NEW YORK — After two decades of rock, shock, hip-hop, teen pop and fashion disasters, the ghosts of MTV past, present and future visited the Hammerstein Ballroom Wednesday night to celebrate the cable channel’s 20th birthday.
From original VJ Martha Quinn to “Total Request Live” heartthrob Carson Daly, from ’80s provocateur Boy George to current sexpot Aaliyah, the faces and forces who have become synonymous with the network turned out to pay their respects. (Click for photos from the event.)
“Let’s do the time warp again” was the feel at “MTV20: Live and Almost Legal” as many mainstays from MTV’s history — Cyndi Lauper, Slash, Jenny McCarthy, Pauly Shore, all the original VJs and more — were in attendance. It was surreal as everyone in the crowd banged their heads and pumped their fists, screaming “More! More! More!” as Billy Idol performed his timeless hit “Rebel Yell.”
Among the other celebs repping for the ’80s were Boy George — who got acquainted with Aaliyah in a VIP Area as the show progressed — ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Huey Lewis, Joan Jett and Bon Jovi, who performed “You Give Love a Bad Name” via satellite.
Also holding it down for the decade of Big Hair was Tommy Lee, who made a cameo appearance on the drums as Sum41 gave a palpitating rendition of the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” only to then pull out the old Mötley Crüe track “Shout at the Devil.” Judas Priest’s former frontman, Rob Halford — dressed in a leather motorcycle suit adorned with huge bullets — bust onto the stage later in their set to lend vocals on the Priest anthem “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.”
Rock’s generation gap was later tightened once again, when Kid Rock enlisted the help of ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons to unveil a freshly penned blues number, “If I Was President.” Gibbons provided blues boogie fills while Kid Rock pledged that, if elected, he would “turn all the churches into strip clubs” and “make the day Joe C. died a national holiday.”
Some of rap’s most storied figures converged on the stage for a hip-hop medley. Run-DMC started things off with “Rock Box” and Salt-N-Pepa followed with “Push It.” Naughty by Nature then came on with “O.P.P.,” Busta Rhymes followed with “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See,” Ja Rule — the youngest of the MCs — then went into “Holla Holla” and P. Diddy capped things off with his verse from the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money Mo Problems.” The crowd rapped and danced along with almost every note of the set, making it one of the show’s highlights.
“It’s an honor to be the only females to be in this tribute,” Salt said the day before the show at rehearsals. “We wanted to be Run-DMC [before we became rappers].”
Joined by all the other rappers, P. Diddy signaled the medley’s finale, as he told everyone to scream for B.I.G. while a video montage of the slain MC was played to the tune of his verse from “Mo Money … ” Tupac Shakur received an equally celebratory tribute as his verse from “California Love” blared from the monitors.
Method Man, who was watching in the wings, told MTV he appreciated the performance but complained that his group, the Wu-Tang Clan, was snubbed and should have been asked to perform “C.R.E.A.M.” with their peers.
Meth did keep hip-hop at the forefront of the party further down the line when he performed his ghetto love anthem, the “All I Need” remix, with Mary J. Blige.
Then Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst joined the Shaolin verbal sword swinger onstage to keep the crowd rushing with adrenaline on “N 2 Gether Now.” DJ Premier and DJ Lethal helmed the turntables and Pauly Shore bumrushed the stage to dance while Durst broke some FCC rules repeatedly screaming “Shut the f— up!”
“It was great,” Meth said afterward backstage. “I love working with Mary, I don’t get that opportunity to perform that song with her. I can count them on one hand the number of times. This is the first time we did it on MTV. No mistakes.”
While they may not have brought along any special guests, TLC got into the spirit of cooperation, joining together to perform for the first time in two years. Sporting long, tattered denim skirts, the trio worked through their biggest hit, “Waterfalls.”
Between live performances, the hits kept coming courtesy of DJ Funkmaster Flex, DJ Skribble and Grandmaster Flash, and pre-taped performances by Aerosmith, Depeche Mode, Nelly, Janet Jackson, Sugar Ray and Bon Jovi. The night also featured highlight reels from throughout the network’s 20-year history, as well as fresh commentary from its most celebrated spokesmen, Beavis and Butt-head.
As the show neared its end, Jane’s Addiction, one of the evening’s most anticipated acts, came on to perform “Been Caught Stealing” with a topless Dave Navarro wailing away on the guitar. The group announced earlier in the evening that it would return to New York in October as part of their fall tour.
Mariah Carey was supposed to be the show’s headlining performer, but canceled a few days ago after disclosing she had been hospitalized for an emotional and physical breakdown (see “Mariah Carey Had ‘Breakdown,’ Her Publicist Says” ). Taking her place was another one of MTV’s favorites over the last 20 years, the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
“Give it away, give it away, give it away now,” Anthony Kiedis sang to close the last performance of the night.
But the singer was all wrong. The crowd was giving it up. No cake was served, but with free lobster, chicken and wine on the menu, who can be greedy. After all, it wasn’t even a 21st birthday party.