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MTV killed the video star

VMAs are an idea whose time has come and gone
/ Source: contributor

MTV hosts the 22nd “Video Music Awards” this Sunday in Miami, and I couldn’t be more annoyed.

The awards-show format is the quintessence of what’s wrong with MTV — and it stretches way beyond the oft-repeated irony that the “music channel” doesn’t even show music videos anymore.

Everyone, from the organizers to the attention hounds whose publicists make them show up to the VMAs year after year, knows that an award show is the opposite of whatever art it celebrates. Awards shows are predictable, flashy and calorie-free. For example, do you watch the “Oscars” because of a deep love of film? Or is it the dresses? “And the award goes to …ooooh, sequins!” Thank you, Lil’ Kim’s left boob.

Truly stunning videos — few of which are nominated this year — are finding audiences through DVDs or the Internet. Meanwhile, the MTV VMAs have become an anachronism, the last vestige of something that seemed cool at the time, but with no business in the Here and Now. Best left at the bottom of the Goodwill bargain bin, like off-the-shoulder T-shirts, fiesta skirts, and legwarmers, not dragged out where we’re all forced to look at it.

The real kicker is the betrayal. MTV used to keep it real. MTV used to be smart. It was never rocket science, but you could count on MTV news anchor Kurt Loder to show up and give some sort of reasoned discourse on pop culture or gang wars or whatever was on his mind. Man, I couldn’t wait for “The Week in Rock.”

Actual music videos are now siphoned off to MTV2 to make room for the original channel’s endless schedule of reality shows. So now, the question becomes, “does life imitate MTV or does MTV imitate life?”

Doo-wah Diddy...This week, VMA host, Sean Combs announced to the world that his handle has changed to “Diddy,” sans “P.” Apparently, the “P” was getting between him and his fans. I’m torn between wondering if he should have asked R. Kelly about that and anticipating the next news roundup, “Peace in Alestine!” (See what I did there? I dropped the “P” in Palestine.) Well, at least nothing important is going on in the world that needs attention.

P. Diddy — oops! Sorry! My bad — I mean, Diddy is the perfect host for the VMAs. Here’s a man who knows style over substance. After making himself the national face of last year’s “Vote or Die!” campaign, it turns out the 35-year-old rap mogul/designer/actor/party planner didn't cast his first ballot until 2000. (And despite Diddy’s death threat, several other celebrity “Vote or Die!” representatives, such as 50 Cent and Paris Hilton, neglected to make it to the voting booth in 2004.)

If Diddy’s Broadway debut was any harbinger, he’ll be taking home MTV’s moon-man trophy for “Dullest VMA Host Ever.” Not even South Beach’s ambiance or this year’s five aquatic-themed stages can help. The man cares too much about looking smooth. You can’t look smooth and be funny. He’s going to be all worried about getting grape juice on that white suit — and you know he’s going to wear that tired-ass white suit.

Chris Rock — before the “Oscars” gutted him — now there was an awards-show host. The most cutting-edge thing MTV’s done in a decade is let Chris Rock host the VMAs for a third time in 2004. Granted, five years passed since his last VMA hosting duty in 1999, when Rock tore MTV a new one, calling out everything ridiculous about its vaunted stars.

In Rock’s rapier delivery, Kid Rock looked like a “substitute pimp.” Foreseeing the future of boy bands ‘N Sync, 98 degrees, and the Backstreet Boys, Rock said, “Don’t you know how this movie’s gonna end?” And his advice for Ricky “Livin’ La Vida Loca” Martin’s career: “You need a hit like a crackhead needs a hit.”

“What the hell is he doing here?” was Rock’s response to spotting Regis Philbin in the crowd. But you had to wonder the same about Rock — the only one verbally recognizing the ridiculousness of the arbiters of musical taste.

Happily, here in the future, we have choices. The days of sitting in front of the TV for hours waiting for Duran Duran’s “Rio” video to come on are over.

You can select videos on demand via such Internet services such as Yahoo Music and AOL Music. The AOL service even allows you to post your own snarky comments live while the video’s playing. The community site MySpace allows you to share your favorite videos with your friends, as well as contact the bands making them.

These days, you can literally hold your personalized video playlist in the palm of your hand via cell phone or Sony PlayStation Portable. Rumor has it that the video iPod isn’t far behind. You no longer need cable television and an awards show (with or without Diddy and five aquatic-themed stages) to tell you what your favorite videos should be.

And frankly, until they start handing out moon men to those singing kitties on the Internet, my cable bill may never get paid.

Helen A.S. Popkin is a writer in New York