist, my personal groomer, and of course, my personal limo driver, Ali from Grand Limousine— hey, wussup, Ali?— plus my accountant, who keeps it on the real. Oh, and let's not forget MTV president Judy McGrath.

Most of all, though, I want to give props to our heavenly Father for holding the focus and letting me be here with you and 300 million of our best friends at the 16th annual MTV Video Music Awards. I want to say thank you God, Jah, Jehovah, whatever He's calling Himself these days, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart. Can you hear me, God? I love you, man. You're everything to me. You're the wind beneath my wings. You're butter.

Okay. Now then.

I'm at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards show, live from Lincoln Cent . . . uh, make that MTV Plaza, as we've been instructed to call it for tonight. The name, one must concede, has a certain inexorable snap to it, a zippy portent of the ever-metastasizing corporatopolis. And, hey, we've already got Rockefeller Center, so why not rename Sixth Avenue the Via Viacom. Or how about Microsoft Square Garden? Or Union Busters Square?

It's about nine p.m. on nine nine ninety nine, a date we've all been encouraged to think of as a big numerological woo-woo, a dress rehearsal for scary Y2K, are you snoring yet? I am backstage in a specially erected white tent behind Damrosch Park and how I got here is anyone's guess. Well, that's not entirely accurate. It's true that neither myself nor this newspaper rated a blue production pass, or an orange press staff pass (does not allow access to red carpet), or a coveted red all access pass, or a yellow talent guest pass, or a gray metal Press Area disc (q&a in press tent only!), or a red-dotted blue metal One-On-One Area access (with red sticker allows access to arrivals press pens) or any credentials at all. But I've managed to be on hand for this momentous occasion all the same. How? I snuck in.

I didn't mean to, honestly. What I'd planned to do was check on the effects of a fanatically hyped nonevent on our little burg and, at the same time, scope out some of those luscious MTV teens. So I hopped a cab to the West Side. And there I found, among other things, how much I'd underestimated the power of the merger magnates to yank the strings of a culture. It was Diana Ross who clued me in. "It's all so different, so big now, the music business is so global, these kids are selling so many more records now than we ever did," Ross breathily told me (and several dozen other journalists). "It's not like it was before."

And it's not. Nothing is. Nothing except show-business moxie, an inexhaustible natural resource, as old as dirt— as old, that is, as Ross herself, who demonstrated her impeccable theatrical acumen by upstaging rapper Li'l Kim in front of a global audience. (How do you trump a woman wearing a lilac wig and a skintight pantsuit with one ripe pneumatic breast almost entirely exposed? You sweep onstage and smack her on the boob.)

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I arrive at five for the preshow to find Broadway partly cordoned and Lincoln Cent . . . uh, MTV Plaza blocked off to foot traffic. A woman named Jillian Kogan is shouting through a bullhorn: "If you have a yellow letter of confirmation to the preshow and are just wandering around aimlessly listening to this girl shouting in the middle of Manhattan, pull it out and I will show you where to go."

I don't, of course, have a yellow letter of confirmation. I do have a sudden will to belong. So I follow a girl carrying a yellow letter and a sign that reads " 'N Sync is the beat of my heart," and ignore what turns out to be the sound advice a guy in a Thugz Life T-shirt is giving to a friend ("We should go uptown, dog, and watch this shit on TV and drink some beer") and get on another line.

There I encounter Takenya and Cipriana Quann, who got picked by a talent coordinator to get all dressed up and stand in the MTV pit; and Jimmy Sutherland, who is hawking his yellow letter for $20; and Susanna Pelligrini of Rockville Center, who is wearing silver eyeliner in hopes of attracting the attention of Carson Daly, a demicelebrity VJ who, Susanna says, "like recognized me once and called me over even though he didn't know my name." I also spot a Japanese photographer frantically asking directions for the press entrance when one of the scores of NYPD officers detailed to this event points west and says, "That way."

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