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MTV's VMAs: Celebrating the unpredictable

Britney Spears
Can she top last year? Britney Spears rehearses her performance for the awards show.  

(CNN) -- When the curtain falls at the end of the Thursday night's MTV Video Music Awards, most of those who saw it probably won't be discussing who won best video. More likely, they'll be discussing what someone did.

Ever since the VMAs started in 1984, the ceremony hasn't been as much about who wins as it is about what happens during the free-for-all event.

Madonna shocked some Reagan-era viewers during that first VMA, writhing in a wedding dress while singing "Like A Virgin." And last year, Britney Spears stripped off most of her clothes (and her innocent image) during her live number, while controversial rapper Eminem showed up with an army of look-alikes (and, oh yeah, he also won best video).

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This year, it's anybody's guess what will transpire on the live telecast from the Metropolitan Opera House in Manhattan's Lincoln Center, starting at 8 p.m. ET. What might be remembered most is a planned tribute to Aaliyah, the singer who died in a Bahamas plane crash August 25.

Or, artists in attendance might once again do something to remember. The latest rumor is, Spears plans to show up with live cheetahs in tow.

And the nominees are ...

Here's a look at top suspects, who also happen to be nominated for VMAs.

Fatboy Slim and Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott lead the charge. Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice" has nine nominations, including video of the year, which features silver screen bad guy Christopher Walken doing his best Fred Astaire impersonation. The video was directed by Spike Jonze ("Being John Malkovich").

Elliott, meantime, played a part in two songs that are both up for six nominations each, including video of the year: "Lady Marmalade" was produced by Elliott, and features Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya, and Pink; "Get Ur Freak On" is Elliott's chance to show her vocal styling.

Rounding out the nominees for video of the year: Eminem's "Stan," U2's "Beautiful Day," and Janet Jackson's "All For You."

Fatboy Slim
Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice" is up for best video and best dance video awards.  

*NSYNC is up for six honors for "Pop," including (appropriately enough) best pop video.

Eminem's "Stan" will compete for best male video against Lenny Kravitz's "Again," Robbie Williams' "Rock DJ," Moby's "South Side," and Nelly's "Ride Wit Me."

Along with Elliott and Jackson, Madonna's "Don't Tell Me," Dido's "Thank You," Jennifer Lopez's "Love Don't Cost A Thing," and Eve's "Let Me Blow Ya Mind" will vie for best female video.

It should be noted that Gwen Stefani of No Doubt lends her vocals to songs in both the best male and best female categories: "South Side" and "Let Me Blow Ya Mind."

Up for viewer's choice award are Backstreet Boys' "The Call," Nelly's "Ride Wit Me," Destiny's Child's "Independent Woman Part 1," Limp Bizkit's "My Way," *NSYNC's "Pop," and Eve's "Let Me Blow Ya Mind."

A total of 21 awards will be handed out.

Remembering Aaliyah

The mood is sure to turn somber when Aaliyah's brother, aspiring filmmaker Rashad Haughton, addresses the crowd following a tribute to his sister.

It will be the first time any member of Aaliyah's family has spoken publicly about the accident since it happened. The funeral for the 22-year-old was held last Friday in New York.

Jamie Foxx
Jamie Foxx is hosting the MTV Video Music Awards for the first time.  

This year's VMAs will be hosted by comic actor Jamie Foxx. He's scheduled to kick off the event by performing a "hip hop opera."

"Since we're at the Met, we've got some opera that we have to sing," Foxx told CNN's Bill Tush. "So we're going to do a little hip hop opera. It's going to be off the hook."

Alicia Keys, who's up for Best New Artist and the new MTV2 Award, says she's looking forward to the "off the hook" experience.

"I'm so proud of my video," she says of "Fallin'." "I'm excited. The most exciting thing for me is going to perform tonight. It's going to be a marvelous thing and I can't wait to get out there and have some fun."

• MTV: 2001 Video Music Awards

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