POP MUSIC REVIEW : The Billboard Awards Opt for Hip, Remain Uneventful


Who woulda thunk it? An awards show dedicated strictly to honoring the certified top-sellers in music--opened by a punk-rock band on an independent label, replete with expletives deleted and stage-diving from a singer proudly sporting a “Corporate Rock Kills Bands Dead” T-shirt. Inconceivable even a couple of years ago; the fetes they are a-changin’.

Having as au courant a kids’ band as the Offspring open the fifth annual Billboard Music Awards--telecast on Fox from the Universal Amphitheatre Wednesday--was further evidence that a) “the year that punk broke” has given way to the year that third-generation punk ballooned, and b) everybody’s trying desperately just to keep pace with the MTV Video Music Awards.

To the latter end, the Billboards this year hired executive producer Joel Gallen, veteran of many an MTV rite. Out went fogy Phil Collins as host; in, quite wisely, came Dennis Miller and Heather Locklear, as a Gen-X George Burns and Gracie Allen. Gone were country or adult-contemporary acts as performers, if not honorees; in were rappers and ex-college radio faves gone gold or better.

The hepped-up result was the easiest-to-take Billboard Awards show ever . . . yet, mysteriously, one devoid of anything that might qualify as a real highlight.

The Billboards can’t pull in favors with the same weight as MTV, so booking is still a problem. Stone Temple Pilots were slated for the final performing slot (and were still being advertised up to air time), but had an apparent change of heart, with singer Scott Weiland offering a half-baked apology as he picked up a statuette. In their stead, Collective Soul, whom no one would’ve likely pegged as “climactic,” closed the show with uneventful dutifulness.

Earlier, balladeer R. Kelly provided a more risible performance, with several minutes of fairly explicit simulated mass sex (seen mostly in modest long shots by luckier home viewers) on his immeasurably silly “Bump ‘n’ Grind.” The panties-exposing, non-missionary-position aerobics of Kelly’s dancers at least provided co-host Miller grist for one of the post-play remarks he excels at--something about chiropractors.


Effective but not overwhelming numbers were turned in by Urge Overkill (some of its members wearing Tarantino-style suits for their reverential “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”), Melissa Etheridge, Warren G & Nate Dogg, Tom Jones (terrific vocal dynamics on “A Girl Like You,” but too stationary to inspire the cotton to fly) and, by satellite, the ubiquitous Stones.

Honorees had to walk out onto a platform amid the “party in the pit” to accept their awards and, like the hosts, clearly had a hard time hearing themselves think, thanks to the hall being packed with several times as many screaming teens as tuxed industryites. Snoop Doggy Dogg finally couldn’t take the roar any more: “Can we get a moment of a silence for a small chronic break?” he twice requested during his speech. Ah, a man after Newt Gingrich’s own heart.

For all the show’s increased grooviness, the selling point the Billboards have long offered above all other awards telecasts remains blissfully intact: still, just two hours!