From Madonna to Miley Cyrus: The most memorable VMA performances ever
Creating a memorable VMA performance can be done any number of ways—shocking collaborations, wardrobe malfunctions, on-stage intruders, on-stage makeouts, and then there’s always the option just to put on a really, really great show. And since the MTV VMA Awards first aired in 1984, all of those things have happened on the show’s stage … and more.
In honor of this year’s show, here are some of the most memorable VMA performances of all time:
1984: Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” performance
An obvious first choice was Madonna kicking off the VMAs by debuting her single, “Like a Virgin.” But because she’s Madonna, she didn’t just sing the song. She sang it in a wedding dress, on top of a wedding cake, and later, rolling around on the floor (as all good brides do).
1992: Nirvana’s “Rape Me”-into-“Lithium” fakeout
This performance is also known as that time Krist Novoselic knocked himself out with a guitar toss.
1995: Michael Jackson’s 15-minute performance
Fifteen minutes of Michael Jackson meant we got a taste of numerous songs, from “Beat It” to “Billie Jean” and “Black or White,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” and more. Add in moonwalking and Slash on guitar and there’s a very small chance anyone who saw it has forgotten this performance … ever.
2000: Eminem’s army of Slim Shadies
Will the real Slim Shady please stand up? When Eminem performed his hit song, followed by “The Way I Am,” he brought a few friends with him. Specifically, he and about 50 look-a-likes came into the show off the streets of New York to liven things up (bleached hair and all).
2000 & 2001: Britney Spears’ back-to-back naked outfit and snake performances
In 2000, all the buzz surrounded Spears’ scandalous nude outfit that she wore during a performance of “Satisfaction” and “Oops I Did It Again.” But in 2001, she decided to add a few accessories to her outfit, namely a very large snake, for her performance of “”I’m A Slave 4 U.”
2003: Madonna/Britney kiss
In a callback to Madonna’s iconic 1984 performance, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera both wore replicas of Madonna’s wedding dress for a performance of “Like A Virgin,” followed by Madonna coming out on stage in a black pantsuit—get it? she’s the groom—to sing her song “Hollywood.” Before Missy Elliott joined the ladies on stage, Madonna smooched both of her brides. So why did the Spears kiss cause more discussion? Two reasons: 1) There was more tongue; and 2) The camera man cut to Justin Timberlake’s reaction face when Madonna kissed Aguilera.
2005: R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” performance
R. Kelly performing “Trapped in the Closet” live was one of the most fascinating things that’s ever happened at the VMAs. It was just one man, on one stage, sing-talking, making a lot of gestures, playing multiple parts, and ultimately, succeeding at life.
2007: Britney Spears biffs “Gimme More”
In 2007, Spears was not in typical VMA shape. At the time, the singer was in the middle of a public meltdown and seemed to fake her way through a painful performance with obvious lip-synching, very little movement, and even less joy.
2009: Lil’ Mama crashes “Empire State of Mind”
Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind” performance almost went perfectly. If you cut to the 5-minute mark of the video, you’ll see they got a last-minute visit from Lil’ Mama, who crashed the stage just in time for Jay Z and Keys to strike their final pose. If Jay Z’s body language doesn’t say “get off my stage,” then nothing does.
2009: Lady Gaga “Paparazzi”
In typical Lady Gaga fashion, she made this a performance to remember by hanging from the ceiling, and more notably, throwing fake blood on herself.
2011: Beyoncé’s mic-drop baby reveal
At the beginning of Beyoncé’s “Love On Top” performance, she asked the audience to stand up and “feel the love that’s growing inside of me.” That sentence didn’t make all that much sense until the end of the song, when Beyoncé would drop the mic—after a killer vocal showing—and unbutton her blazer to reveal her growing baby bump. It was Blue’s first performance!
2013: Miley Cyrus’ plushie porn
There’s so much about this performance that’s burned into viewers’ brains. From Cyrus’ tongue to her twerking, this combination of “We Can’t Stop” and “Blurred Lines” was the performance that launched a thousand GIFs. Oh, and Kendrick Lamar and 2 Chainz were also there (if you could see them behind the perverse teddy bears).
2013: Justin Timberlake’s Video Vanguard performance
Timberlake took fans back through just about all of his biggest hits in this 15-minute performance. The most buzzed about moment was, of course, the very brief ‘N Sync reunion.
This year’s Video Music Awards air Aug. 24 on MTV.