Latin or American?

Given the fact that about half the videos in rotation on MTV Latin America are in English, it's not surprising that artists such as Black Eyed Peas, Lenny Kravitz, and Beastie Boys performed at the network's third annual Video Music Awards Latin America on October 21. The event opened with U2's Bono offering a pre-recorded welcome to the event in Spanish, and it ended with a smashing performance by the Beastie Boys. Meanwhile, the south-of-the-border artists for whom the ceremony was ostensibly created were sandwiched in between.

Parading into the Jackie Gleason Theater on top of a giant tongue carried by bare-chested men, the ever-provocative Mexican bombshell Paulina Rubio, the host of the evening, immediately had everyone schwinging up in their chairs as she talked about how MTV' s artists speak in different tongues, then asked the audience to stick out theirs.

While no one could resist Rubio's sexual antics (like taunting Cuban-American rapper Pitbull during his "Culo" performance by shaking her flushed cheeks beneath a pink tutu) they proved to be equally impressed with her compatriot Julieta Venegas, who cleaned house by winning awards for Artist of the Year, Best Solo Artist, and Best Artist -- Mexico. Tijuana's Cinderella girlishly flirted with rapper MC Babo from the Mexican band Cartel de Santa as she skipped across the stage, pumping an accordion as she sang her hit single "Lento." Venegas proved that even in Latin America, a historically machista part of the world, being a talented female musician is just as effective as shaking your booty. Later, Kravitz spoke eloquently in Spanish when he presented Venegas with the Artist of the Year Award.

In other highlights, Chilean rock band La Ley kicked up their heels and sang a Spanish language version of OutKast's "Hey Ya!" Finnish band The Rasmus's performance of "Guilty" had a few Bon Jovi moments that probably didn't resonate with the handful of gringos in the theater, but was right on target for, say, an MTV Latin America fan in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, who lumps Def Leppard and Pearl Jam all in the same category: rock americano. That's the person MTV Latin America is trying to reach; after all, U.S. cable companies don't broadcast the channel (opting instead for the all-Spanish MTV En Español).

The VMAs LA producers did a fine job of programming a variety of musical performances. The audience embraced the mix of pop, hip-hop, and hard rock by cheering just as loudly for socially conscious Mexican rap-metal band Molotov, who encouraged American Latinos to get out and vote, as they did for Argentine romantic pop crooner Diego Torres.

"I thought the show was free-spirited and fresh," said Despierta America host Oscar Petit as he left the concert.

"I think it helped to open people's eyes to the fact that there are a lot of strong artists in every country in Latin America," added Petit's friend Suzie Bermudez.

But if Juanes is the king of Latin American pop, maybe his soulful performance of "Nada Valga Sin Tu Amor'" ("Nothing is Worth Anything Without Your Love") should have opened the show instead of Bono's videotaped greeting. And if Molotov is the best hip-hop/rock band in Latin America, then why, as confetti rained down on us during the final performance of the night, were we encouraged to look north toward the U.S. and the Beastie Boys? Let's hope MTV Latin America does a better job of focusing on Latin American artists next year.