Ken Tucker's daughter tells her TV critic dad why the VMAs weren't all about the winners

By Ken Tucker
Updated September 07, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Britney Spears: Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect rates the MTV Video Music Awards

”Look, Tim Robbins is trying to take a picture of his kids with Busta Rhymes, and Susan Sarandon is trying to stay out of the shot!” yelled my 16-year-old daughter over the din of the MTV Video Music Awards. As we peered over an upper-tier railing of the Metropolitan Opera House at the celeb-filled seats below us, I was glad I’d brought her along. How else would I have seen that movie-star-meets-rock-star moment, or known that there was also a row containing a batch of graduates from ”The Real World” and ”Road Rules”? ”There’s Coral, Kevin, Lori,” said Hayley. ”And some of the ‘Road Rules’ people — I forget their names.” Me, I never knew their names.

”Do you think Britney was lip-synching?” she asked after Spears, looking like Sheena Queen of the Jungle after a spinning session, had manhandled a snake and kept her distance from a caged wild beast onstage, all the while singing a new song, ”Slave 4 U.” I said, warily, I wasn’t sure. ”When she went to get that snake, she seemed to be playing around with her microphone,” said Hayley. ”And sometimes her voice sounded pretty computerized.”

I was just glad that one performer had the nerve to perform a piece of new music, and did it with a precision and sense of stagecraft entirely lacking in everyone except Missy Elliott, whose fabulous version of ”Get UR Freak On,” replete with a massive bust of Elliott’s head in the background, was my favorite musical moment.

As for host Jamie Foxx? ”He wasn’t there very much,” said Hayley succinctly. But her greatest scorn was reserved for Christina Aguilera: ”She’s so gross-looking now, with her messed-up-braids hair. She doesn’t measure up to Britney.” And during the commercial breaks, observing a sleek Christopher Walken, star of Fatboy Slim’s ”Weapon of Choice” video, gliding up and down the aisles receiving back pats and handshakes, Hayley laughed and said, ”Christopher Walken is the coolest guy here tonight — Nobody’s going over to Bono to shake HIS hand!”

For me, the most fascinating moment was ‘N Sync’s live performance of ”Pop,” which took place amidst props and images borrowed not merely from the pop culture their song invokes, but also Pop Artists like Roy Lichtenstein (the magnified comic-strip panel) and Andy Warhol (the enlarged packages of commercial items like a popcorn box). When the song wound down, a screen flashed the words ”Kings of Pop” (which the four-award winners were — for that nanosecond, at least). Then the screen dropped the ”S” to reveal the self-proclaimed King of Pop, Michael Jackson, who executed a quick summary of the 20-year-old dance moves that groups like ‘N Sync have been copying since birth, but he did them in a stiff, guarded way, as if his aging bones were brittle.

I turned to Hayley. Wasn’t she confounded by the way Jackson was all but acknowledging his loss of power to these four-lunkheads-plus-Britney’s-boyfriend, Justin Timberlake? She shrugged cheerfully. ”You don’t care about Michael Jackson, do you?” I asked. ”No,” she said.

Hayley’s only regret of the night? ”I wish the microphone had picked up what Snoop Dogg was saying because he was probably talking all cool.”

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