I didn’t know the VMAs were last night. Between work, personal life, and general disinterest, it slipped under my radar. People like to harken back to the golden age of MTV as the 80’s and early 90’s. In Steven Hyden’s recent Your Favorite Band is Killing Me, he calls the 1992 VMAs the greatest and most interesting award show of all time, and maybe, he’s right. While 1992 saw icons like Michael Jackson, Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana, Elton John and so many more performing, this was two years before I was born. The 1992 VMAs are a folktale for me. The most iconic VMA incident in my lifetime is Kanye-Taylor in 2009, but the most important VMAs for me came in 2006.
In 2006, I was 12, and I’d just graduated from exclusively listening to Led Zeppelin and AC/DC to listening to pop radio, which at the time was dominated by alt-rock. The Killers, Fall Out Boy, and Panic! at the Disco were among the most popular names in music. Green Day was still living out the career-revival that American Idiot brought about. That same summer, I became enthralled by the heavy metal of the 80’s. Guns N’ Roses, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Metallica were all just as relevant and new to me as Shakira and Beyoncé. These star-crossed coincidences were all a large part of what made the 2006 VMAs such an event.
For starters, Jack Black hosted in 2006. No one is more over-the-top heavy metal than Tenacious D’s own Jables. Black opened the show with his own goofy musical number, and his vibrant enthusiasm radiates in everything he does. Jack Black doesn’t do anything half-assed. This is why a one-off performance of a friendship song by Tenacious D at this VMAs was incredible.
Even though the performances matter most, there were some interesting award recipients that year. In addition to the standard awards, MTV gave awards for music featured in videogames and a famed “Ringtone of the Year Award,” which was awarded to Fort Minor. Awards were won by people who would only be sparsely heard from again (James Blunt, Shakira and Chamillionaire). Beyoncé, who took home 8 awards this year, would only take home one for best R&B video. The Black Eyed Peas beat out Kanye. Avenged Sevenfold won best new artist over future Video Vanguard winner Rihanna. (Rihanna’s new metal logo may just be an attempt to make up for her lost first VMA). Panic! At the Disco won video of the year, without winning any other VMAs. The stage was also rushed during their acceptance by a man more notorious than Kanye, the mighty “Six.” Gnarls Barkley and The Red Hot Chili Peppers were both winners and have remained staples for music fans and the public at large. The All-American Rejects, AFI and Fall Out Boy were also award recipients, making it a great year to shop at Hot Topic and wear skinny jeans. Looking at the change in winners in the past ten years is bizarre, to say the least.
The performances are where VMAs are made, and in 2006, there were some damn good performances. Some of the best pop songs of the 2000’s came out in 2006. Shakira performing “Hips Don’t Lie” is just as electric as it must have been inside Radio City Music Hall. Beyoncé’s “Ring the Alarm” isn’t her best, but it’s much better than I remembered, including the brief dance break toward the end. Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” performance is probably the best though. The first thought I had was how inescapable that song was, but then, I realized why “Sexy Back” was such an overplayed song. It’s because it’s fucking great. Timberlake’s choreography and sweet tenor is still a testament to what a great pop-artist JT is. It’s a timeless capsule into an early incarnation of the A-List giant.
Now, the 2006 VMAs were a great year for alt-rock. The Raconteurs were the house band, and they performed with the father of alternative music Lou Reed. OK Go did the treadmill routine on live TV, which is so much cooler with the additional angles and new choreography. Axl Rose introduced The Killers to close the show, screaming “Do you know where the fuck are you are?” The Killers are basically classic rock at this point, but “When You Were Young” was another inescapable hit. Brandon Flowers and company secured a spot that now is reserved for superstars of Taylor Swift, Rihanna or Beyoncé level fame. That’s how big alternative music was in 2006. This was also a year where over-the-top pop-punk was bigger than ever. My Chemical Romance had just released The Black Parade, and they played the title track at the pre-show from the top of Rockefeller Observation Deck. Seeing MCR play their biggest hit over the New York skyline with a children’s chorus wearing skull face paint showed that an album about death could be just as vibrant as a Fergie song. Fall Out Boy introduced Panic! at the Disco for the performance that my sixth grade self was looking forward to the most. Brendon Urie let his voice crack while trying to censor himself. Ryan Ross walked down the catwalk with Urie as circus dancers surrounded the emo Lennon-McCartney that would never exist past two albums.
For kids who liked guitar based rock music, these VMAs gave validation to kids who would spend every summer at Warped Tour. Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy were both nominated for VMAs this year still, but there were no rock performers at the VMAs this year. Modern Baseball, some of the freshest faces in pop-punk, play Killers covers regularly. Fall Out Boy have returned with a vengeance as pop-artists, but the magic of From Under the Cork Tree is lost in the new music. P!ATD have grown into an interesting pop-act, with only Brendon Urie left. Seeing MCR sing “Welcome to the Black Parade” on a rooftop paved the way for middle schoolers who would grow up to love bands like The Wonder Years, PWR BTTM, or A Day to Remember. Even hearing James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” on a minimalist video set me up to listen to the like of Bon Iver. In 2006, the VMAs birthed a bunch of emo babies with heavy eyeliner and all. Some of us may have scoffed at Justin Timberlake in ’06, but we’ve found a place for him in our little-emo hearts. While we may have grown to appreciate and enjoy the Beyoncés and Christina Aguileras of the world, we’ll never forget My Chemical Romance welcoming all of New York to Black Parade.
James writes sins, not tragedies on Twitter.