VMA Hopefuls Get a Critical Beatdown

Though they lack the prestige of the Grammys, the MTV Video Music Awards are at least honest: Pop consumers want the whole package, both the image and the music, and to separate the two would be a disservice to that genre. We've assembled a crack team of pop music experts to give their opinions of this year's nominees. They've rated each video on a scale of one to five (one being the lowest, five the highest), and at the end we'll tabulate the scores to give you our choice for best video.

Kanye West — "Jesus Walks" (Roc-a-Fella Records)

Total Score: 12

Kanye is truly building with the gods on this one. Underneath his multiplatinum passion play about the travails of the original Young Jeezy, there lurked a sense that Kanye (and his deity-size ego) was fancying himself as not only a preacher but also a beleaguered saint. When director Chris Milk gave him an accidental halo for the video, the double meaning was realized but softened with epic and wrenching images of true suffering -- a complex and grave metaphor for America, the divided country. -- Julianne Shepherd

Rating: 5

Kanye West -- the first zealot with a backpack and a Benz -- thought this song was so important he filmed three different versions of the video. To even criticize the song will probably land you in some unknown layer of Hell with all the other Kanye hataz and Cindy Sheehan supporters. So we'll play nice: Kanye flipped the ARC Choir sample beautifully, and the video is nice (if not painfully portentous) eye candy. -- Sam Chennault

Rating: 3

Are you a member of the KKK, a drug dealer, a slave on the plantation, or simply on welfare? Then you need Kanye West ... uh, I mean Jesus. In this heavy-handed clip -- one of three Kanye commissioned for the Top 10 single -- the rapper walks through fire, arms outstretched to embrace these sinners. Hip-hop is saved! -- Mosi Reeves

Rating: 4

Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell — "Drop It Like It's Hot" (Geffen Records/Star Trak Music)

Total Score: 14

Thirteen years after helping create a nation of parrots squawking, "It's 187 on an undercover cop," Snoop is still slangin' catch phrases, wearing his blue flag on the left, and, against all odds, staying relevant. With little more accompaniment than the Neptunes' tongue cluck, Lamaze-style exhalation, and a skeleton of a keyboard hook every 24 bars, Snoop became the pup that roared all over again. -- Rich Juzwiak

Rating: 4

The sharp black-and-white video is a perfect accompaniment for the spare clicks, pops, and beeps of the song. It also gives wannabe hoochies a new brand of booty-poppin' technique to master, one that's part Beyoncé-Uh-Oh-Dance and part Uh-Oh-My-Back's-Thrown-Out. -- Tamara Palmer

Rating: 5

The only song in VMA history to conflate snack food catch phrases with spousal abuse, and gang wear with retro fashion gear, "Drop It Like It's Hot" is easily the most offensive nominee in recent memory. The Neptunes' pop-up synths, an absence-as-omniscience beat, and bubbling tongue clicks are equaling startling. Sin never sounded so sweet, or so weird. -- Sam Chennault

Rating: 5

Coldplay — "Speed of Sound" (Capitol)

Total Score: 7

Chris Martin's voice is still as discordant as Thom Yorke's, yet stateside Coldplay enjoys mass success on a scale that Radiohead hasn't tasted since "Creep." In XXL this month, Martin says that perhaps rap artists dig him and his band because they are "allowed" to act feminine, whereas rappers are not. All women should be offended to hear this tool reduce femininity to sounding like a cat in heat. -- Jess Harvell

Rating: 2

U2's "New Year's Day" is more than twenty years old, and Coldplay's moans and guitar tones more than deserve Adult Contemporary positioning, but I have to assume that the nomination is merely meant to give yuppie lightweights someone to root for. The video has lasers and stubbly young Brits who accompany Coldplay's patented brand of Radiohead Speedwagon. -- Anthony Miccio

Rating: 2

If Chris Martin's mates weren't such ugly muckafergusons, director Mark Romanek could have had them all cavorting in a club with a bunch of hot babes like they were G-Unit. As it stands, this simulation of a live performance by the so-called "next U2" will have to suffice. Next up: piano humping. -- Mosi Reeves

Rating: 3

Green Day — "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (Warner Bros.)

Total Score: 8

Funny that the Green Day guys find out how stunningly grandiose and weepy-ballad pretty their sound can be around the same time they hit their lyrical nadir. I wish I were the first to notice that the opening line kinda resembles the chorus from Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again." At least the video makes sense: Walking! Desolation! Graininess! Eyeliner! -- Nate Patrin

Rating: 2

There's nothing sadder than an aging X'er realizing that all the time he spent pulling his pud coulda been spent pulling voting booth levers. Except when his wake-up call is delivered in vague, nonsensical downer lyrics over the alt-rock loop of the damned who will be playing in Hell's vestibule, where we'll meet up with the dudes from Train and Lifehouse. -- Jess Harvell

Rating: 3

"Dream On" plus "How You Remind Me" plus "If You Could Only See the Way She Loves Me" plus "Here I Go Again" equals the Rosetta stone of rock nostalgia, revised for the denizens of the alt-rock nation. And this time Green Day doesn't scare off Republicans. Robert Smith should get royalties any time heavy eyeliner is used to hide an old rocker's eye bags. -- Anthony Miccio

Rating: 3

Gwen Stefani — "Hollaback Girl" (Interscope)

Total Score: 13

Gwen puts the smack on her booty-callers in cheerleader form -- replete with drum line and cheer straight from Pharrell's sugar-cane brain. This is exactly the video you'd hoped for: the platinum-blond songstress donning a majorette uniform, an eye-candy pep squad in a lowrider Impala rolling up on a marching band, and a group of cheerleaders doing a routine after storming the Kleenex aisle of a grocery store -- all as genius and banal as the song itself. -- Julianne Shepherd

Rating: 4

The only thirtysomething artist who could take over a high school and come off youthful, fly, and not out of place, Gwen and her bad-ass troupe of dancing Harajuku girls bring it on. Not since Toni Basil's "Mickey" have we seen such fine use of cheerleading in a video. -- Tamara Palmer

Rating: 4

This is the weirdest bunch of muted, brash nonsense to hit No. 1 since Prince's "Kiss." It's a crowning achievement for Gwen, pop music's greatest innovator of annoyance, perfectly cast here as a high school student. The single edit, with no "shit," piles on the delicious silence and, as part of the video, lets Gwen show off a like-buttah mani with her replacement shushing. Ingenious! -- Rich Juzwiak

Rating: 5

Our Winner: By the slimmest of margins, Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell, "Drop It Like It's Hot."

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