Tonight is the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards. Now in its 29th year, it's had its share of memorable moments, none more so than during the 1997 broadcast. On the occasion of its 15th anniversary, here's the case for why it was the best VMA's ever televised.
– Chris Rock handled hosting duties for the first time. His ad-libs (riffing on Puff Daddy being in every video, saying his favorite Spice Girl was “Skanky Spice”) have become some of the most quoted of VMA history.
– Sting joined Puffy and the Bad Boy Family on-stage for “I'll Be Missing You,” a touching (if mocked) tribute to the recently murdered Notorious B.I.G.
– Speaking of tributes, the show also featured words of remembrance for Princess Di — who died four days prior — from Madonna and the Spice Girls. The remaining members of Sublime also paid tribute to their departed singer Bradley Nowell as they won Best Alternative Video. (Spice Girls took home Best Dance Video for “Wannabe.”)
-No Doubt's Best Group Video acceptance speech featured an adorably not-quite media trained Gwen Stefani.
– Beavis and Butthead held a press conference during commercial breaks announcing that they were staying at the network.
– The “Old-New Dylan” and the “New-New Dylan” dueted on stage at last, as Bruce Springsteen joined The Wallflowers for “One Headlight.”
– Busta Rhymes and Martha Stewart presented an award. Who knew they would have such amazing chemistry?
– Fiona Apple's career-defining Best New Artist acceptance speech declared “This world is bullshit,” quoted Maya Angelou and twice urged viewers at home to “Go with yourself.” Poking fun at the singer, host Rock transitioned back by asking the crowd, “Is that Fiona X?”
– Live, via satellite from England, Viewer's Choice winners The Prodigy (showing that EDM isn't a recent phenomenon) performed a breath-taking rendition of “Breathe,” which prompted Chris Rock to deadpan “I'm always a sucker for a good melody.”
– An absurdly extravagant performance of “Ladies Night” featured Lil Kim, Da Brat, Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopez, Angie Martinez and Missy Elliot decked in the best Roman garb the network could buy.
– Beck, not content with just taking home five moonmen, brought down the house performing “The New Pollution” and even hijacking MTV VJ John Norris' microphone during the post-show.
– Will Smith began his streak of hilarious acceptance speeches by explaining how he had to run Men in Black by his then-fiancée Jada. He won Best Video From a Film.
– The Video Vanguard Awards were given to LL Cool J (its first rap recipient) and director Mark Romanek, whose acceptance speech articulated an appreciation for the cutting edge and innovative film-making that made the decade so great for videos.
– Jamiroquai, who performed with a conveyor belt, took home the night's top honors, making Chris Rock wonder aloud why nobody thanked the singer's hat.
– Marilyn Manson's star-making, show-closing, ass-out television debut “The Beautiful People” performance established him as a pop culture superstar and even made Chris Rock exclaim “Get your asses in church or you're going to Hell!”
Conclusion: When a U2 performance is your night's weakest link, you've had one heck of a show.