While you can’t take anything away from those who walk away with a shiny little Moonman, true music immortals cement their legendary status by turning in great performances at the Video Music Awards.
Many of the performers at this year’s VMAs hoped to nestle their names in the industry annals by bringing some backup for their sets at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center — even if that meant scouring the jungle for creatures, awaking the dead or putting in calls to Neverland.
Performing her upcoming album’s first single, “I’m a Slave 4 U,” show headliner Britney Spears exposed more skin with her Jane of the Jungle outfit than she did with her flesh-colored digs last year. But Britney couldn’t duplicate the shock value of 2000’s strip routine even by teasing, “Don’t you wanna dance up on me?”
“All you people look at me like a little girl,” a lip-syncing Britney mouthed after making her way out of a cage.
“I can’t deny it/ I’m not trying to hide it,” the song continued while her dancers, painted with tiger prints, showcased Britney’s new choreography to a Neptunes-produced beat similar to the soundscape of Vanity 6’s 1982 single “Nasty Girl.”
A real tiger stayed locked at the back of the stage, but Spears did show her beastly side, walking around with a python on her neck.
Missy Elliott brought the most stars with her, proving that it’s better to “Get Ur Freak On” with friends. Missy re-created scenes from her six-time nominated video, hanging from a chandelier while being lowered to the stage. Meanwhile, zombies boogied in the background and Petey Pablo acted as one of her hypemen.
Nelly Furtado, who did a snippet of a verse from the “Get Ur Freak On” remix, slid onstage through the mouth of colossal statue head. When the head revolved, an animated Ludacris and a sex-oozing Trina joined the festive fray with their verses from “One Minute Man.”
’NSYNC showed the most clout by getting Michael Jackson to come out of his almost decade-long hiatus for a solo routine to the beat of their hit “Pop.” The self-proclaimed King of Pop showed he hasn’t missed a step by popping and doing the robot.
The set started with Justin Timberlake in a sketch similar to the intro in the song’s video, highlighted by him smacking the booty of his sexy secretary — or, rather, what he called his “sexetary.” The guys of ’NSYNC, a few of them jumping out of giant cartoon newspaper ads, performed with a small army of colorfully painted dancers.
Jay-Z was aided by a smaller army of dancers as Jigga used children dressed in Chicago Bulls uniforms at the end of “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” Jay, wearing a Michael Jordan jersey, took his street ball-themed performance literally as he rhymed his tune outside the Met on a circular stage. Ballplayers re-created moves seen in Nike ads before Jay hit the stage, displaying synchronized dribbling.
Staind didn’t stay in sync with the other performers. The group, which prides itself on its us-against-the-world mentality, performed a somber rendition of “Fade” by itself.
U2 also decided to go it alone, but hey, they were the night’s guests of honor. The foursome picked up the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award but not before they worked for it. The legendary band, who got five nods overall, performed “Elevation,” which was nominated for four awards, as well as “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.”
Jennifer Lopez, dressed in a white skirt and matching low-cut top, let the sounds of salsa and a sample of Zapp’s “More Bounce to the Ounce” fill the auditorium as she started the show’s performances by shaking it up with her backup dancers before going into the “I’m Real” remix.
Her song’s co-star and writer, Ja Rule, then entered the theater via a giant fire escape to help her on the current #1 song in the country. The performance was a battle of the sexiest six-packs as J. Lo and a bare-chested Ja both exposed their abs while strutting around the stage.
Linkin Park were the next to bounce across the stage, showing love to acclaimed DJ troupe the X-Ecutioners during “One Step Closer.” The turntable assassins cut up records during the breakdown before Linkin Park’s lead vocalist, Chester Bennington, brought things to a close screaming, “Shut up when I’m talking to you!”
Alicia Keys hoped to carve out her place in history, not by bringing a celebrity guest, but an entire choir for her soulful rendition of “Fallin’.” Dressed in jail suits, the choir sang “I keeeeep on faaaallllllin’ in love,” while Keys played the piano and crooned.
Outside the Met — taking on the role their homeboys Papa Roach played last year — boisterous foursome Alien Ant Farm launched the VMA pre-show festivities with a deliciously disorderly performance of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.”
The logo of the insect that’s stamped on their ANThology album cover was plastered on a circular stage surrounded by howling fans. “Annie are you OK?/ Are you OK Annie?” frontman Dryden Mitchell sang while the song’s riotous soundtrack played in the background. Lending support, the rest of the band did its best to re-create Jackson’s indecipherable crying ad libs.
City High, who were nominated this year in the Best Hip-Hop Video category for “What Would You Do,” were backed by a DJ and a band for their performance. The trio were also supposed to be joined by mentor Wyclef Jean, but he missed the show. He’s still mourning the death of his father, who passed away earlier this week.
“Rest in peace, Mr. Jean; rest in peace, Aaliyah,” the trio said before they started a somber version of “What Would You Do.” The New Jersey collective picked up the pace, singing the breakdown over an instrumental of Bubba Sparxxx’s “Ugly.” Eve, who was up for three VMAs, then walked through the crowd onto the stage for her guest spot on a remixed version of “Caramel.”
Eve’s entrance was upstaged minutes later when P. Diddy and members of his Bad Boy Family showed up at the Met atop an 18-wheeler with a surprise performance of “Bad Boy for Life.”
(This story was updated at 1:35 a.m. ET Thursday, September 7, 2001.)
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