About the Show
Wednesday, September 06, 1989
Hosted by Arsenio Hall
To quote Public Enemy: "1989 / the number / another summer / sound of the funky drummer / music's hittin' your heart cause I know you've got soul / brothers and sisters!"
In "Fight the Power," PE were rapping about the hot season in New York for Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" (incidentally honored in 2006 with the Silver Bucket of Excellence at the MTV Movie Awards), but the MTV Video Music Awards weren't ready to return to their birthplace. No, we were just starting to get the hang of things on the West Coast and it seemed like a good idea to park the event there for a while. Plus, we'd bought one of those maps to the stars' homes, and we were hoping to get a glimpse of some celebrities taking out their trash or something. Hey, is that Abe Vigoda?
And since he worked out so well the year before, in 1989 MTV brought Arsenio Hall and his Cheshire Cat grin back to handle the VMA hosting chores at Los Angeles' Universal Amphitheatre. By now his late night talk show was in full swing and his trademark fist pumping and barking had caught the fancy of the nation and who were we to not admit that we weren't won over, too?
So, with Arsenio in the driver's seat again, the 1989 Video Music Awards produced its share of moments. For one, Neil Young's performance suffered from audio problems, and while that's not the most welcome thing during an internationally televised awards show, he's a pro and we recovered. And our then-favorite wacky guy, Weird Al Yankovic, belted out a screaming rant at the audience. Yep, the 1989 VMAs had a little bit of everything for everyone.
The big winner in 1989 was Paula Abdul. Maybe you're too young to know that Paula wasn't always a loopy American Idol judge. Paula AbdulIt's true! The one-time Laker Girl and choreographer to the stars was once America's sweetheart, churning out pop-friendly dance songs and charming the pants off of everyone. And in 1989, it was MTV's pants she took, along with four Moonmen. She danced out of there with the no-brainer Best Choreography award for her "Straight Up" video, as well as Best Female Video, Best Editing and the all new Best Dance Video award.
She also turned out the most notable performance of the night. Really! Paula Abdul commanded the VMA stage for a seven-minute medley of her #1 hits "Straight Up," "Cold Hearted Snake" and "Forever Your Girl." She was truly our girl, and the style and execution of this display proved it.
Despite that, we still like to flirt. So, when Madonna came around showing off her David Fincher (Fight Club) directed "Express Yourself" video, we were impressed, so we gave her clip a Moonman for Best Direction. Hey, back on the first show in '84, she did us a solid with that wedding dress romp, so we owed her one. Apparently, that wasn't enough, as hers are the most recognized videos in VMA history, with 20 to her credit heading into the 2007 ceremony.
After taking the Best New Artist trophy the year before, Guns N' Roses netted the Best Heavy Metal Video Moonman for another indelible anthem, "Sweet Child O' Mine." Living Colour won the Best New Artist award for "Cult of Personality" proving that songs that mention iconic political figures like Stalin, Mussolini and Kennedy can, surprisingly, rock.
Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora turned out a stripped down acoustic performance of the Bon Jovi hit "Wanted Dead or Alive," and in the process possibly provided the inspirational spark for MTV Unplugged (but don't tell them that, 'cuz they'll ask us for money or something). Flavor of the moment Tone-Loc wowed the crowd with "Wild Thing" (hint: he was talking about sex!) a half-decade before cementing his celebrity status by having a conversation with Jim Carrey's ass in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
And 1989 also provided a significant first. We ask you, on an awards show known for its outrageous moments, boundary pushing and out-and-out sticking a middle finger to the man, what can get you into some crazy hot water? Comedian Andrew Dice Clay found out when he broke from the script to deliver a few of his infamous "adult nursery rhymes." The crowd laughed, but the censors reeled and Clay earned himself the first ever "lifetime ban" from MTV. This from a network that eventually put Jesse Camp on the air!
We probably shouldn't have bothered, considering how quickly and how far Dice's star ended up falling, but who knew? We were caught up in the moment.