NEW YORK — The 2006 MTV Video Music Awards show was most certainly a lot of things. Predictable was not one of them.
There were plenty of “Did you see that?!”s and “I can’t believe they said that!”s, from Beyoncé’s manic performance of “Ring the Alarm” to Pink’s jabs at Paris Hilton and President Bush. But the most common exclamation may well have been “I can’t believe they won!”
Although the big names definitely represented, a host of underdogs stole the show — none more than Panic! at the Disco, who shocked pretty much everyone when their “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” took home the Moonman for Video of the Year.
And in true underdog fashion, the band was upstaged by a gate-crasher before its acceptance speech. “He stole our thunder,” frontman Brendon Urie joked. “But thank you very, very much. This is amazing.”
And Panic weren’t the only flabbergasted ones. Chamillionaire seemed genuinely amazed when his clip for “Ridin’ ” was named Best Rap Video, AFI were nervous and gracious as they accepted the award for Best Rock Video, and the All-American Rejects (who sold more than a million copies of their Move Along album so stealthily that the CIA should take notes) were as wide-eyed and pumped as a bunch of pre-teens when they were announced as the winners of the Best Group Video award.
“We just won a Moonman!” lead singer Tyson Ritter screamed. “I am getting so trashed tonight!”
We believe you, man! All in all, 15 different artists took home awards — only Gnarls Barkley and James Blunt won more than one. And the two most nominated names, Shakira and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, managed wins only in technical categories (“Hips Don’t Lie” won for Best Choreography and “Dani California” for Best Art Direction).
Kelly Clarkson bested Shakira for Best Female Video, the Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps” won Best Hip-Hop Video, and Pink took home the Moonman for Best Pop Video (and promptly dissed Paris Hilton with a mock-airheaded, gum-smacking acceptance speech). Meanwhile, Madonna, Kanye West and Christina Aguilera were left award-less, amplifying the loose, anything-can-happen vibe that percolated throughout the night.
It was a vibe cultivated right out of the gate by host Jack Black — who, despite donning a gold lamé suit, still exuded a scrappy charm — and house band the Raconteurs, who snarled their way through duets with New York legend Lou Reed, Jim Jarmusch and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons.
And it spilled into the night’s other performers: Justin Timberlake kicked things off with a pumping, pimping take on “SexyBack,” Beyoncé stripped and stalked during a wild “Ring the Alarm,” and T.I. delivered a raw, rugged version of his hit “What You Know” — capped with him standing center stage, hoodie pulled tight over his head, fist held aloft.
During the “Red Carpet on the Rock” preshow, My Chemical Romance debuted “Welcome to the Black Parade,” the first single from their forthcoming Black Parade album, with an over-the-top, ultra-goth performance from Rockefeller Center’s Top of the Rock observation deck — some 70 stories up. And Fergie got the night off to a rollicking start by vamping through a rendition of “London Bridge,” complete with a Cadillac-drawn carriage and breakdancers dressed as Buckingham Palace guards.
Of course, there were some genuinely high-gloss moments, too. Christina Aguilera belted out a soulful version of her new single “Hurt,” boosted by stabs of strings and bathed in a sea of smoke. Shakira shook her way through a belly-dance-enhanced “Hips Don’t Lie.” Panic served up a drama-club-heavy performance of “I Write Sins.” A big-ticket presentation of the Video Vanguard Award to director Hype Williams came complete with performances by Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliott.
Axl Rose — looking, well, unbuttoned — introduced the evening’s final performance (complete with a vintage GN’R scream) by the Killers, who dressed like high-fashion desperadoes and emoted like MySpace kids through “When You Were Young.”
But none of the aforementioned acts could upstage unheralded OK Go, whose performance — re-enacting their tremendous, treadmill-enhanced clip for “Here It Goes Again” — was unquestionably a VMA first.
Clearly nervous (and who wouldn’t be?), the group nonetheless delivered a perfect rendition of the video atop monogrammed treadmills, complete with lip-syncing, goofy smirks and sorta-tailored suits. And the crowd responded with an enthusiastic standing ovation.
“We were holding on for dear life!” frontman Damian Kulash laughed backstage (see “Pharrell Shows Off Dirty Mouth, Al Gore Chills With ’Jackass’ Crew: VMAs Backstage” ) .
It was a throwback to the vaguely amateurish, who-knows-what’ll-happen-next VMAs of old, an ultra-refreshing alternative to the pyro-powered performances that dot today’s award-show landscape. And though it happened early in the telecast, it pretty much summed up the 2006 VMAs.
Because if we are to take anything from a wildly unpredictable night, perhaps it’s that all you need to be successful is a nice suit, a smile — and a treadmill.