Fatboy Slim's six awards for Weapon of Choice, and 'N Sync's four for Pop were overshadowed Thursday night by Jackson's brief appearance, which came at the end of 'N Sync's performance.
After a giant Etch-A-Sketch drew his frame, Jackson emerged, doing his trademark, gravity-defying moves. Afterward, he received a standing ovation.
Ben Stiller, Sheryl Crow and Sean P. Diddy Combs were among the stars who considered Jackson the evening's highlight.
I thought he did a good job pop-locking, rapper Snoop Dogg said after the show.
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The big hair paid off! joked Aguilera, who sported braids divided into two neat pigtails, a departure from the gigantic wig she wore in the video.
Among the awards Weapon of Choice won were best direction, for film director Spike Jonze; best choreography; and best cinematography. The Fatboy Slim video was a departure from many MTV videos because it didn't feature a large cast, a chorus line of dancers or even the artist: It just showed actor Christopher Walken dancing around an empty hotel lobby.
As always, the awards themselves were upstaged by the evening's over-the-top moments. Britney Spears was last year's scene stealer with her striptease performance of Oops! ... I Did it Again. This year, she wowed the crowed as she debuted her new song, I'm A Slave 4 U, with a snake wrapped around her neck.
The night was not without its glitches: As U2 was about to perform Elevation, a technical problem forced MTV to cut to commercials.
After the group performed, U2 received the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award for lifetime achievement, and Bono quipped: So MTV weren't paying their electricity bill.
Though the show had its zany moments Andy Dick dressing as an Aguilera look-alike, Stiller needling Combs about his tough-guy image the night also had somber elements.
Artists paid tribute to Aaliyah, the R&B singer and actress who died Aug. 25 in a plane crash. Janet Jackson read a message from one of Aaliyah's fans, while Missy Misdemeanor Elliott, Ginuwine and Timbaland talked about the impact of the 22-year-old's short life. Aaliyah's brother, Rashad Haughton, thanked her fan for their support.
I think what we've got to learn out of this, to appreciate each other while we're here on earth, said Elliott, who wore a white jacket with Aaliyah's image on the back and her name on the side. I love you, Aaliyah, and you're forever missed.
Bono paid tribute to Joey Ramone, who died this year of lymphoma, as he introduced the remaining members of the legendary punk rock group the Ramones.
Comedian-host Jamie Foxx got the evening off to a somewhat raunchy start. After parodying the evening's setting at the Metropolitan Opera House with opera renditions of hits such as Bootylicious, he launched into a monologue that MTV censors had to bleep.
Foxx had said he would not lampoon celebrities during the show, but joked about Mariah Carey's recent nervous breakdown and Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean's battle with alcohol abuse.
The Backstreet Boys gave out the evening's first award, for best hip-hop video. Before OutKast picked up their trophy, McLean thanked MTV and fans for supporting him during his time in rehab.
Today is 64 days sober, and I'm proud of it, he said to applause.
As the group made their way off the stage, Foxx held out a bottle to them. You want some champagne, some champagne? he joked before the stunned crowd. It's apple cider, apple cider! You can drink apple cider, can't you?
As OutKast picked up their award, they promoted their clothing line and upcoming album. Self-promotion seemed to be a trend, as Busta Rhymes, Shakira, MTV VJ Ananda Lewis all prefaced their presenting duties by plugging their latest projects.
But none was as blatant -- or funny -- as Macy Gray, who upstaged the announcement of the best new artist award by urging everyone to take a minute and concentrate on my dress.
It read: My new album drops Sept. 18, 2001.
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