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Is the music video dead?
It’s a question that’s been asked a million times over, but one that music publications like Billboard claim to have answered. “It’s absolutely thriving,” they wrote last year, pointing to efforts by Beyoncé, Childish Gambino, and even Ed Sheeran to prove that now, more than ever, people are actually watching videos.
This brings us to MTV's annual Video Music Awards. Launched in 1984, the showdown pays tribute to the best songs, artists, and, yes, music videos, that reflect the time we’re living it.
But all that aside, we tune in every year because, well, the VMAs are damn sexy.
Since their inception, they’ve given us crazy-unexpected exchanges between award-winning musicians and newcomers that are hard to forget. In honor of the 2019 VMAs — catch them live on Monday, Aug. 26 at 8 p.m. ET on MTV — we’ve compiled a brief but solid list of the wildest moments in VMAs history.
Hopefully, something this year will top all of these.
Madonna Sings “Like a Virgin” for the First-Ever VMAs, 1984
The ‘80s were a different time, and I wasn’t alive back then so I can’t relate. But apparently, Madonna’s sexualized performances and saucy riffs on the Catholic Church upset people. Her response? Keep doing it! She hit the stage at the inaugural VMAs in a bridal gown, eventually losing her shoe (it was an accident) and rolling around provocatively.
Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley Kiss, 1994
In retrospect, was this really that “wild”? People freaked after the newlyweds locked lips to kick off the ‘94 show. As Entertainment Weekly recalls, their love-romance-drama was the subject of tabloid fodder, and we suppose they felt the need to validate it in public.
"Just think, nobody thought this would last,” Jackson said before the smooch. Less than two years later, their relationship was over.
Fiona Apple, Way Ahead of Her Time, Says “This World Is Bullshit”, 1997
After accepting the Breakout Video award for her 1997 song “Criminal,” Apple delivered a speech with a message that could be applied today: "This world is bullshit, and you shouldn't model your life about what you think that we think is cool, and what we're wearing and what we're saying and everything. Go with yourself."
Diana Ross Gives Lil’ Kim a … Tap, 1999
This one doesn’t require much of a description. Lil’ Kim wore that infamous pink-purple outfit with an exposed breast and a pasty, and, well, Ross couldn’t help but take notice.
Britney Spears Hits the Stage with a Snake, 2001
By 2001, Spears had sexed up her act, regularly wearing next to nothing on stage and releasing Britney, an album that helped catapult her from teeny bopper to pop queen thanks to saucy hits like “I’m a Slave 4 U.”
Britney solidified her new image when she hit the stage in tiny bedazzled shorts with a green bra and yes, a real-life, gigantic yellow python.
Michael Jackson Accepts a Fake Award, and It’s Britney Spears’s Fault, 2002
It’s all because of Britney, bitch! The rundown? The 2002 VMAs fell on the same date as the late Michael Jackson’s 44th birthday, and Spears (the hottest pop star back then) presented him with a sweet case and birthday wishes. That’s all it was supposed to be, however, because Jackson heard her refer to him as the “artist of the millennium,” he went with the term, delivering an acceptance speech for an award that doesn’t exist. Oops!
Britney Spears and Madonna’s Make Out Session, 2003
In a performance that alluded to Madonna’s 1984 performance of “Like a Virgin,” the pop legend shared the stage with Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears to perform her then new hit, “Hollywood.” Of course, everyone low-key forgot that Aguilera was even there after, out of nowhere, Madge and Brit-Brit locked lips.
Spears’s ex Justin Timberlake also left feeling #shook.
Britney Spears Performs “Gimme More,” No One Wants More, 2007
2007 was the year that Britney Spears shaved her head, and it was also the year that MTV chose the pop star to open their beloved VMAs for a major comeback. Unfortunately, things didn’t go over so well. Spears stumbled back and forth between her dancers while looking disinterested and lethargic. The New York Post ripped into her, calling it a “totally lame, pathetically lip-synched” performance and the New York Times said, “She didn’t disappoint; She was awful.” Yikes!
Kanye West Steals Taylor Swift’s Shine, 2009
No one (not Kanye, not Taylor, not Kim Kardashian) has fully recovered from this moment. Can’t recall what happened? Swift took home the award for Best Female Video thanks to “You Belong with Me,” besting Beyoncé's "Single Ladies." But West rushed the stage, telling her, “Taylor, I’m really happy for you, and I’ma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.” The audience booed him, and later on in the evening, the gracious Queen Bey welcomed Swift to the stage to finish her speech.
Lil Mama Comes Out of No Where, Crashes Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’s Performance, 2009
This still doesn’t make any sense. At the end of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’s live rendition of “Empire State of Mind,” a song that only includes Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, Lil’ Mama (of “Lip Gloss” fame) thought it’d be genius to hop on stage and pose alongside a fabulous vocalist and (arguably) the greatest rapper of all time. She later apologized for the incident, and opened up to Complex about the backlash she received from fans. “It took a lot of mental strength, spiritual strength, and physical strength, not to want to hurt others, not to want to hurt myself. A person could be damn near suicidal," she said.
Lady Gaga Bleeds Everywhere, 2009
"Paparazzi" is about the perils of fame and all the ways in which celebrity can be painful. Lady Gaga took the theme a bit literally when she began "bleeding" out on stage. People lost their minds, and we suggest replaying the very end of the clip, where you’ll here everyone in the room gasp in horror.
Lady Gaga’s Meat Dress, 2010
Believe it or not, Gaga’s meat dress served as a meaningful symbol rather than just an attempt at shock and awe. She wore it in protest of the military's Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. “As you know, I'm the most judgment-free human being on the Earth. [The dress] has many interpretations, but for me this evening it's [saying], 'If we don't stand up for what we believe in, if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones,” she told Ellen DeGeneres. Here we are.
Beyoncé Confirms Her Pregnancy (Long Before Rumi and Sir), 2011
Officially marking her territory as the Queen of the Reveal, Beyoncé hit the red carpet in 2011 cradling her bump. But after wrapping up an energetic performance of “Love on Top,” singing, “Tonight I want you to stand up on your feet. I want you to feel the love that’s growing inside of me,” she stood stage center and rubbed her belly, confirming that yes, she was expecting her first child, who’d later be named Blue Ivy.
Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus Get Weird, 2013
Awkward. Cyrus hit the stage to perform alongside Robin Thicke for a version of “Blurred Lines" — a hit dubbed “rapey” for lyrics that could easily be interpreted as an anthem for sexual harassment that painted women as objects. Still, Cyrus twerked in front of him on stage, rubbing her foam finger on him and making everyone feel very uncomfortable.
Nicki Minaj Comes for Miley Cyrus, 2015
So, in 2015, Cyrus called Minaj “not too kind” in a New York Times interview in response to a Twitter feud between Minaj and Taylor Swift. After taking the stage, Minaj directly confronted Cyrus — that year’s host — and said, “Now, back to this b— that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press,” adding, “Miley, what’s good?!”
UPDATED: This story has been updated from a previous version on 8/21/2019