3 Important Features That Went Missing From This Year's VMAs

Though it earned MTV its best ratings since 2002, the main problem with the Video Music Awards last night wasn't Chelsea Handler's emcee skills -- which combined enough off-color commentary and speedy segues to satisfy any VMA historian -- or even the slim selection of on-hand celebrities. No, the VMAs came up short because it refused to be anything but a staid awards show stocked with musical performances and statue handouts, and that's exactly what the VMAs is supposed to be an antidote against. Here are three mainstays from previous ceremonies that were missing from the VMAs this year:

An outrageous artist tribute

From the Year: 1999

The 1999 VMAs are still the best ever thanks to the crackling wit of Chris Rock, phenomenal performances from Lauryn Hill, TLC, Beastie Boys and Fatboy Slim, and an insane drag tribute to Madonna that remains one of the weirdest and coolest MTV moments ever. Where was this year's similar homage to attending celeb Cher? Or a 10-rapper salute to Eminem? We needed a moment of sublime showmanship (real "monsters" -- goblins, vampires, werewolves -- dressed as Lady Gaga, perhaps?) and all we got were several subpar performances.

A surprising musical collaboration

From the Year: 2000

Say what you will about the self-indulgent performance style of Christina Aguilera or the... well, anything of Fred Durst, but when the two video stars joined forces on the VMAs amid rumors of a tryst, it was an immediately arresting collaboration. Where was the awe at the 2010 ceremony? Lady Gaga dealt her share of it, but it's almost as though MTV leaves it to Gaga to provide flair when the network should be looking for opportunities itself.

The Video Vanguard Award

From the Year: 1997

The VMAs' version of the Thalberg has been awarded sporadically over the past ten years, but in 1997, Mariah Carey presented the lifetime achievement Moonman to an overjoyed and deserving LL Cool J. Carey -- who had just embraced hip-hop as part of her repertoire that year -- seemed damn sincere, and a pinch of that artist-to-artist sincerity could have gone a long way last night. The Jersey Shore cast's sincere love of hot tubs was not an adequate proxy.