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1999 pop culture

photo
Jack and Karen
[Photo: NBC]

By PAMELA DAVIS and TOM ZUCCO, Times Staff Writers

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 24, 1999


Perhaps when we can watch Ricky Martin featured on VHI's Behind the Music, we'll know it was a year well spent. Until then, catch us on eBay.

It's so much easier to poke fun at pop culture than to embrace it. Example: We start out liking something, like the song Livin' La Vida Loca -- Spanish for "What are you, nuts? This is the only hit I'll ever have" -- but by the end of the year the tune makes us run screaming into the next room.

Pop culture gained lots of people, places and things this year. Some of the stuff strikes us adults as just plain incomprehensible, like Pokemon, which will not be mentioned again in this story. Other things such as those "Everybody in Vests" and "Everybody in Cords" Gap commercials weren't too bad. But there's no doubt as to our favorite pop culture phenomenon: the Behind the Music series on VH1.

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On the pop beat
Better later than never, hip-hop jams its way into our nation's frontal lobe.

On Stage
Rediscovering the creative genius that is Arthur Miller proves most satisfying -- here and on Broadway.

In pop culture
Perhaps when we can watch Ricky Martin featured on VHI's Behind the Music, we'll know it was a year well spent. Until then, catch us on eBay.

On the art beat
A vocal group of art supporters, combined with vigorous growth in galleries, puts St. Petersburg in the spotlight.

On the restaurant beat
Like a microchip off the old block, SideBern's guarantees foodies a bright future in dining.

On film
Filmmakers are redefining their craft. That means moviegoers found 1999 a challenging and sometimes a troubling experience.

On TV
This year's list of the Best Things on TV in 1999 can be summed up in a single word.

Though it has been on the air since 1997, it wasn't until 1999 that Behind the Music became a must-see show, and a daily event. If you didn't catch it, you'd be out of the loop when everyone talked about it the next day. All of a sudden we forgot all about that little Pop Up Video show that we loved so much last year.

Let's face it, we would rather get the dirt on our favorite music performers than read a bunch of clever little bubbles. Let A&E air the serious biographies of the serious people. We preferred the first-hand account of rock 'n' roll triumph and tragedy from the likes of Vanilla Ice and the Bay City Rollers.

The beauty of the show lies in its raw truth. Who knew that Bret Michaels of heavy metal band Poison had diabetes and almost died? Or that M.C. Hammer gave away all his money to his loser friends and ended up broke?

For many of us, the moment when the Behind the Music addiction kicked in full force was the airing of the Leif Garrett story.

Until that show, no one was thinking much about Leif. He was nothing more than a heroin-addicted pop idol has-been.

Then, we learned the real story.

Leif was behind the wheel during a car accident that paralyzed his best friend. But after the accident he couldn't face his friend and the two men stopped speaking . . . that is until Behind the Music brought them together.

There were tears. There were hugs. There were receding hairlines.

It was a historical TV moment, and thanks to VH1, we were able to watch the show over and over and over and over again. God bless cable!

But not everything is wonderful in our little pop paradise. Just last month, the series hit a critical low point with Behind the Life of Chris Gaines.

It was a fake Behind the Music about a fake singer and frankly, it was an embarrassment to the whole franchise. Go back to where you started, VH1. The real stuff is real good.

In no particular order, here are some of the best moments in pop culture for 1999:

BEST RETIREMENT NEWS: This is a tie between Celine Dion, who said she's taking a few years off to relax and make a baby, and toymaker Ty, which is going in the opposite direction and ending Beanie Babies. No more chest pounding from the overrated Celine (at least for now . . . this "retirement" looks none too permanent) and no more moms chasing UPS trucks on their way to Hallmark stores.

photo
Regis Philbin
[Photo: ABC]
BEST RECOGNITION OF A TV VETERAN: This was the year that Regis Philbin finally got the respect and kudos he deserves. Back in the day, he was Joey Bishop's sidekick. Lately he has been kicking butt during the host chat segment of his morning show. Yet it wasn't until he snagged the host duties of this year's surprise hit Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? that the world took notice of his off-kilter skills. Kathie Lee who?

BEST INTERNET DISTRACTION: eBay. The best place to buy junk is not the flea market; it's the World Wide Web. Here you can put in a bid for a log cabin in Maine, a set of dentures or even underwear. Better than buying is surfing the site to see who's willing to pay lots of money for all this stuff.

BEST KID TREND: Harry Potter. Kids went crazy over a character in, of all places, a book! They turned off the TV, put down the video game controls and actually read something worthwhile.

BEST TV COUPLE: Again, there's a tie. Though they aren't actually a couple in the traditional sense of the word, Jack and Karen on Will & Grace are the funniest thing to happen to TV in a long time. On Friends, we couldn't care less about Ross and Rachel. The couple du jour in that New York apartment complex is Monica and Chandler.

BEST SIGNS OF IMPENDING DOOM: Donald Trump and Warren Beatty running for president? Who was asleep when that happened? Then there was Woodstock '99, which was the usual circus of greed until the last hours of the three-day festival, when Rome (N.Y.) burned. We won't even touch Gary Coleman and his auction to raise money for himself, or the sleazeball who tried to sell a piece of the airplane the late Yankee star Thurmon Munson was piloting when he crashed 20 years ago. No, the topper was Mr. Loco -- Ricky Martin. When a marginally talented pretty boy with one (count 'em, one) hit can command up to $600 for a front row ticket to his show, we must be afraid. Very afraid.

BEST SUNSETS: 1999 signaled the end of "Peanuts" and William F. Buckley Jr.'s Firing Line. That's sad. It also marked the deaths of Joe DiMaggio, DeForest Kelley, Walter Payton, Mel Torme, Stanley Kubrick, Mario Puzo, John F. Kennedy Jr., Dusty Springfield, Shel Silverstein, Allen Funt, Wilt Chamberlain and George C. Scott. That's far more sad.

BEST STATEMENT ABOUT WHO WE ARE: We could go with those millionaire game shows or the surge in Internet activity, but here's something that combines three of our finest qualities: our obsession with fast food, our tendency to be overweight and the phenomenon of road rage. In November, Dion Rayford, a 270-pound University of Kansas football player, got stuck in the drive-through window of a Taco Bell when he tried to go after employees who -- imagine the nerve -- left a chalupa out of his order.

BEST STATEMENT ABOUT WHO WE WERE: Who else? Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. They re-formed in 1999 and yes, they were one of the finest bands in the world. In 1969! But now, not only have their song-writing talents slipped, but Neil Young looks like your crazy uncle Ned, Steve Stills is bloated and David Crosby has turned into a walrus. Graham Nash still looks something like his old self, but he has broken both his legs. Hey, guys, remember the opening line to Suite: Judy Blue Eyes? "It's getting to the point, where I'm no fun anymore."

BEST SIGNS LIFE DOES INDEED EXIST ON THIS PLANET: More people are tuning in National Public Radio and tuning out Howard Stern. A large number of people realized the new Star Wars was a beautifully wrapped present -- with nothing inside -- and refused to buy into the merchandising. And more people are realizing that maybe they should hang up and drive.

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