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What happens in Vegas ... hurts my eyes

Given that Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards were held in Las Vegas, I was hoping that the show would open with a parade of hookers. They’d walk out with briefcases like the models on “Deal or No Deal.”  Then when they opened their cases, one of them would be hollowed out to reveal a pregnant belly underneath.  Then whatever star was the lucky father would get a moon man trophy, make
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Given that Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards were held in Las Vegas, I was hoping that the show would open with a parade of hookers. They’d walk out with briefcases like the models on “Deal or No Deal.”  Then when they opened their cases, one of them would be hollowed out to reveal a pregnant belly underneath.  Then whatever star was the lucky father would get a moon man trophy, make a speech and pay child support for the rest of his life.  Wouldn’t that be fun?

Instead, we got Britney Spears’ so-called comeback performance of her new single, “Gimme More.” Before we get to that dog and pony show, can I just ask what was up with longtime MTV pre-show personality John Norris’ bleached blonde hairdo and smoky eyeliner?  I thought it was Judith Light there for a second … or Jodie Foster, plugging that new movie where she shoots people.

But anyway, back to Britney. The show starts and the first thing we see of Brit is a close-up of the back of her head. It’s not pretty. It’s extension seams a go-go. You could almost smell the glue through the television. This unflattering shot made me wonder if Britney was a pain in the rear during rehearsal because someone at MTV was clearly pissed at her. Her black rhinestone bikini was problematic too considering Brit’s a few pounds over her “Slave 4 U” fighting weight. It wasn’t Paula Abdul “Vibeology” bad, but it was far from good.

I could forgive the ratty hair extensions and the extra pounds if Britney had turned in a good performance but she didn’t. She totally phoned it in and it wasn’t a very good connection. The words that come to mind are joyless, dead-eyed, way under-rehearsed and Cheetos.  And, oh yeah, clumsy.  The normally sure-footed trouper stumbled a few times in her gold-heeled boots. Of course, she hasn’t worn shoes in years so maybe we should cut her some slack with the footwork. 

Her blasé attitude, though, is inexcusable. Britney was like a jaded stripper a few minutes before closing time who leaves her ciggie burning backstage while she goes out to shake her weary ass for the punters one more time. Simply put, she looked like she didn’t want to be there.

Which is such a shame because I’ve always found Britney to be a magnetic performer and a sexier, more graceful dancer than any pop tart out there.  But something happened to her sparkle. And the audience cutaways just added insult to injury. 50 Cent looked genuinely befuddled and he’s gotta be pretty hard to shock. Meanwhile, Rihanna shared a laugh with a gal pal while the cartoon thought bubble over her head said, “Wow, outshining this has-been is going to be even easier than I thought.” Hey Rihanna, I wouldn’t get too cocky if I were you.  That could be you in 20 years. 

I’ve since read a report online that said that an outraged Britney nearly bailed on the performance right before show time after overhearing the jokes Sarah Silverman planned to tell about her onstage. Another report said she planned to do an illusion with magician Criss Angel but MTV or the hotel vetoed it at the last minute, so the performance we saw was Plan B.  I doubt that either of these is true, but I think Britney should pick one and stick to it. 

For my money, the performance of the night was given by Alicia Keys. She wowed the crowd with her musicality, her Gene Simmons boots and a puffy hairdo that looked like it was attached to her headband. Keys ended her set with a rousing version of George Michael’s “Freedom”, a song I’ve always liked but thought was impossible to cover because how can anyone but George sing with any authority about how dehumanizing it was to be in Wham?  Alicia proved me wrong.    

Other random thoughts on the VMAs:

I wasn’t into the way the show cut away to different party suites in the hotel to find Fall Out Boy, Kanye West or Justin Timberlake spontaneously jamming.  It was like open mic night at the VMAs.

Paris Hilton, in her blond bob and animal-print dress, looked like the sexiest real estate agent in Beverly Hills. You may not have liked her album but she has a lovely three bedroom she’d like to show you in Brentwood.

As someone who’s probably never danced on a table or had sex with Kid Rock, Jennifer Garner stuck out like a sore thumb and seemed to be counting the minutes until she could get out of there. Her subtext was, “Please, no one shoot me.  I have a daughter.” And then she flubbed her best new artist presentation by calling Gym Class Heroes, Gym Class FalloutWhat? Of course, her all-over-the-place co-presenter Jamie Foxx was driving all of us to distraction at the time so it’s no wonder she flubbed.

I kept waiting for someone to share their exit strategy for Iraq, but male artist of the year Justin Timberlake’s plea to MTV to “Play more videos!” was about as political as it got. JT’s electric dance break in the Timbaland-and-friends finale was another high point of the show. He even gave a gracious shout-out to newcomer Chris Brown, whose Michael Jackson-esque song and dance gave the middle of the show a much needed rush of adrenaline. 

Kanye West and 50 Cent presented together even though they are fake fighting for publicity because their new albums both drop on Sept. 11.  They entered the stage from separate sides, met in the middle then stared each other down for several seconds.  I so wanted them to kiss like Madonna and Britney did a few years back but I guess we, as a culture, aren’t ready for that.  I’ll check back in 120 years.

“I’m really bad at these,” Beyoncé said upon accepting an award for her duet with Shakira, “Beautiful Liar.”  That was Beyoncé’s humble way of reminding us all that she gets given an award just about every other day.  I still love her, though.

Fergie won the best female artist award but she wasn’t there to accept it, which is too bad because, though she’s turned out hit after hit, she’s not exactly an award darling.  She was our best shot at some you-really-like-me tears, but she was otherwise engaged. 

Kanye West wore white sunglasses like Fleagle from The Banana Splits and ended his party suite song on a glass balcony overlooking the strip, with a gaggle of hot chick fans dancing around him.  I don’t know what the audition to be a balcony girl involved but I’m sure it was intense.

My favorite surprise was the self-deprecating appearance by Miss Teen South Carolina, whose name I don’t know so I just call her the “such as” girl. I could listen to her mad ramblings all day long.  I still don’t know who won Miss Teen USA but this dingbat haunts my dreams.  Can we get her booked on that “Celebrity Rap Challenge” show?

Did anyone else find the frenetic, ever-changing visuals of the show tiring to watch? Maybe that’s what the kids are into these days but as my friend Alonso said as the credits rolled, “I’ve never felt forty-ier.” Amen, brother.

So that was the Video Music Awards. Some folks got drunk, Kid Rock hit Tommy Lee and some of your favorite artists went home with moon men.  But the big story of the night I’m afraid is going to be the bombing of Britney. Not only has she lost the eye of the tiger, I think she might have eaten it. The only person who came out of that performance better off was her accidental husband, Jason Alexander. Remember him? As of Sunday night, he’s no longer the only mistake Britney’s made in Vegas.

Dennis Hensley is the author of the books Misadventures in the (213) and Screening Party and a co-host on the radio show Twist.  www.dennishensley.com