Maybe we were expecting too much from the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards. But when Cher showed up in blue jeans and the usually unsmiling Sinéad O'Connor, the night's big winner (Best Video, Female Video, and Post Modern Video), started giggling like a schoolgirl, we knew it was going to be a relatively tame night, nothing like last year when Motley Crue's Vince Neil sucker-punched Izzy Stradlin of Guns N' Roses and Andrew Dice Clay got himself banned from MTV for life by reciting his own special version of ''Hickory Dickory Dock.''
Which isn't to say there weren't some fireworks at Los Angeles' Universal Amphitheatre Sept. 6. Onstage, Madonna caused jaws to drop with her Madame de Pompadour outfit (above) and risque interactions with the dancers; backstage, it was Luther Campbell of the 2 Live Crew, graphically exercising his First Amendment rights.
''That's some sick s,'' Campbell said, talking about Fort Lauderdale, Fla., authorities who arrested a record store owner in July for selling the Crew album As Nasty as They Wanna Be. ''They grabbed one fing tape out of the fing rack and they said, 'Okay, we're gonna f with you 'cause that's a black fing company.' They demean us. F this, man.''
But mostly it was a night full of pop culture icons, from the Lakers' Magic Johnson to Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees to Billy Idol, sweating profusely and snarling on cue whenever he heard his name. Director Oliver Stone said that if he had to release his film about the Doors now, ''it would be three hours long and rated double X.'' And there was M.C. Hammer, dressed in an outrageous outfit that was not his stage costume, never moving a foot without two bodyguards in white tuxedos, patent leather shoes, and no socks. In contrast, O'Connor spent the time before the show sitting casually on the steps of her dressing-room trailer, her long white dress pulled up around her knees, sipping a Mexican beer as she watched the scene roll by.
By the time it ended, at a massive party on the Universal Studios lot, most of the stars were long gone. One exception: M.C. Hammer, who stuck around, signing autographs for the crowd, those guys in tuxedos right by his side.