The 2016 MTV Video Music Awards air this Sunday at 9 p.m./8 p.m. central, and many of us are taking a trip down memory lane to prepare for the always entertaining, always viral, and sometimes bizarre moments that become permanent parts of pop culture history.
While the grand entrances and fashion choices at the VMAs always leave a lasting impression, the winning performers’ acceptance speeches on stage are often even more iconic. Whether musicians express important statements on social injustice or originate the latest meme, it’s always memorable.
Fiona Apple, 1997
Beginning with a quote from Maya Angelou, the incredible and subversive Fiona Apple turned her acceptance speech into an opportunity to then tell MTV viewers, “You shouldn’t model your life about what you think that we think is cool… Go with yourself.”
Beastie Boys, 1999
When the Beastie Boys accepted their award for Best Hip Hop Video that year, Ad Rock (husband of the baddest riot grrrl, Kathleen Hanna) used his time on stage for something extremely important. Ad Rock spoke out against the sexual assaults that had occurred earlier that year at Woodstock ’99, and called on other artists to work together to end rape:
“I read in the news and heard from my friends all about sexual assaults and the rapes that went down at Woodstock ’99 in July, and it made me feel really sad and angry… We can talk to the promoters and make sure that they’re doing something about the safety of all the girls and the women who come to our shows… I think we can talk to the security people to make sure they know and understand about sexual harassment and rape and they know how to handle these situations.”
MCA of the Beastie Boys (rest in peace) would later give a politically-charged speech as well.
When Drake won Best Hip Hop Video for “HYFR,” which utilized heavy bar mitzvah imagery, Drake used his acceptance speech to uplift other black Jewish kids who have felt marginalized:
“The video, it’s about being me… Being black and Jewish. I went to this house party one time, and when I showed up there, it was a bunch of kids and I ended up getting made fun of…. I want to dedicate this award to any kid that’s ever had a long walk home by yourself, you know what I’m saying? This is to you man for real. We made it.”
So, while this wasn’t a speech, Beyoncé accepted the 2014 Video Vanguard Award with a medley of her first groundbreaking visual album. And the performance included Bey standing in front of the word “FEMINIST,” hugely projected for the millions of viewers at home to see — while Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recited her definition of “feminist,” sampled in “***Flawless.”
Nicki Minaj, 2015
“Yo Miley, what’s good?” was the four-word question heard ’round the world after Nicki Minaj called out Miley Cyrus in a takedown of the “angry black woman” stereotype and cultural appropriation. Minaj later elaborated:
“If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle, bond with us, dance with us, have fun with us, twerk with us, rap with us, then you should also want to know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us.”
Kanye West, 2015
Y’all remember when Kanye turned his acceptance speech into an announcement about his eventual run for presidency?
Taylor Swift, Kanye, and Beyoncé, 2009
We all remember these speeches even if we’ve tried to forget them, but you know they have to go into this kind of list.