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Janet Jackson single-handedly saves MTV VMA tribute to Michael Jackson

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There’s no way MTV would have (or should have) presented the 2009 VMAs without a tribute to the late Michael Jackson, the man who perhaps more than any artist ever, raised the business of making music videos into a rare and delectable art form. But while I can’t be sure how it looked live from Radio City Music Hall, I found the opening three and a half minutes of last night’s celebration played somewhat tepidly from my living-room couch. The hyper-fast cuts of the MTV cameras and the presence of a giant video screen playing “Thriller,” “Bad,” and “Smooth Criminal” made it difficult to focus on the actual dancing taking place on the stage. Yeah, I realize that by playing MJ’s greatest hits in the background, we were able to see just how lovingly his choreography was being recreated right there on the VMA stage — and today’s yoots who may have been unfamiliar with Jackson’s oeuvre (gasp!) got a glimpse of his genius — but the overall effect left me wondering why MTV bothered with the live dancing at all. Seriously, why not just replay a highlight reel of Michael’s most iconic dances?

Thankfully, though, at the 4:15 mark, Janet Jackson came to the rescue, shattering through a safety glass screen to recreate that classic “Scream” dance-off with her big brother. The woman whose “first name ain’t baby” may not have been 100% in sync with the video screen behind her, but so what? She worked that stage harder than an underpaid assistant doin’ overtime, and as tributes go, this was as energetic as it was heartfelt. I predict “Scream” on repeat on my iPod as I head to work this morning.

What did you think of last night’s MJ memorial? Were you touched by Janet’s appearance? And did anyone else get a case of the eeries hearing the line “Oh my God can’t believe what I saw as I turned on the TV this evening” in the wake of Michael’s death?

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