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August 29, 2003 07:00am
Madonna, Spears, Aguilera Shock MTV Awards
Source: USA Today
by: Elysa Gardner

(NEW YORK, NY) -- It was only fitting that MTV's Video Music Awards should celebrate its 20th anniversary with a kiss -- and that the kiss should be a suggestive smooch shared by Madonna and Britney Spears, as Christina Aguilera stood by leering.

It was the climax of an opening number that began with Spears and Aguilera, both in bridal attire, crooning Like a Virgin, the hit performed by Madonna at the first VMAs. But it was ultimately stolen by Madonna herself, by comparison a model of old-school glamour and class, even in a modified groom's outfit that made her resemble a well-heeled dominatrix.

The performance offered a poignant reminder of MTV's role in defining a youth culture that has become something of a tease -- winking at convention without offering any fresh alternatives.

Host Chris Rock, who managed to breathe life into the lame lip-sync fest that was 1999's VMAs, provided a few welcome hints of genuine subversion. For starters, he reminded the audience that MTV celebrates videos without actually playing many of them.

Commenting on the shows that now drive MTV's programming, he alluded to Making the Band, the series in which rap impresario P. Diddy mentors a nascent hip-hop band. Rock mused, "Who better than Puff Daddy to show the kids wrong from wronger?"

The awards themselves followed MTV's tradition of favoring the young, the new and the accessibly hip. Justin Timberlake, Beyonce' Knowles and British band Coldplay won three apiece; rap upstart 50 Cent and relative veteran Missy Elliott were double victors.

But ailing country legend Johnny Cash, a critical and sentimental favorite nominated six times, won only one trophy, in the low-profile category of cinematography. (Cash had been set to appear but was hospitalized earlier this week in Nashville for a stomach condition.)

Groups that enjoy less top-40 airplay also were confined to the technical categories. The White Stripes won for editing, Queens of the Stone Age for special effects, and Radiohead for art direction.

But there were two notable shutouts among omnipresent pop stars, as Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Lopez were nominated four times each to no avail. American Idol Kelly Clarkson had an 0-for-3 evening.

As usual, the show featured a number of cleavage-exposing outfits (notorious nice girls Beyonce' and Jessica Simpson were representing front and center), winners thanking God, and mismatched presenters.

Performers on the telecast included Mary J. Blige, 50 Cent, Coldplay, Aguilera and Beyonce'. And to cap the night's motif of the tease, Metallica concluded proceedings with an instrumental salute to past winners that included snatches of Nirvana, Michael Jackson and the White Stripes. But you couldn't help wishing they had gone for broke and sung some of the VMAs' greatest hits -- for an especially fitting ending, perhaps a vocal version of Like a Virgin.

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