Birthday surprises can be quite overwhelming. Gizzy with excitement, heady with the fumes of approximately 15 party poppers, and frozen with terror as the lights dim in a restaurant – the ominous first notes of ‘Happy Birthday’ ringing across the booths – we’ve all said and done stupid things when greeted with the sudden pressure to give a celebratory speech. With this in mind, perhaps you can understand exactly how Michael Jackson completely mucked up accepting his own 44th birthday present at the 2002 MTV Awards.
Put it like this; if you strode into a room to discover Britney Spears dancing around to ‘Billie Jean’ in a leather cap, right next to a gigantic cake iced with haphazard treble chefs, and a golden trophy, you’d be a little thrown by the whole dynamic. And when Michael Jackson walked into this hot damn mess, attempting to rapidly make sense of it all, he reacted in a very common manner. Understandably bewildered by the whole thing, he seized upon one sentence uttered by Britney as she wished MJ a happy birthday on stage, and tried his best to muddle through from there. A little like a first-year English Lit undergraduate bullshitting their way through a seminar on Beowulf having not read the damn book in the first place, MJ heard a starstruck Britney call him “artist of the millennium” in passing, and good grief, did he roll with the concept like an absolute trooper.
“When I was a little boy growing up in Indiana if someone told me I’d be getting the Artist of the Millennium award, I’d never have believed it,” he told the room, cradling his new birthday trophy in a confused manner. In a brief ‘acceptance speech’ the singer then thanked: God, the magician David Blaine, Gladys Knight, Diana Ross, James Brown, and numerous others.
The crowd, initially confused, seems to accept this new award wholeheartedly by the end, and it’s left to Britney to awkwardly shuffle back towards the microphone. “Hey!” she says cheerily. “Now, let’s take a look at the nominees for this year’s Best Pop Video!”
In this moment, MJ seems to realise his huge mistake, sidling his way slowly to the back of the stage as No Doubt troupe up to collect their actual non-fictional award. He hides so quickly, in fact, that Gwen Stefani doesn’t even appear to notice him on stage.
It’s unclear which Millennium MJ’s non-existent Artist of the Millennium award was actually referring to; obviously there’s a large difference between being crowned the greatest artist of the last one thousand years, and the greatest artist since, uh, 24 months ago. Either way, though, he accepted it graciously.
After the MTV Awards finished, a spokesperson for the channel called the whole thing a “a bit of a misunderstanding”, in what you might call ‘a bit of a gigantic fucking understatement’.
“There is no such award as the Artist of the Millennium. I think some wires got crossed.”