Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.
If you've ever suffered through a case of the whirlies, then you have a good sense of Sunday night's MTV Video Music Awards. Usually MTV's slickest moment, the annual telecast was a three-hour-plus exercise in chaos and hyperactivity, a twister swirling across Miami's American Airlines Arena with no rhyme or reason.
It wasn't just the careening cameras, which gave Spider-Man a swing for his money as they leapt from one subject to another. The bigger problem was the muddle of the production, with its countless stages, its lack of a host, its sound glitches, and its emphasis on the fan-filled audience rushing hysterically among the performances and award presentations. While the VMAs may have been a blast for those in attendance, it was an irritatingly disorienting experience for TV viewers, who couldn't get a spatial bearing on where the all-important pop stars were sitting.
Jennifer Lopez opened the festivities by welcoming us to the town of the endless party, and then the free-for-all began. Artists arrived from the sky (Jessica Simpson), artists floated up into the sky (the wacko Polyphonic Spree), artists stepped over the crowd in a giant bubble (Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips), artists rode over the crowd in a blow-up boat (actor Matthew Lillard), and artists walked through the crowd shaking hands (most of the winners). Celebrities appeared out of nowhere (Shakira) to introduce multiple performers who were placed in different parts of the arena (Yellowcard, Hoobastank, and Jet, who sang a hot version of "Are You Gonna Be My Girl").
At one point, Alicia Keys sang "If I Ain't Got You" with Stevie Wonder, but the two were sitting on different platforms, which diffused the drama of the pairing. Some of the damage was undone, though, when Keys went over to Wonder for a smoking version of "Higher Ground" with Lenny Kravitz.
The cameras kept returning to a few faces in the celebrity audience. We saw many cuts to Jay-Z, to Beyonce, and to P. Diddy, who was in attendance with -- get ready to be even more confused -- Bruce Willis. But we never got an establishing shot of the section where they were placed, so they all seemed to be watching the show from some other location. Meanwhile, Jon Stewart appeared by satellite from the home of the Republican National Convention, New York, to urge people to vote -- for the viewer's choice award, that is. (Linkin Park won.)
Thankfully, a few performances did manage to overcome the cavernous craziness. Usher, who was one of the night's winners, sang "Confessions" in the rain, then broke into "Yeah!" Kanye West's feet didn't fail him as he sang "Jesus Walks," heading through the audience and electrifying them on his way. Later, West brought out Chaka Khan -- instead of a sample of her -- to the surprise of the audience. And video of the year winner OutKast closed out the night with a loose but celebratory medley that finished with "Hey Ya." Behind them, a giant screen urged us to vote, and in a rare moment of order, red, white, and blue balloons fell on schedule.