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BEING SEEN IS THE THING AT FREE-FOR-ALL MTV AWARDS

The ninth annual MTV Video Music Awards promise live performances Wednesday from bigger-than-life rock groups such as U2, Guns N' Roses and Nirvana.

The show also promises yet another installment from MTV's bigger-than-life publicity machine. Year after year, the music cable network manages to secure giant bands for a ceremony whose significance exists only on MTV.The award is not the thing in this awards ceremony. Being seen is the thing. Performing with exposed buttocks or a man peering under your skirt doesn't hurt, either.

Leading this year's nominees is L.A.'s premier hard-rock band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, competing in categories including best video and best group.

The Peppers also are performing, and given the group's opposition to clothes, Wednesday could be a very interesting night indeed.

The ceremony, to be broadcast live from UCLA's Pauley Pavilion at 7 p.m. MDT will feature Dana Carvey as host and Mick Jagger, Magic Johnson and Eddie Murphy as presenters.

Since the award program's premiere in 1984, it has evolved into a free-for-all music event punctuated by provocative performances and attended by mostly industry insiders.

Last year, pop recluse Prince performed "Gett Off" in a yellow jumpsuit sans seat. In 1990, Madonna created a stir with her 17th century rendition of "Vogue" that included dancers cavorting beneath her floor-length hoop skirt.

MTV's huge global network, as well as its cemented pop culture status, helps fuel the award ceremony's soaring popularity.

This year's show will be seen in 150 countries.

One thing to keep in mind: These are awards that MTV, in effect, gives to itself. The work being rewarded is seen primarily on MTV. The carrier of the awards ceremony is MTV. The recipient of all the hype surrounding these suggestive rock events is MTV.

The cable network not only promotes the ceremony for weeks beforehand, it reruns the thing afterward, much in the same way it takes performances from "MTV Unplugged" specials and then drops them into the regular MTV video rotation.

But this year's ceremony will contain two notable differences from those of years past. First, the site is new. And second, there will be more fans attending.

Wednesday's show will originate from the 12,819-seat Pauley Pavilion, a venue twice the size of the program's usual Universal Amphitheater home.

Nearly half of the seats will be sold to the public for Wednesday's event. Until this year, only a limited number were available to fans because most tickets were sold to music industry members.

What this means to viewers is that Wednesday's program will be extremely loud because of screaming fans.

The lineup also includes rock legends such as Eric Clapton, whose "Tears In Heaven" video from the film "Rush" is nominated. Also appearing are The Black Crowes, Def Leppard, Pearl Jam, The Cure and En Vogue.

Van Halen and En Vogue are tied for second place in nominations, with six each.

Category recommendations for Van Halen's "Right Now" video include metal-hard rock, group, editing and direction.

Dance group En Vogue's "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" is up for direction, choreography, editing, dance, cinematography and group.