September 11, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

The first half hour of Thursday?s MTV Video Music Awards proved why this least prestigious of all awards shows (I mean, who really cares about music videos except as cool commercials for the CDs they illustrate?) is also the most entertaining awards show of all, the Oscars and this weekend?s Emmys included. Host Ben Stiller?s opening film segment, in which he portrayed a former member of the Backstreet Boys, was a better piece of parody than anything “Saturday Night Live” has come up with in years; by the time Stiller?s clueless faux-Boy was joined by “NewsRadio”?s Andy Dick as a similarly dim hip-hop adept, this sketch achieved sublime pop-culure pleasure.

From the first musical performance — Madonna (appropriating East Indian imagery and just-got-outta-the-shower limp hair to stylize music from “Ray of Light”) — to one of the final acts of the night, Marilyn Manson (looking like the unholy child of Tiny Tim and Phyllis Diller) — it was proven once again that when it comes to pretensions, rock & roll still comes up with the most garish, in-your-face examples.

As usual, the awards themselves were merely excuses for people to rant: for Busta Rhymes to plug his new group?s CD ceaselessly; for the Beastie Boys? Adam Yauch to launch into a very ?60s-style protest speech, this one condemning the recent American military intervention in the Middle East. More power to ?em; anything that splatters the complacency of awards shows is good news.

My only complaint is reserved for the omnipresent Madonna — love the CD, love the new look, but the new accent has got to go, babe. When did Madonna enter her Kathleen Turner phase, putting phony, semi-British accents at the ends of her sentences? If she keeps this up, she?ll be ripe for a Ben Stiller parody next year, and I hope Andy Dick impersonates her.

And the winners are:

Madonna was “Queen of the World” at the 15th Annual MTV Video Music Awards, taking home six silver statuettes, including Best Video and Best Female Video of the Year. Other big winners were: Will Smith, who added two awards to his collection; Prodigy, whose controversial “Smack My Bitch Up” garnered two awards; and Aerosmith, who also didn’t miss a chance to pick up two video awards in the rock and film categories. Here’s a look at the night’s big winners.

Best Video of the Year
Madonna, “Ray of Light”

Best Male Video
Will Smith, “Just the Two of Us”

Best Female Video
Madonna, “Ray of Light”

Best Group Video
Backstreet Boys, “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”

Best Rap Video
Will Smith, “Getting Jiggy Wit It”

Best Dance Video
Prodigy, “Smack My Bitch Up”

Best Rock Video
Aerosmith, “Pink”

Best Alternative Music Video
Green Day, “Time of Your Life (Good Riddance)”

Best New Artist in a Video
Natalie Imbruglia, “Torn”

Best Video from a Film
Aerosmith, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”

Best R&B Video
Wyclef Jean featuring Refugee Allstars, “Gone Till November”

Best Direction
Jonas Akerlund, Madonna’s “Ray of Light”

Best Cinematography
Harris Svides, Fiona Apple’s “Criminal”

Best Special Effects
Steve Murgatroyd, Dan Williams, Steve Hiam, and Anthony Walsham, Madonna’s “Frozen”

Best Art Direction
Samantha Gore, Björk’s “Bachelorette”

Best Choreography
Jonas Akerlund, Madonna’s “Ray of Light”

Best Breakthrough Video
Prodigy, “Smack My Bitch Up”

Viewer’s Choice (short subject)
Puff Daddy and the Family, featuring the Lox, Li’l Kim, the Notorious B.I.G., and Fuzzbubble, “It’s All About the Benjamins”

Video Vanguard, lifetime achievement
The Beastie Boys

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