Kisses! Concussions! Kanye! On the eve of the 2012 ceremony (Sept. 6 at 8 p.m.), MTV Music Group president Van Toffler shares the stories behind the biggest video music awards shockers

By Kyle Anderson
August 31, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

1. Kanye storms the stage and interrupts Taylor Swift (2009)
”There’s no way any of us could have predicted that. Kanye came to the red carpet with a bottle of alcohol, so he was in a festive mood to begin with…. But we all were just in shock. Taylor was a champ. And she was about to perform! I would be lying if I said she and her mom weren’t crying when I saw them, but she pulled it together — and then I walked back behind the stage to find Beyoncé crying. She had the wisdom to bring Taylor out on stage later, and Taylor stayed to have her moment.”

2. Britney and Madonna swap spit (2003)
”This may be the first time it’s been revealed: Originally, J. Lo was in the mix. That didn’t happen. And Britney and Madonna, they had history, so it was not easy to get them together on the stage. [But] Britney and Christina [Aguilera] obviously respected Madonna. Only she could pull that off.”

3. Fiona Apple says ”This world his bulls—” (1997)
”I still have no idea what she was protesting [in her infamous acceptance speech], but I’m just happy that we provide a forum for artists…. That spirit that anything can happen, and you can’t really control the combustibility of musicians — it’s a place where they can let it all out.”

4. Lady Gaga morphs into Jo Calderone (2011)
”I called Gaga’s manager and I suggested to him, ‘It’d be great if Gaga could come in and do something different, almost counterintuitive, and do a killer intimate version of [her single] ”Yoü and I” as opposed to a massive, well-choreographed, full-of-explosions-and-tons-of-dancers kind of performance.’ A few days later he calls me back and says, ‘Yep, she’s in for ”Yoü and I,” she loves that, but she’s going to do it as a man, as her alter ego.’ Most responsible executives would say ‘Huh?’ but I was like, ‘Great, see you at rehearsal in a couple of weeks!’ ”

5. Nirvana vs. Gravity (1992)
”[Bassist] Krist Novoselic ended the performance bleeding. We knew he wasn’t seriously hurt, but he didn’t expect the bass to come down on his head [when he tossed it]. He probably should have practiced that one in rehearsal. We were like, ‘Look, we have another two hours left of this thing. Let’s strap in!’ ”

6. Beyoncé’s pregnant pause (2011)
”She showed up to rehearsal wearing really loose clothing, and we like to know the wardrobe choices that our artists are making — we’ve learned that the hard way. And I remember she said, ‘Take a close-up at the end of the song. No audience-applauding shot, I want you tight on me.’ It wasn’t until an hour before the show that we figured out [that she was unveiling her pregnancy]. Most of the artists didn’t know, and we got that great cutaway of Kanye with Jay-Z after the reveal.”

7. Eminem’s doppelgänger army (2000)
”The ‘Real Slim Shady’ performance with all the look-alikes was our idea, and to his credit, Eminem embraced it. He was the only performer to come in from outside the venue, and everybody flipped out. Not all the look-alikes had the blond hair he had at the time, so everybody had to dye their hair.”

8. Britney’s snake-charming (2001)
”Little-known fact: She actually broke out into a rash during rehearsal. I don’t know whether it was the snake or what, but she made it through. That’s the beauty of makeup! Some of these venues are [reluctant to have] live animals in the room. Crazy people? Yes. Live animals? It’s a little bit funky.”

9. Rage Against the Machine (and the VMAs set) (2000)
”When Tim Commerford from Rage Against the Machine climbed [the scaffolding] on stage, I remember saying, ‘How much weight can that hold? Because we can’t impale anybody.’ ” [Commerford was coaxed down and later arrested.]

10. Tommy Lee and Kid Rock get in the ring (2007)
”Tommy Lee and Kid Rock got into a fight [over shared love Pamela Anderson] during Alicia Keys’ performance. We didn’t know until they showed up on one of the cameras trying to throw punches at each other. We tried to deal with it as quickly as possible.”

11. Chris Rock’s rear offensive (1999)
”Chris Rock has tested me and all my relationships throughout the industry. I got some angry letters from J. Lo’s camp when he went after her. [To wit: ”I see Jennifer on TV thanking her mama and daddy, the acting coach. Thank your ass, girl. Thank your ass before your ass goes solo, ’cause the ass is the star of the show. Jennifer is just the Commodores — the ass is Lionel Richie.”] But Chris is a comedian, and he’s got that rock & roll attitude.”

12. Axl Rose goes AWOL (2002)
”Jimmy Fallon was the host, and we weren’t going to tell anybody about [Guns N’ Roses’ surprise performance] — he just teased it. We’re in the final commercial break, and Axl’s bodyguard Earl says that Axl went to take a walk because he was nervous. I was like, ‘That’s fine, but he couldn’t take the walk at 9 or 10? It’s 11 frickin’ o’clock!’ And at about 11:07 p.m., we hear from Earl that Axl’s back in the building — and sure enough, they closed the show.”