Eminem knows how to shock an audience — and back in 2000, Shady gave the MTV VMAs a potent dose of that shock value when he took over with an insane performance. Fifteen years removed, Marshall Mathers’ “The Real Slim Shady”/”The Way I Am” medley is just as striking.
It opened with a military line of Eminem lookalikes on New York City’s 6th Avenue, robotically bobbing their heads to the Dr. Dre-produced beat, before swarming Radio City Music Hall. It became a signature moment for Mathers and for the awards show.
Ahead of the 2015 VMAs, MTV News got the inside scoop on that remarkable set, by speaking with three masterminds behind the performance: Van Toffler [President of MTV in 2000], Dave Sirulnick [Executive Producer and head of MTV News at the time] and Eminem’s longtime manager, lawyer and friend, Paul Rosenberg.
Here’s Why You Saw Hundreds Of Shady Clones
Van Toffler: Eminem made great videos that were probably the most popular on “TRL” and MTV at the time. The challenge for all of us was, how do we recreate that mayhem in a live performance? How do we recreate the pageantry of an Eminem video?
Paul Rosenberg: The idea to have all those Slim Shadys was sparked by “The Real Slim Shady” video. I think it was originally Dr. Dre’s idea to create Eminems. The whole idea of the song was — there’s a lot of people like me, but I’m the real deal. And also that there’s a lot of carbon copies, but there’s a Slim Shady in all of us. We wanted to recreate that for the show with MTV.
Dave Sirulnick: Another thing that was important when we came up with the idea for the performance was the scope and size that this could represent. Eminem’s personality was so big, so the idea was that we weren’t going to be able to do this with five, 10 or even 20 Slim Shadys. This was 100 Slim Shadys strong.
Why The Beginning Of Em’s Performance Broke All The Rules
Sirulnick: In the 1990s, the VMAs had been at Radio City Music Hall many times so we wanted to do things a little differently. Heading into 2000, we had the idea to have a performance that starts outside in the middle of the city and then enters the building. Up to that point, that hadn’t been done before. We’d had outdoor performances for the pre-show and there had been some remote performances in other years, but the idea of bridging these two together was something we thought would be a great idea. We said, “This is the idea to use with Slim Shady.”
Eminem And Dr. Dre Were A Bit Alarmed By Those Shady Clones
Toffler: My recollection is that Em was a bit taken aback by the idea and was completely flipped out when he saw a hundred of these Eminems at the rehearsal, with the dyed blond hair just like him. I think he was just really blown away by the imagery.
Rosenberg: I remember saying, “Oh, my God. This is my worst nightmare,” but it was fun. All these kids were really excited to be involved. While we were rehearsing, Marshall was trying to get them to do things in unison, interacting with them and getting them to chant. I’m sure that he signed stuff for them at one point too. One of the things about Marshall is when he gets into a situation where he has to sign stuff, he doesn’t want to leave anybody out.
Sirulnick: I remember we had all 100 Slim Shadys arrive. We were starting to work with them and I remember distinctly that we had almost all of them in the lobby of Radio City and then Dr. Dre arrived. He knew what the performance was and he’d been a part of all that, but it’s still something when you actually see these guys. I remember walking with him and there’s all 100 of them and [Dre] had the greatest reaction, jokingly saying, “Oh my God! It’s my worst nightmare!” He loved it and he was having so much fun with it.
Everyone Was Really Worried About Pulling Off Such A Huge Stunt
Toffler: It was probably one of, if not the first performance where we went exterior to interior. So there were tons of concerns about audience flow, people being in their seats, about security and about who could have been a crazy extra dressed up like Eminem. I think there was a very high degree of difficulty, but no risk, no reward.
Rosenberg: You’re always worried. There’s always a concern that you’re gonna get some wild card [extra] but in this instance, I don’t think we had a problem.
Sirulnick: Rehearsing this was also a challenge. The way the VMAs are rehearsed, there are times when each group gets to rehearse in the days leading up to the VMAs. With Eminem’s performance, because we needed to rehearse the portion on 6th Avenue, in addition to having to close the street down the night of the VMAs, for 20 minutes or so, we also had to close it down during rehearsals.
Police Officers Were NOT Happy About The Rehearsals
Sirulnick: Like any rehearsal, you’ve got to try it a few times. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. So we were rehearsing and the way the guys were lining up and the way they were walking in, it just wasn’t quite working. It was good, but it wasn’t great. I remember with each pass, it was getting better, but we had a feeling that it wasn’t quite there yet.
Then we got the word from the police: “This is it. New York City needs their street back.” We all looked at each other like, “We’ve gotta get this one as great as it can be this time,” because we weren’t going to get a chance to rehearse the walk in until showtime again. So we had to rehearse it and get it to a place where everybody was happy with it and it came down to that last rehearsal.
After that rehearsal, we were like, “This has a chance to really work,” but when you do these shows long enough, there are many times when you do an awesome rehearsal and then you do the actual performance, and something goes wrong. Conversely, there have been plenty of times during my time with the VMAs where a performance will happen during rehearsal and it’s okay, but then show night, something happens and it just becomes magical. This was the rare time where the last rehearsal was really good and when we got to the show night, it actually got better. That is a testament completely to Eminem as one of the greatest performers around. During the show, he owned every second of that performance. He was as good as you will ever see a performer on television.
There Was An Amazing Eminem Moment You Didn’t See On TV
Sirulnick: When you’re doing this as a live television show and you’re one of the producers, one of your jobs is to always look a little bit ahead. So, when [presenter] Jim Carrey was doing the introduction to the Eminem performance, he was just being really funny and he had the room cracking up. Meanwhile, we’re watching on our monitors that Em is standing there waiting and you could see he had that look like a boxer waiting for the bell to ring to charge out to center ring. I remember thinking, “Man, he is going to kill it.”
Another really interesting thing happened. As soon as we cut outside to Eminem and he made that determined step towards the camera and people knew, “Oh my God, he’s going to come inside,” every single person inside of Radio City Music Hall stood up. They were all watching on the big screens inside. So, they saw the beginning of the performance but when he made that move, they were so drawn in and compelled by his performance and by wanting to just glimpse this…When he made those first couple of steps, it was electric inside. Everybody stood up because they were like, “Oh sh-t. He’s coming in.”
Did Eminem Plan That Carson Daly Handshake?
Rosenberg: I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a coincidence. I think Marshall knew where they were sitting. When you’re rehearsing for these shows, they put these little pictures of where [celebrities] are sitting so you can get an idea of where people will be. So I’m pretty sure they blocked it out to have Carson and Fred there and they were friends.
Toffler: He knew who was sitting where, so he probably had a sense, going down, where people were sitting, but in terms of [the Carson Daly handshake], that was not planned. We didn’t know what he was necessarily going to do. We just knew his path and we knew who was probably going to be on camera. It’s always a guessing game who’s staying in their seats, but there were a lot of people in that audience who were targets of his lyrics and I think we wanted to get a bunch of good reaction shots.
And Did He Leave Fred Durst Hanging On Purpose?
Rosenberg: I’m pretty sure that was accidental. I don’t think they were at odds at that point. I don’t think he meant to do that. When you’re in the heat of the performance and you have 100 kids walking by looking like you and you’re on live TV, you don’t really have a chance to necessarily do everything you want to do. I’m pretty sure that was an accident.
Why Eminem Closed With ’The Way I Am’ That Night
Toffler: He was probably the dominating king of ‘TRL’ at the time. So, it made sense to give him a longer slot for us. Because there was so much movement in ‘The Real Slim Shady’ in getting him from outside to inside, we had to find a way for him to do his thing center stage and do what he does best — being that charismatic, magnanimous performer who captivates the audience center stage.
Sirulnick: “The Real Slim Shady” is the Slim Shady character so it has a different vibe and tone to it. When he got on that stage and did “The Way I Am” – which is very much an Eminem/Marshall Mathers song – he switched so quickly into this other character and he was even more on fire doing “The Way I Am.” To me, it’s that combination of what he was able to do from the mischievous Slim Shady character leading 100 clones into Radio City Music Hall to take over everything and then instantly turning into this guy who’s up there doing this amazing vocal and lyrical performances of “The Way I Am.” It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
Rosenberg: That’s one of the things about Em, as an artist, that I’ve really enjoyed working with, is that he’s always had this sort of fun accessible stuff that he uses to lead you in and go on a path you might not know you’re going on and then hit you with records like ‘The Way I Am’ or ‘Stan’ or more extreme things like ‘Kim’ and stuff you might not know you’re getting into. So, [the performance] goes along with that theme of starting off where you might think it’s all fun and games and then going into something more serious.
Tune in for the next batch of memorable performances on Sunday, August 30, at the 2015 MTV VMAs.