In the 21-year history of MTV’s Video Music Awards, viewers have been treated to some eye-popping moments — Prince’s bare buttocks, Lil’ Kim’s sequined pasty, Britney and Madonna’s steamy kiss last year.
But after the firestorm over the MTV-produced Super Bowl halftime show, in which Justin Timberlake ripped off part of Janet Jackson’s costume to reveal her bare breast, might we see tamer VMAs when they air Sunday?
MTV President Van Toffler isn’t promising any flesh-baring moments. But he’s also not promising a Nickelodeon-friendly affair.
“You never know what they’re going to do or say,” Toffler said of the various artists who will converge at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, where the awards will be held for the first time. “Our audience has come to expect of MTV, and this event, very unpredictable, compelling television. That is not going to change, regardless of the Super Bowl or the kiss.”
Still, there’s talk of using a video delay for the first time on the live broadcast (it’s had an audio delay for years).
“It simply happens when you put musicians and artists together: They don’t always do want you want them to do,” Toffler told The Associated Press in an interview.
That’s usually the best part of the show, however. Few watch because of the awards — who can even remember last year’s top winner for video of the year? (In case you forgot, it was Missy Elliott’s surreal “Work It.”) Instead, people watch to see Eminem threaten a sock puppet, Diana Ross fondle Lil’ Kim’s breast or Michael Jackson kiss then-wife Lisa Marie Presley.
“It’s always a fun time, a time to relax and let loose,” said Jessica Simpson, one of the performers slated for Sunday night.
Other presenters and performers include Usher, Jennifer Lopez, P. Diddy, Nelly, Christina Aguilera, Dave Chapelle, Will Smith, Hilary Duff and the Miami Heat’s newest member — Shaquille O’Neal.
There will be awards to dole out — Jay-Z’s gritty “99 Problems,” which depicts his own killing as a metaphor for his supposed retirement, received the most nominations: six.
Other multiple nominees include his girlfriend, Beyonce, for her videos “Me Myself and I” and “Naughty Girl”; OutKast for “Hey Ya!”; and No Doubt’s “It’s My Life.”
Usher is up for five awards. He’s never won a moonman trophy, so he told the AP that a win “would mean the world. You don’t win one every day, and it’s very hard to get one.”
But for those not nominated, it’s a big party.
Traditionally, the show has been held in New York; occasionally, in Los Angeles. But for the first time, it’s being held outside those two cities, in Miami. The network plans to take advantage of the beach town — celebrities will ferried to the red carpet on luxury yachts.
“Everybody’s on a vacation mindset. It’s going to be more of a party this time,” Simpson said. “It will be nice to lay out at the pool before I perform.”
There will be other changes too. There’s no host, and it will be held on a Sunday, instead of the traditional Thursday night.
“There’s just so much going on this summer with the conventions and the Olympics,” Toffler explained. “Sunday night’s a festive night over the summer.”
There’s usually a surprise element to the awards, in the form of a special performer or presenter. Toffler teased: “I would not be late to the show, especially in light of what happened last year,” referring to the Madonna, Spears and Aguilera performance that kicked off the show and led to same-sex kissing.
Simpson says her performance will include a “pretty cool entrance.” But don’t expect anything shocking from her.
“I’m not good at shocking people unless I’m letting some ‘Chicken of the Sea’ comment fly out my mouth,” she said, joking about her infamous bubbleheaded comment. “I think leaving more to the imagination is better, and that’s sexier to me.”
Although Toffler says MTV hasn’t issued any edicts to performers to be on their best behavior, he doesn’t expect any Jackson-Timberlake moments at the show.
“At the end of the day, what Janet Jackson did at the Super Bowl didn’t work for her, and the artists that we work with are professionals,” he said.