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My VH1 Awards Are Really Yours

Every aspect of the cable channel's Nov. 30 show will be decided by Web surfers.

August 06, 2000|STEVE HOCHMAN

Hey Sting! Hey Madonna! Hey Broooce!

Want to come out a big winner at a new music awards show that will be launched with huge fanfare by VH1? You might want to start marshaling your fans into an effective online voting force now if you want to beat the Dave Matthews Band.

The My VH1 Awards show, to air Nov. 30 on the music channel and its VH1.com Web site from Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium, is being touted as the first major music awards in which every aspect--from the categories through the actual winners--will be determined by fans voting via the Internet. Votes, in fact, will be tallied right up to the moment that each award is given.

In a sort of trial run for the format, VH1 viewers voted last year for the channel's artist of the year. A huge surge of Dave Matthews fans spurred by a campaign organized by the bands' fan Web sites made the group the overwhelming winner.

Is that a fair way to determine such honors?

"If one group of artists has more passionate fans than others and start an aggressive campaign, that's great," says Jeff Gaspin, VH1 executive vice president of programming. "That's how we elect presidents, so it's OK if that's how we give awards for artists."

For VH1, the inauguration of this show caps the building of the channel's identity over the last few years. With such programs as "Behind the Music," "The List" and the "Divas" specials, it has finally emerged from the shadow of sister MTV and connected with its target audience--the 25-and-older crowd that had outgrown MTV. Executives there saw a music awards show as a galvanizing "state of VH1" event, a la MTV's Video Music Awards.

"The thing we've discovered on the Web site and the fan clubs we're involved with is there's a real desire in this audience for a community," says Fred Graver, who as senior vice president and general manager of VH1.com is overseeing the integration of the telecast and Web elements. "They'd leave MTV and where would they go? Now the channel really reflects who they are, and they really do care about music."

To that end, plans are for the show to emphasize music performance, with at least nine major acts to be booked.

Wayne Isaak, VH1 executive vice president of music and talent, notes that among those competing for attention in a very crowded field will be new releases from Madonna, U2, Dave Matthews and others for whom a chance to reach the VH1 audience in this way should be appealing.

And if artists who win don't show up? That too will be handled a bit differently from the usual. Plans are being discussed to bring in the people running the top fan Web sites for nominated artists--as designated by the acts themselves--to fill in if necessary, as well as contests for fans to serve as seat fillers.

"We want music fans and artists to be connected," says Isaak. "You'll see some things here you haven't seen on any other awards show."

BUNNY BUSINESS: Few corporate logos are as recognized as much as that silhouette of the cute little creature with two big ears.

That's right. The Playboy bunny.

So when Columbia Records Group Senior Vice President of A&R Tim Devine saw that one of his bands, Zebrahead, had a song on its upcoming album titled "Playmate of the Year," he saw a great opportunity for some inter-corporate synergy.

"Given that both of us are trying to reach the same target audience of young adult males, it's a great connection," says Devine. "It's all about exposure, whichever way you look at it."

So Devine approached Playboy Enterprises representatives, who he says were thrilled to be asked for an alliance when people often use Playboy trademarks without permission. And now the album--due Aug. 22--is itself titled "Playmate of the Year" and features the actual Playmate of the Year 2000, Jodi Ann Paterson, on the cover. She and the bunny logo also adorn promotional materials for the album, and the video for the title song was shot at the Playboy Mansion, with Hugh Hefner making a cameo appearance. (There's a version for MTV and a more revealing one for airing on the Playboy Channel.)

"The song was a natural for us to be involved with," says Bill Farley, Playboy's national director of communications. "And it's actually about a playmate of the year, so that gives Zebrahead a leg up on any group that might want to come to us about using the mansion to shoot a video about orangutans."

MOOD-Y BLUES: Brian Setzer long thought that the classic swing instrumental "In the Mood" could use a set of lyrics. So for his just-released "Vavoom!" album, he wrote some, altering the title to "Gettin' in the Mood," and recorded the track.

And not long after, he learned there already were lyrics to the song, commissioned (but not used on his hit record) by Glenn Miller from Fats Waller collaborator Andy Razaf in 1939. The words were later recorded many times, including a version by Bette Midler (with some additions by her and Barry Manilow) in the mid-'70s.

Setzer's manager, Dave Kaplan, is a little sheepish about the belated revelation.

"Tom Whalley [Interscope Records president and Setzer's A&R representative] kept saying, 'I thought there were lyrics to this thing,' " says Kaplan, adding that both his and Whalley's staffs made Internet searches to try to find any previous "Mood" words, but didn't come up with any. "Then, the day after we recorded, someone said, 'Hey, did you know that Bette Midler did this?' "

Even in the course of getting clearance for the new lyrics from the music's publisher, Kaplan and Setzer were not made aware of the earlier version.

"And the point is that even if we had known, I don't think it would have changed things," Kaplan says. "He still would have written lyrics more tailored to the Brian Setzer style."

However, in the bio sent to press with the new CD, Setzer states that "In the Mood" never had lyrics before. Kaplan says Setzer meant that most people only know the song as an instrumental, but the bio will be corrected.

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