A little flashing, some activism, a mispronunciation and a lot of dissing--messy business as usual at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, Thursday at New York's Metropolitan Opera House.

Hip-swingin' Ricky Martin took home five trophies--Best Dance Video, Best Pop Video and three international Viewer's Choice Awards for his breakout hit, "Livin' La Vida Loca." Grammy fave Lauryn Hill added four of MTV's silver moon men to her collection. Her "Doo Wop (That Thing)" was named Video of the Year.

A solemn Hill was mightily awed (or was it mightily ticked?) to be handed the night's big trophy by surprise-presenter Paul McCartney--moments after the ex-Beatle announced her win as belonging to, "Some guy named Laurence Hill." It was unclear whether McCartney was attempting one of those old witticisms or letting his unfamiliarity with the hip-hop world show.

Only host Chris Rock's intent was clear: He aimed to kill. The comic came out firing--an MTV-style Don Rickles--leaving smiling (stunned?) celebrity targets in his wake.

Rock on the long-term career prospects of boy groups the Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync and 98 Degrees: "Don't you know how this movie's going to end?"

On the presumably recording-enhanced "live" performances by Britney Spears and 'N Sync: "Why did they even have mikes on?"

On Ricky Martin and "Livin' La Vida Loca": "You need another hit real bad...[You] need a hit like a crackhead needs a hit."

On Jennifer Lopez: "She came with two limos...One for her, one for her ass."

On Fatboy Slim: "Looks like white boy retarded."

On The Blair Witch Project: "Oh, it only cost $60,000...Where the hell did all the money go?"

On Regis Philbin: "What the hell is he doing here?"

Well, then.

"He went at it a lot tonight," laughed Best Male Video winner Will Smith backstage about Rock's jibes--particularly those directed at Lopez (or, more precisely, her rump).

Other under-attack artists seemed no worse for the barrage. Ricky Martin shook his head and smiled to reporters on the subject of Rock's "La Vida Loca" ribs. "He's crazy," Martin said of the comic, going on to defend his ubiquitous single, saying the MTV Awards were the first he'd won for the song.

The Backstreet Boys, winners of the Viewer's Choice Award for "I Want It That Way," also laughed off what (they hoped) were the jokes. "That's just Chris," the Boys' Kevin Richardson said.

Maybe Rock's victims could appreciate that his jokes were the only things sharp in the three-hour show. The participants were on their best behavior, robbing the typically bleepable telecast of its unpredictable factor. Even the requisite party-crasher--an unidentified man who joined the Backstreet Boys on stage for their acceptance speech--was nonintrusive, imploring the audience to "Wake up and dream," before departing.

Only the Beastie Boys' Adam Horovitz and legend Diana Ross tried to rise to the occasion. Horovitz, accepting a Beasties' trophy for Best Hip-Hop Video, delivered the lone off-topic acceptance speech, imploring his brethren to prevent a repeat of the rape-ruined Woodstock '99.

"It made me feel really sad and angry," Horovitz said of the festival's reputed assaults. "I'm talking to all the musicians here--I think we can talk to the promoters and make sure they do something about the safety for all the women and girls who come to all of our shows."

Horovitz's plea came shortly after Diana Ross helped fluff up fellow presenter Lil' Kim's left breast, er, pasty, er, "dress."

In other curious actions, actress/presenter Pamela Anderson Lee attended the festivities dressed as My Fair Lady meets Frederick's of Hollywood. On-again husband Tommy Lee, meanwhile, wore a raincoat.

"I just threw it all together because I wanted to look kind of kooky today," Pamela Lee told reporters, before yelping in delight and running from the podium--the better to greet Tommy, who'd made full use of his evening wear and flashed his beloved spouse.

Meanwhile, Madonna, 1998's big winner, managed just one win--Best Video from a Film, for "Beautiful Stranger" from the Austin Powers sequel. It was her 18th career Video Music Award, making her the most-honored artist in the show's 16-year history.

On stage, the M One, sporting a new/old 1980s-style do, sounded notably bereft of the English accent she acquired a few years ago. There was no word on its whereabouts.

Here's a rundown of the night's major categories:

VIDEO OF THE YEAR: Lauryn Hill, "Doo Wop (That Thing)"

MALE VIDEO: Will Smith, "Miami"

FEMALE VIDEO: Lauryn Hill, "Doo Wop (That Thing)"

GROUP VIDEO: TLC, "No Scrubs"

RAP VIDEO: Jay-Z, featuring Ja & Amil-lion, "Can I Get A..."

R&B VIDEO: Lauryn Hill, "Doo Wop (That Thing)"

HIP-HOP VIDEO: Beastie Boys, "Intergalactic"

DANCE VIDEO: Ricky Martin, "Livin' La Vida Loca"

ROCK VIDEO: Korn, "Freak On A Leash"

POP VIDEO: Ricky Martin, "Livin' La Vida Loca"

NEW ARTIST: Eminem, "My Name Is"

VIDEO FROM A FILM: Madonna, "Beautiful Stranger" (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me)

VIEWER'S CHOICE (U.S.): The Backstreet Boys, "I Want It That Way"

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