Britney Spears, 2007 VMAs
Rembert Browne: Britney. 2007. VMA Opener.
And to think, I, too, once thought the best way to prep for a terrifyingly bikini-clad, Ambien-induced, unchoreographed performance was to drink a 24-pack of Michelob Ultra with every bacon-related meal.
Katie Baker: I don't know if it says more about me, Britney Spears, or the celebrity-industrial complex we live in, but it wasn't until well into her 2007 VMA "comeback" performance that I finally realized that Britney might not be coming back. 2007 had been a divorce-filled and bare-headed year for the 25-year-old — she rang it in by passing out at a nightclub and getting carried out by her bodyguards — but leading up to the VMAs I had no doubt that her headlining performance would put her whole sad ordeal into its proper, ultimately uplifting narrative context. No doubt this VMA gig was the result of months of training, choreographing, medicating, and eating right. This would be orchestrated to within an inch of its life. This was Britney, bitch! And at the very least, this was MTV.
So when Britney herself stumbled out with those ratty extensions and dazed dance moves, her lip-syncing shameless and intermittent, I did what any American with even a passing familiarity with the U.S. entertainment industry would do. I sat and patiently waited for the real show to begin, for this all had to be some sort of meta-insider cold open, for Britney to suddenly hop-skip-whip into form and formation and bust out some turn-of-the-millennium-era stuff and there'd be strobe lights and body glitter and maybe even a snake. I waited for a really long time for that snake. I don't think I was alone, though: Judging by his facial expression at roughly the 2:53 mark, I'm pretty sure that 50 Cent did too.
Frankee, "F.U. Right Back," TV Show of Unspecified European Origin
Rafe Bartholomew: A more attractive version of Sammi Sweetheart lip-syncs her rebuttal to an already terrible jam by fellow proto-Jersey Shore cast mate Eamon. Four back-up dancers writhe disinterestedly in hand-me-down Old Navy outfits. At the end, a possibly German host walks out, cheerfully says, "That's Frankee with 'Fuck You Right Back,'" and redeems the whole thing.
Avril Lavigne, "Fuel," Metallica Icon Performance
Robert Mays: Little-known fact (unless you attended Barrington Middle School: Station Campus): When I was 14, I was pretty obsessed with Metallica. My wardrobe consisted of two pairs of jeans my mother bought for me at Old Navy, Adidas Superstars, and about a dozen Metallica T-shirts. I owned the Metallica live box set on VHS and DVD. Suffice it to say I was a pretty angry eighth-grader.
With this in mind, one can imagine my reaction when MTV announced an hour-long special in 2003 honoring James and the Boys, and my subsequent horror at what transpired.
Because Metallica got their infamous haircuts when I was 9, the betrayal most fans felt in the mid-'90s didn’t happen to me in real time — Load was an easily dismissed piece of a classic catalog, not an album I bought on opening day and popped into my car’s CD player only to hear "Ain’t My Bitch." My betrayal came that night on MTV, as Snoop Dogg rapped “Sad But True” and Lars Ulrich bobbed his head like he was listening to a Diamond Head track.
Picking a least-favorite cover from that night is tough: Limp Bizkit doing “Sanitarium” (a year later, I watched them open for Metallica and get booed off stage for pulling the same shit), Korn doing "One" (dear God, why so much bass?), Sum 41 doing “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (poor Cliff Burton). It’s only after careful consideration that I can say Avril takes it home. Now, the awfulness of this clip is only partially rooted in her participation. Most of my anger is actually directed at two people: Bob Rock for allowing this song to come into existence, and whoever allowed Kirk Hammett to wear that suit. But in the end, someone still thought it was a good idea to have someone famous for this pay tribute to those responsible for this. And dammit if Lars doesn’t love it.
Diddy Dirty Money, American Idol Performance of "Hello Good Morning"
Tess Lynch: I wasn't really aware of what strobe lights could do until they showed up in this Diddy Dirty Money performance on American Idol. I ignored the warning under Seacrest's collar and even took Diddy's advice to turn my television up and my lights down at 2:38, because I thought that I was going to be rewarded with a visual jalapeno popper of sorts: stimulating and spicy. Instead, I was taken into a sadistic optometrist's chamber of horrors, where my optic nerves and several frontal neural regions were poked with needles and then lit on fire. Whatever we did to Sean Combs to make him so angry that he decided to blind us is unclear, but the artist who gave us "I Need a Girl (Part Two)" is not the benevolent force I once dreamed he was.
Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters, "Blow Up," Q TV
Mark Lisanti: Billy Bob Thornton is a Serious Musician. So don't ever make the mistake of mentioning his side career as actor, writer, and director when the Boxmasters show up to gig in your studio. You will pay, and pay dearly. And yes, the band did eventually play. But this is the performance you'll always remember. You know, because he's a giant a-hole.
Metallica and Lou Reed, "White Light/White Heat," Later With Jools Holland
Bill Barnwell: I was tempted to go with The Replacements getting banned from Saturday Night Live for being too drunk, but upon further review, those performances are are actually kinda great. This, on the other hand, is about as dreadful as you might imagine it would be. I'm not angry at Lou Reed for allowing Lulu to happen, in the same way that you wouldn't really be angry at your grandpa if he got swindled in a 419 scam, but did he really need to go through and do Velvet Underground songs as part of the project, too? Couldn't he have just done one of the Doug Yule songs instead? The only possible explanation for this is that Lou Reed is stuck in one of those terrible 24 subplots where Jack Bauer has to do awful things at the command of some terrorist and not tell anyone he's doing them because they're holding some member of his family hostage. Also, does Jools Holland's show have a distinct anti-shorts policy? I assume that's the only reason why Robert Trujillo isn't wearing them. Oh, and the absolute best moment of the clip is 1:41 in, when the camera slides over to another band watching the performance, very clearly standing embarrassed on Lou Reed's behalf.
Ke$ha, "Tik Tok," SNL
Megan Creydt: I couldn’t decide who I wanted to hurt more while watching/listening to this “performance,” Ke$ha or myself. Nice moves, girl. So classy. Your mom must be proud.
To be fair to Ke$ha, I despised her long before this, but she really hit it out of the park here. Bonus points for blaspheming the American flag by making it share the stage.
Captain & Tennille, "Muskrat Love"
Mike Philbrick: Where was this? What show? I don't know ... does it matter? Anyway, we have '70s easy-listening juggernauts Captain & Tennille doing their usual thing with their 1976 song of love and devotion "Muskrat Love" — please don't confuse this with their other 12 to 18 songs of love and devotion. The magic in this performance doesn't really start until the 0:58 mark, when our song's two main characters (Muskrat Suzie and Muskrat Sam) descend from the heavens. And by that I mean two people in really bad muskrat costumes are superimposed on the screen, which in the '70s was looked upon like you and I would regard teleportation and intergalactic travel. From then on, it's a white-hot mess of Toni Tennille trying to get you to ignore that she listened to her friends and got the Dorothy Hamill haircut and The Captain looking like Neil Diamond after "Kenny over here gave me some dynamite pills." There is a pretty sweet synthesizer solo around the 2:10 mark, where The Captain shows off his new Super Funky Disco sound effect he bought with some of his "Love Will Keep Us Together" money. Other than that, is there a lesson here? Yes. It was hard not to be famous in the '70s.
Kanye West, "Love Lockdown," SNL
Patrice Evans: At the risk of Auto-Tuning the obvious, Kanye West's 2008 rendition of "Love Lockdown" on SNL must be noted as the Ground Zero of performance disasters, literally paving the way for this weekend’s vintage Lana Del Rey routine (also maybe the modern era of aural terrorism: no [reasonably good-looking] amateur with [reasonably decent] vocal chops shall be left behind?).
Unlike Ashlee Simpson or the TV on the Radio bungling where "how to kill the sound man" and "the ethics of living singing" dominate the discussion afterward, the Yeezy debacle/audio-claymation performance of “Love Lockdown” felt like a Zeitgeist benchmark where we finally got comfortable with our artists impressing us by just — in the words of Juliette Lewis — taking the stage like "a 12 yearold [sic] in their bedroom when they're pretending to sing and perform." Before 12-year-old LDR there was 12-year-old Kanye. This was a time where we didn't need genuine talent on stage, just true grit. Bold, sweaty, shameless perseverance was the American Way. Kanye was always so transparent about his insecurities. He encouraged many amateurs to amateurishly strut their amateurishness on stage. Free the Internet! Free the open mic crowd! The difference, of course, is Kanye had shown and proved his talent before trying to reinvent in public — more Jordan trying baseball than unknown rookie breaking in on the national stage. So he had some house money to play with; LDR only has fake Internet Monopoly bills in her wallet. And whatever trick she/they come up with next.