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Higher Ground

The best and worst moments of the 2004 Video Music Awards: From OutKast to Hoobastank, here's what was -- and wasn't -- worth watching in this year's MTV extravaganza

Andre 3000, MTV Video Music Awards 2004 | NOT PROTOTYPICAL: OutKast's Andre 3000 showed he could play, too
Image credit: Andre 3000: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com
NOT PROTOTYPICAL: OutKast's Andre 3000 showed he could play, too

Highlights of the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards

From Madonna writhing in a wedding dress to Jacko ''kissing'' Lisa Marie Presley, MTV's Video Music Awards have always specialized in manufacturing sensation. But the only thing that might be considered provocative about the 2004 awards is how stunningly safe and uncontroversial they were. (Blame Janet Jackson's right breast.) But despite the show's newfound caution, it was not without its memorable moments:

Best Group Performance The evening's sole reminder of the old VMA spirit -- the one that had Axl Rose singing with Tom Petty and Neil Young jamming with Pearl Jam -- came when Stevie Wonder popped up to add harmonica and backing vocals to Alicia Keys' ''If I Ain't Got You.'' They were then joined by Lenny Kravitz (wearing what appeared to be a pair of wings) for a rousing performance of Wonder's ''Higher Ground.'' However, MTV's Sway then had to beg the crowd to give the performance some love. (''You just witnessed musical history -- stand up. Come on, Miami, stand up!'')

Most Relentless Salesman Rapper Mase has been absent from the pop world for several years, so it's understandable that he wants to remind the world of his comeback. But did he really need to keep robotically repeating the title of his new single, ''Welcome Back''? Even when P. Diddy delivered his ''vote or die'' speech, Mase's only contribution was, yes, ''Welcome back!''

Best Makeover The newly curly-headed and blond Christina Aguilera looked and sounded rejuvenated during a performance of ''Tilt Ya Head Back,'' her ''Superfly''-sampling new single with Nelly. Dancing and belting out bluesy riffs with equal proficiency, Aguilera seemed like a rising star again -- not an aging teen-pop act fighting for relevance. Plus, in her flapper outfit, she was sexy but not particularly dirrty.

Most Inexplicable Stunt Last we checked, the lyrics to Jessica Simpson's hit ''With You'' celebrated monogamy -- not flying. So why was the poor ''Newlyweds'' star forced to make her nervous way above the crowd on a floating wedding-themed platform during her performance? Maybe MTV was punishing her for that cover of ''Take My Breath Away.''

Most Baffling Act You might expect that to an audience weaned on crunk, punk, and teen-pop, the retro-psychedelic style of the two-dozen-member rock collective the Polyphonic Spree might seem inexplicable. You'd be right. The robe-wearing group received only tepid, barely audible applause for their odd but impassioned performance of ''Hold Me Now.''

Most Insincere Camaraderie It seems doubtful that the daughters of John Kerry and George W. Bush will be hanging out anytime soon. So it was hilarious to hear Barbara Bush greet Kerry's offspring with a chirpy ''Hey, Alexandra and Vanessa'' during their joint get-out-the-vote pitch.

Most Unwelcome Upset In the alternative-leaning MTV2 Award category -- voted on by fans -- the undistinguished pop-punkers of Yellowcard were up against three of this year's coolest bands: Modest Mouse, Franz Ferdinand, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Yellowcard won. Yuck.

Best Hip-hop Musicianship Rappers aren't known for their instrumental chops, so it was almost thrilling to see Nelly play piano on the intro to ''Tilt Ya Head Back'' and OutKast's Andre 3000 whip out an electric guitar for a solo on his spacey ballad ''Prototype.'' (It was downright odd, though, when MTV tried to shoehorn the evening's millionth public-service announcement about voting into OutKast's subsequent performances of ''I Like the Way You Move,'' ''Ghetto Musick,'' and ''Hey Ya.'')

Worst Singer (Female) Kanye West's decision to invite R&B veteran Chaka Khan to join him during his performance of ''Through the Wire'' (which samples her ''Through the Fire'') was a welcome gesture of respect. But for some reason, the usually sturdy-voiced chanteuse ended up out of sync with the backing music and, worse, wildly off-pitch. Khan's caterwauling must have left the young audience wondering who the crazy, tone-deaf lady was.

Worst Singer (Male) Whether it was a case of nerves, a bad in-ear monitor, or hysterical deafness, Hoobastank singer Doug Robb, well, stank Sunday night. He seemed incapable of reproducing the high notes from his band's generic power ballad ''The Reason,'' which forced him to rely on a frontman's most desperate trick: He let the crowd sing the hard parts.

What were your favorite and least favorite moments?

Originally posted Aug 30, 2004