From Miley’s foam finger wagging to Madonna’s “BOY TOY” belt, MTV’s Video Music Awards have set the stage for some of the most iconic and most talked-about moments in pop culture.
Since the show’s inception in 1984, the VMAs have packed a punch for surprise, controversy, and totally unwarranted interruptions. According to the show’s executive producer, Van Toffler, there’s a reason for that.
“I like to say, ‘Let’s put the crazy in the room, and we throw the match in the middle of the audience and artists, and we see what happens,” Toffler told the Associated Press in an interview.
No doubt, the show’s wild card factor has been a source of intrigue for viewers over the last three decades. And, silly as these awards shows may seem, they really do make a cultural impact. Think about it: Miley’s twerking was subject for debate in rhetorical criticism classes around the world. Six years after the fact, we’re still using IMMA LET YOU FINISH memes to enumerate on our thoughts.
With the 31st show underway tonight, we thought we’d hop in our time machines and revisit some of the most memorable and age defining moments, courtesy of the VMAs. Enjoy!
1. The moment Madonna performed “Like A Virign” (1984)
Madonna pretty much staked her claim as Queen of the VMAs with her “Like A Virgin” performance during the first show back in 1984. Thirty-one years later, Madonna’s wedding dress and “BOY TOY” belt have reached icon status (next to her cone bras, of course). Fun Fact: When Madonna was making her way down the wedding cake, one of her stilettos slipped off. Instead of panicking, M improvised like a pro and dove onto the floor in (what seemed like) a playfully planned moment. We couldn’t imagine the performance any other way.
2. Gwen Stefani’s blue topknots (1998)
Matching your hair to a faux fur bikini top never seemed so right.
3. Nirvana’s guitar-smashing performance of “Lithium” (1992)
After playing a few seconds of (what was at the time, their newest song) “Rape Me,” the guys broke into “Lithium.” By the end of the performance, Krist Novoselic had accidentally hit his head on his bass (he tossed it too high in the air) and Kurt was rolling on top of Dave’s drums.
4. The Michael Jackson/Lisa Marie Presley kiss (1994)
Long before the Madonna-Britney-Christina lip lock in 2003, MJ and Lisa Marie were the reigning champions of VMA kisses. Awkward as it may have been for the rest of us, the former married couple certainly had no qualms about PDA.
5. Lil Kim’s lilac onesie (1999)
Kim’s asymmetrical onesie was (and still is) one of the most daring outfits to ever walk the red carpet. Miley Cyrus, who is a memorable VMA alum herself, worked the lilac getup as her Halloween costume last year.
6. Courtney Love’s interview crash (1995)
If you thought Kanye West was the OG of VMA interruptions, wait ’til see Courtney Love crash Madonna’s post-show interview with Kurt Loder. After tossing her MAC compact onto a balcony just inches away from Madonna’s head, Courtney sat down for the remainder of [what was supposed to be] Madonna’s interview. Needless to say, the tension was sky high.
7. Fiona Apple’s state of the world speech (1997)
During the acceptance of her award for Best New Artist, Fiona Apple used her air time to let the world know what she really thought about celebrity culture (and, to be frank, she hit the nail on the head). “This world is bullsh*t,” she told the audience. “You shouldn’t model your life about what you think we think is cool and what we’re wearing and what we’re saying…go with yourself.” Although her bold statement was met with sparse cheers throughout the crowd, she still gets a standing ovation from us!
8. Tim Commerford’s dangerous climb (2000)
The party crasher torch was passed yet again when Rage Against The Machine’s Tim Commerford interrupted Limp Bizkit’s acceptance speech for Best Rock Video. Instead of walking on stage a la Kanye West, Tim opted to scale the stage’s scaffolding instead. Unfortunately, his antics landed him a night in the slammer.
9. The invasion of the Slim Shadies (2000)
The real Slim Shady and his army of lookalikes invaded Radio City Music Hall during the 2000 VMAs. After dropping off his dopplegaangers, Em closed his set with a fiery performance of “I Am Whatever You Say I Am.” Still, we’ll never forget the brigade of bleach blondes.
10. The (big) kiss (2003)
You know which one we’re talking about! Nearly 20 years after her “Virgin” performance, Madonna was joined on stage by two other “brides,” Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Contrary to popular belief, the infamous kiss wasn’t some extravagantly planned VMA moment. According to the show’s executive producer, Van Toffler, the kiss initially happened in rehearsal. Van received a phone call from the show’s director, who detailed the experience. “She said, ‘Van, you’re not going to believe this. They’re rehearsing now. They’re all together. And Madonna actually kissed Britney on the lips.’ And I said, ‘Please do me a favor. Don’t tell any other human on the planet that this is happening.'” As they say, the rest is history.
11. The interrupting Kanye (2009)
You know the story. You’ve seen the memes. I would finish, but Kanye would rather you watch the video.
12. Lady Gaga’s meat dress (2010)
Gaga sent folks into a frenzy when she walked onto the red carpet donning a dress made of 100% raw beef. Gaga explained the message behind the dress to talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, saying: “If we don’t stand up for what we believe in and if we don’t fight for our rights[,] pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones.” In case you were wondering, the dress has it’s own Wiki page.
13. Blu Ivy’s television debut. Sort of (2011)
After wrapping her “Love On Top” performance, Beyoncé broke open her sparkly blazer to reveal an adorable baby bump. Aside from this being the most Beyoncefied way to announce a pregnancy, it was also Blu Ivy’s (almost) television debut.
14. Lady Gaga’s head-spinning “Applause” performance(2013)
Lady Gaga put on an impressive performance of her 2013 “Applause” thanks to some insane choreography and multiple, mid-performance costume changes. How she managed to sing through all of this? Super powers, most likely.
15. Miley and Robin’s “Blurred Lines” performance (2013)
Thanks to Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke, twerking became a trending topic and countless debates ensued in classrooms, comments sections, and home kitchens for weeks. No matter your position on the issue, this performance is undoubtedly one of the most memorable and controversial in recent memory.
In a word: game-changing.
So what can we expect tonight? If we’ve learned anything, it’s that there’s no telling what will happen at MTV’s VMAs. But one thing is certain, we’ll be talking about this night for a long time to come.