Isn't it ironic, as Alanis Morissette would say, that the anti-fashion message was so pronounced at a celebration of the music video, a medium that has made the visual element of rock nearly as important as what we hear. Judging by the MTV Video Music Awards in New York City on Wednesday night, the rock world is divided not only into alternative, rap, R & B and heavy metal, but into those who dress to impress and those who don't.
Those who don't are among the biggest stars, a fact that may have no hidden meaning at all. The members of Hootie and the Blowfish and Foo Fighters seem to grab whatever shirts and pants aren't in the hamper. Their accidental style, if it can be called that, doesn't change for live or televised performances.
Morissette is also in the non-dresser's camp. She wore a black turtleneck and jeans, accessorized with dark curtains of clean hair. Neil Young, unplugged and practically undressed, sang in a tour swag T-shirt and big boxer shorts. The men of Bush were clad in odds and ends that could have been gathered on a trip to Urban Outfitters. Such grungy repudiation of rock's glam tradition made the stage safe for geeks like Beck, a refugee from the "Brady Bunch" era in a really bad '70s shirt and hipsters.
There's safety in ignoring fashion; those who seem not to care can't be accused of missing the mark--they never even took aim. The list of presenters and performers on the show for whom grunge would have been an improvement is short, starting with Beavis and Butt-Head in pastel tuxedos left over from a rainbow wedding.
Damon Wayans and MTV playmate Jenny McCarthy, braless in blue, were the oddest couple onstage. His homespun overalls were inspired by "Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk," but that Broadway hit's style doesn't translate to the street. Clothes horse Mariah Carey chose a short, brown Vera Wang dress (so far, so good), then bottomed out with knee-high brown boots in a scary Nancy Sinatra flashback. Claudia Schiffer, trying to look hip in a black camisole and white bell-bottoms, let down her designer buddies. Toni Braxton, in a long, clingy white knit gown, put her to shame.
Hollywood lent some glamour to the proceedings. Geena Davis sported a short, blond pixie cut and a cut-out gold dress by Richard Tyler. The other new haircut of the evening, shorn short and still beautifully blond, was on Sharon Stone. Hers was one of the evening's many tailored pantsuits, feminized with a diamond floral pin on the lapel.
Others in the suit brigade were Seal (in Richard Tyler), Kevin Bacon (in cinnamon shantung), Snoop Doggy Dogg (a dandy in pin-striped gray suit, white shirt, tie, hat and long pageboy). Lauryn Hill of the Fugees not only wore a slick double-breasted pantsuit, she moved in it. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's matching collarless shirts and white suits were a throwback to the classic Motown guy groups. And Gwyneth Paltrow's cherry velvet Gucci pantsuit was the sanitized, designer version of a look Steve Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith have been touring in since she was a baby. Onstage, their shirts were unbuttoned only a notch lower than hers.
Coolio and Smashing Pumpkins' singer D'Arcy dressed to their own tunes. He looked rapper right in an oversized navy vest and pants of parachute nylon. She chose alternative designer Helmut Lang's sheer lace dress, layering it over opaque tights. But the prettiest girl at the prom (wasn't it?) had to be MTV personality Alison Stewart in a black-and-white lace embroidered dress by Todd Oldham. Anyone spotting her and Darius Rucker in the same elevator would have to wonder if they'd come from the same party.