UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. -- As the stock market tumbles, Russia's economy collapses and President Clinton's reputation gets sucked down the toilet, there's still some good news: Rock is fun again.
Artistic angst and torment barely made an appearance backstage at the MTV Video Music Awards, as they had in previous years. From the genuinely likable Hanson brothers to former junkie grunge queen Courtney Love, cheer and amiability rang out through the ceremony. This was a parade of stars who actually seemed to enjoy being famous.
Enlightenment was on multiple award-winner Madonna's mind -- and her face. Her face decorations, she explained, were a representation of godhood. "I'm more interested in inspiring people than shocking them," said the iconic singer, who championed Gaultier's cone bras, sang "Like a Virgin," saw her "Like A Prayer" video briefly banned and has watched her popularity return to form with the single "Frozen" (RealAudio excerpt).
How times have changed. Love, who adversarily threw compacts at Madonna at the MTV awards in 1995, says now that Madonna -- the night's big winner, taking home six awards -- comes over to her house and they meditate together.
Rapper/actor Will Smith seemed to enjoy hanging out backstage. He was waiting to meet St. Louis Cardinals slugger and new single-season home-run king Mark McGwire, so he could shake his hand. But McGwire, who introduced a segment of the awards broadcast via the magic of videotape, was on the road with his team.
"I'd say, 'Man, I coulda did that,' " said the multi-talented 29-year-old Smith. "I make up love songs at home," he said with his impish grin. "I can't tell you any of the lyrics, though. Jada [Pinkett Smith, his wife] thinks I can't sing, but I really can sing. I might even try that on the next album."
When asked if there is anything he's not good at, the laughing Smith replied, "I'll call you when I find it, baby."
Love joked with the press backstage. "No testicles!" she hollered at the press at one point. "Only females get to ask questions!" She made sure to smooth over hurt male feelings, calling on reporters by first name. She claimed that there are only three negative reviews of the new Hole record, Celebrity Skin, and one was by a spurned suitor. "He had a crush on me! It's true!" she protested with a grin.
Even the scary moments were in good fun. "I tell everyone out there to watch out when I start driving," warned the middle Hanson, Taylor, 13, who's grown taller than his older brother, Isaac, 16.
After the event was over, there were still a few stars hanging out. The evening's MC, Ben Stiller, appeared dazed and a little spent. "What am I doing standing at a podium talking about what I find sexy?" he mused in response to a question. "Generally, I find women attractive. Young women, say, under 60."
Outside, Stiller's "There's Something About Mary" co-star Cameron Diaz was having a tête-à-tête with Beck. "My suit? I wore it in a video in 1995," Beck said. "Yes, it's retro now." His companions told him it was time to go, joking that they were heading back to the studio to continue working on the new Beck record, Mutations, instead of going to one of the many soirees that followed the event. (They ended up opting for dinner.)
Slowly the gathering of limos started to disperse. One limo driver called for his passenger, with no response. "Foxy Brown!" he called plaintively, again and again. "Foxy!" The shapely rapper was too busy with admirers to notice.