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Thursday, September 10, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nirvana Wins Two Mtv Awards

Nine years into its existence, "The MTV Video Music Awards" carried a whiff of desperation last night.

In an effort to be more outrageous and controversial than ever, the overextended broadcast featured a long segment with New York shock-jock Howard Stern that was a new low in television, even for MTV.

Maybe one joke about flatulence could be dismissed as a nod to the 10-year-olds in the audience, but a whole long painfully unfunny bit about it was not only a stupid waste of time but degrading for all involved.

In another misguided effort at being hip, the network lifted its "lifetime ban" on Andrew Dice Clay - for obscenities on a past "MTV Video Music Awards" show - to feature the one-joke has-been in a running gag about stage-door security. It didn't work because Clay's shtick lost its shock value a long, long time ago.

It's a good thing Nirvana was there, because its few minutes of live performance was just about the only real, spontaneous, honest expression of the rock 'n' roll spirit in the 3-hour, 15-minute show.

The beleaguered Seattle band, beset with rumors of drug abuse and breakups, answered all the doubters and rumor-mongers the best way it could - by delivering a moody, blistering, explosive version of its current single, "Lithium."

The performance marked a turnaround for the band, which was shocked into virtual paralysis by the enormous success early this year of its landmark song, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and the album it came from, "Nevermind." Hopefully the band has finally come to grips with its mass popularity and can move on.

One thing that no doubt will help its future was the revealing of singer Kurt Cobain's boyish handsomeness. He used to try to look as punky and ravaged as possible, with garish haircolors, sunglass-covered eyes, overgrown stubble and rag-pile clothes. Last night his cropped hair was a natural shade of blond, his big blue eyes were unshaded and the Kirk Douglas cleft in his chin was plainly visible. His mostly white clothes looked not only clean but bleached. Smells like teen idol.

Not only did it deliver the performance highlight, Nirvana also scored back-to-back wins for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in the alternative video and new artist categories. It sent a Michael Jackson look-alike to accept the first - he announced he was no longer king of pop but was now "king of grunge" - but accepted the second itself. "It's really hard to believe everything you read," Cobain said.

The other major performance highlight was U2's near-perfect delivery of "Even Better Than The Real Thing," patched in live from its concert at the Pontiac Superdome in Detroit. The song later won for group video.

Pearl Jam didn't win anything - wait'll next year - but the Seattle band was one of the best live acts, with singer Eddie Vedder offering a dramatic, anguished "Jeremy," about an abused boy.

Among the other performers, the vocal quartet En Vogue scorched the screen with a sassy, teasing "Free Your Mind," the Red Hot Chili Peppers filled the stage with dancing fans during a raucous "Give It Away" and the Black Crowes (who will play here in late October) opened the proceedings with a rocking "Remedy."

The big number in the show, Guns N' Roses' "November Rain" with Elton John on piano and a symphony orchestra, was overblown and plodding. Michael Jackson's taped performance of "Black and White," from a stadium show in London, was boringly familiar.

Van Halen's win for best video of the year, for "Right Now," was a surprise because of heavy competition from Def Leppard, Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers. But the clip was better than the song - it expanded on the tune's idea of living in the present.

Queen's win for best video from a film, for the 16-year-old song "Bohemian Rhapsody" from the movie "Wayne's World," was a nice nostalgic touch, and a tribute to the band's late lead singer, Freddie Mercury.

Dana Carvey pulled out all the stops in his first year as host, playing dozens of characters, including Garth from "Wayne's World." He seemed desperate at times, as his bits bombed. Maybe Cobain could host next year.

Here is a complete list of the winners:

Video of the Year: Van Halen, "Right Now."

Male: Eric Clapton, "Tears in Heaven."

Female: Annie Lennox, "Why."

Group: U2, "Even Better Than the Real Thing."

New artist: Nirvana, "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

Rap: Arrested Development, "Tennessee."

Dance: Prince & The New Power Generation, "Cream."

Metal-hard rock: Metallica, "Enter Sandman."

Alternative: Nirvana, "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

Video from film: Queen, "Bohemian Rhapsody (Wayne's World)."

Direction: Van Halen, "Right Now."

Choreography: En Vogue, "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)."

Special effects: U2, "Even Better Than the Real Thing."

Art direction: Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Give It Away."

Editing: Van Halen, "Right Now."

Cinematography: Guns N' Roses, "November Rain."

Breakthrough: Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Give It Away."

Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award: Guns N' Roses.

Viewers' Choice: Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Under the Bridge."

MTV Australia: Diesel, "Man Alive."

MTV Asia: Christina, "Jring Mai Glua."

MTV Brazil: Nenhum de Nos, "Ao meu Redor."

MTV Internacional: El General, "Muevelo."

MTV Europe: The Cure, "Friday I'm in Love."

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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