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How the VMAs died

MTV's Video Music Awards, whose 2013 installment is to air Sunday night, is one of the most storied franchises in music. If the Grammys are best known for big collaborative performances featuring white men with guitars, the VMAs are perhaps best-known for over-the-top pop spectacles.

The ceremony is particularly associated with two pop stars, both of whose careers have been tracked by the evolution of the ceremony. The first is Madonna, whose best-known performance, writhing in a wedding gown, took place at the inaugural VMA ceremony. At the 20th ceremony, in 2003, Madonna restaged the performance, this time dressing as a groom and kissing Britney Spears, whose incarnations, from innocent-ish teen to raunchy adult to breaking-down ex-starlet to rehabbed and dead-eyed, have tracked with the latter-day development of the ceremony. As artists like Madonna and Britney -- world-beating stars with sustained chart success recognized by more or less everyone -- have gotten harder and harder to find, the ceremony has come to feel less like the provider of a single water-cooler moment and more like a mélange of parts that don't quite fit together.

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