About the Show
Thursday, September 06, 1990
Like Billy Crystal and the Oscars, Arsenio Hall was getting comfortable as the host of the MTV Video Music Awards. He had a day job, actually a late night job, as host of his own talk show, but conducting the proceedings of the annual VMAs was a gig that he wouldn't give up without a fight. And us, well, we don't like confrontation.
So, for a third year in a row, there was Arsenio, on hand to oversee the musical mirth and merriment that was in store for the Video Music Awards. And since the two of them worked so well together, the show was again held at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. Hey, we had a good thing going together, why screw it up?
Oh, but the winds of change were indeed upon us. No longer did the girls there just want to have fun, nor were the boys there only to fight for their right to party. No, the MTV generation was starting to get political.
The 1990 VMAs bore an overarching theme of censorship. The climate in America had changed since the last time we'd convened the major players on the current musical landscape, and music and lyrics were under attack in the halls of Congress, on conservative talk shows and among educators in the schools. The content of hit songs and music videos was under fire, and so were the artists, and for that matter, so was MTV.
During the 1990 proceedings, performers and presenters alike talked about the importance of free speech and spoke against censorship. Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler cracked on Tipper Gore, wife of then Senator Al Gore and a reviled rabble rouser who was at the forefront of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), the efforts of which led to the now ubiquitous "Parental Advisory" labels that adorn the covers of new releases with potentially objectionable content.
Throughout the night, everyone from Queen Latifah to Sinéad O'Connor to actor Eric Bogosian let it be known where they stood on the subject of censorship.
Despite the serious nature of these comments, there was still the monkey business of handing out Moonmen, performing smash hit songs and the usual general mayhem for which the MTV Video Music Awards are known.
Ireland's Sinéad O'Connor was the night's big winner with the video for the Prince-penned "Nothing Compares 2 U." The starkly white and haunting clip took home three Moonmen: Best Female Video, Best Post-Modern Video (a pre-cursor of "alternative" and "modern rock" that sounded edgy at the time; please understand, it was very 120 Minutes) and Video of the Year.
Five years before he put Gwyneth Paltrow's head in a box, director not-yet-lauded-as-a-Hollywood-savior David Fincher (Se7en, Panic Room, Zodiac) kept his win streak alive by netting the Best Director honor for his latest work for Madonna, the trend-setting "Vogue."
The 1990 VMAs also saw the arrival of the International Viewer's Choice award, with Gloria Estefan winning the MTV Internacional (Latin Video) award for "Oye Mi Canto" and Kome Kome Club's "Funk Fujiyama" took home the Japanese International Viewer's Choice Moonman.
Halfway through her opening performance of "Black Cat," Janet Jackson ripped open her top to expose a black bra underneath. Although this was no wardrobe malfunction, it was a nonetheless shocking move. A little more than a decade later, a similar move during an MTV-produced Super Bowl halftime show didn't go so well. Perhaps you heard about that one.
MC Hammer and his entourage of 1,578 people (20 dancers + 1,558 hangers on using him for his money. We tried to tell him, honestly!) tore up the stage with "U Can't Touch This" and then later joined 2 Live Crew onstage during their topical performance of "Banned in the U.S.A."
In 1990, the times, for MTV and the Video Music Awards, they were a-changin'.