The MTV Video Music Awards are tonight, so I was inspired to dig these out.
I went to the VMAs from 1999 through 2003, which were some of the big Total Request Live years. My ticket collection above is missing my 2000 stub, but I was definitely in the audience for that crazy show, meaning I got to see Eminem perform “The Real Slim Shady” surrounded by 100 clones; Britney Spears strip to a nude top and tights …
… and I’m pretty sure it’s the only time I laid eyes on Aaliyah in the flesh.
Despite all of that, my most vivid recollection is of Rage Against the Machine bassist climbing up the stage props when Limp Bizkit won Best Rock Video. At first we couldn’t figure out if it was a planned stunt or real craziness. When everything came to a halt and people came out to stage to contemplate the dude, then pluck him out of the scenery, the audience was still like, “Okay … this was real … right?”
Memory works in weird ways. When it comes to ourselves, we tend to remember negative things more than positive things. When it comes to pop culture, however, negative memories often recede or become reinterpreted. That’s called “fading affect bias” and I wrote about it for the Huffington Post in 2013 after critics predicted Miley Cyrus’s career would be ruined by her stripping to nude underthings and twerking against Robin Thicke during a duet that included his inescapable hit, “Blurred Lines.”
The peanut gallery was like, “Oh my God! Think of the children!” But as I wrote for the HuffPost, performances now considered iconic, like Britney’s 2000 naked moment, were initially frowned upon too. The Washington Post, for instance, said derisively that Spears “tried hard to be provocative by bumping and grinding her way through a bit of the Rolling Stones’ hoary ‘Satisfaction’…” And 16 years before Britney, Madonna’s manager confronted her after her career-making “Like a Virgin” performance and said, “That’s it, you’ve ruined your career.”
It’s worked out similarly for Miley. A year after her performance, the media admitted that Miley’s career was going strong while Thicke’s had faded away. Two years after her performance — right now! — Miley is the host of the VMAs. The show’s first host in two years!
“He acted like he didn’t know that was going to happen. You were in rehearsals! You knew exactly what was going to happen. And he was actually the one that approved my outfit, so I thought that was very funny. He wanted me as naked as possible, because that’s how his video was.”
Unfortunately, in the same interview, Miley whitesplained the recent Nicki Minaj/Taylor Swift feud, but the show is already underway and the opening performance was … Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift. In other words, all is going exactly as expected. Throw on your twerk necklace and enjoy the show.