The 2005 MTV Video Music Awards held here Sunday will be remembered as an exercise in survival -- and not just because Hurricane Katrina swirled through on the eve of the show and left the city a dazed, swampy mess.
There were also themes of careers rescued -- yes, that really was Mariah Carey and R. Kelly coming back from the edge and getting cheered -- and more-literal forms of peril, with rap mogul Marion “Suge” Knight getting wounded in a nightclub shooting in Sunday’s early hours.
The show at the American Airlines Arena was like a sorority girl at a beach bar -- loud, silly, barely dressed and soggy on the edges. The staging had a water motif, with giant plastic globules dripping from the roof, dancers in bathing suits, and geysers that drenched fans and turned the closing performance by Kelly Clarkson into a nationally broadcast wet T-shirt contest.
The water theme probably seemed like a good idea months ago, but on Sunday, with a dozen dead in the wake of Katrina, it may have made a few sensitive souls wince.
The host was Sean Combs, who now calls himself Diddy, but check back in case that changes. Best known for being rich and able to dance, he was more about spectacle than specifics, much like his music career.
Performance highlights included 50 Cent’s medley of his hits, including “Disco Inferno” and “Outta Control.” He added the edgiest moment of the show by firing off a few choice words about rapper Fat Joe (the comments were excised for the television audience; the MTV broadcast was on a slight delay). Fat Joe had earlier taken a mild jab at 50 Cent from the stage by mocking the size of his rival’s security team.
The night began and ended with Green Day, which walked off with the most Moonman trophies, seven. The trio opened the show with a rousing take of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” the song that took best video honors.
But who remembers who wins at the VMAs? The show is more about the scene than the hardware.
The hot topic pinging from BlackBerry to BlackBerry was the whodunit at the Shore Club Hotel, where Knight took a bullet in the upper leg. Knight had been at an album release party for Kanye West for about 35 minutes when the single shot was fired.
Knight had just exchanged words with someone and was turning and leaving when he was wounded, witnesses said. Much of the chatter among industry insiders was that Knight may have accidentally shot himself, or was shot by one of his entourage members as they stalked off.
“That is a possibility, it’s one of the things we’re looking at,” Miami Beach Police Department spokesman Bobby Hernandez said Monday.
If Knight did indeed shoot himself, it would be painful metaphor for his career. The founder of Death Row Records made history with Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg, but he is now more a figure of the past than of the present.
That’s not the case with Carey and Kelly. Both put exclamation points on their career comeback stories. Carey sang “Shake It Off,” the stiff-upper-lip hit that has given her a new signature song and proven wrong her old record company, EMI, which jettisoned her in 2002 and basically paid $28 million just to get her out the door.
Now she is enjoying the sort of survivor respect that buoyed Tina Turner and Cher when they weathered their storms.
Though Kelly’s career hasn’t hit bottom as Carey’s did, he’s had his ups and downs. His high-profile tour with rapper Jay-Z became a fiasco, and he has still faces long-pending child pornography charges in Chicago.
On the VMAs, he performed a section of his quirky “Trapped in the Closet” series of songs. The videos for the soap-opera-as-R&B-tale; have been described by the singer as “Desperate Housewives” for men. The quality of the story line is debatable, but in real life Kelly is proving that apparently a hit song can rescue anyone.
It was the second staging of the VMAs in Miami, and singer Ricky Martin, who lives here, said that more than a simple television trophy show, the 2005 program indicates that Miami is emerging from the shadow caused by the 1997 shooting death of fashion designer Gianni Versace.
“After the death of Versace, everything went away,” Martin said in an interview Friday. “Sylvester Stallone and Madonna moved away. A lot of the fashion industry went away. Music people left. And now it’s coming back and this MTV show is proof that. Miami is back. People love it here. People fall in love with this place. Blame the music, blame the weather.”
The weather deserves the blame if the VMAs never return. Katrina made landfall on Thursday and ripped off roofs, pulled down trees and power lines and flooded entire neighborhoods.
MTV officials were jittery before the show, and the memory may prey on their minds when they start planning next year’s show. “We dodged a bullet,” one MTV executive said Sunday -- a reference to the hurricane, not to Knight.
If it was no accident, the shooting ends Miami’s reputation in the rap world as neutral ground, a place where violent rivalries are set aside.
Miami has become the beach home away from home for the music industry, especially the hip-hop world. Diddy is a full-time resident, with an $18-million mansion on the aptly named Star Island, and a full-time booster of the music scene. He is among a wave of rappers going south from New York.
“There’s all rappers moving here or least buying a house here -- Lil’ John, Fat Joe, LL Cool J, you see them all the time and it’s really helping Miami become where it’s at,” said Gabrielle Bozza, an intellectual property and entertainment law attorney in Ft. Lauderdale. “But if the hurricane scares MTV away next summer that would be a real shame.”
She shouldn’t worry says Carson Daly, the talk-show host and MTV alumnus. He said no ill wind could keep MTV from playing in the sand.
“Miami is MTV,” he said. “I mean, look around. This place is one big music video.”