Though MTV has seemingly ditched its musical roots ages ago, the annual Video Music Awards continue to keep the network’s nostalgia and passion for popular music thriving. The award show, now in its 33rd year, will celebrate music’s top artists, songs, and of course, videos and is guaranteed to offer major pop culture moments for years to come in true VMA fashion. Let’s take a look back at the show’s most memorable, outrageous, and jaw-dropping moments in VMA history.
10. Britney’s Snake Surprise (2001)
By 2001, Britney Spears was on top of the world and was certified as the reigning princess of pop and sex symbol across the globe. Britney has had her fair share of buzzed-about performances, but one that particularly sticks out is her VMA performance of “I’m a Slave 4 U” when she famously danced with a python (among other exotic animals) on stage.
9. Lady Gaga’s Meat Dress (2010)
Lady Gaga has become synonymous for her, ahem, interesting fashion choices. But topping the list as her most memorable garb is her infamous meat dress that turned heads and raised eyebrows at the 2010 VMAs. The get-up was the talk of the show but also stirred up controversy, particularly regarding animal rights. Whichever way you look at it, the meat dress remains one of Gaga’s most defining career moments.
8. Nirvana’s Live Rebellion (1992)
Nirvana did not care to play by the rules at the 1992 show. They stuck it to MTV executives who insisted they play either “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Lithium,” despite frontman Kurt Cobain’s argument to play “Rape Me.” Although Nirvana had ultimately agreed to MTV’s wishes, they opened their performance with the chords of “Rape Me” before launching into “Lithium.” The grunge band also had an ongoing feud with Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose that same night, which culminated in threats of a fight, damaging instruments, and insults thrown.
7. Madonna Sets the Tone…Then Shakes it Up (1984 & 2003)
Madonna performed “Like a Virgin” at the first-ever VMAs in 1984 clad in a wedding dress, which perhaps set the stage for many more outlandish moments to follow suit at future award shows. The singer recreated the performance in 2003, this time dressed as a groom alongside two brides—pop divas Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Onstage, the three puckered up in what became one of the VMAs most infamous moments.
6. Miley Cyrus: Good Girl Gone Bad (2013)
The former Disney darling ditched her good-girl image when she shocked audiences with a provocative performance alongside Robin Thicke. Cyrus performed her hit single “We Can’t Stop” before teaming up with Thicke on his smash hit “Blurred Lines” in a moment that had everyone talking the next day and made twerking not only a common term, but an official entry in the Merriam-Websters Dictionary. Cyrus is set to perform at this year’s show, leaving many to wonder if she will top her most infamous performance.
5. Kanye for President (2015)
In his first entry on this list, Kanye West garnered confused reactions when he proclaimed that he would be running for President in 2020. The announcement concluded a lengthy, rather strange acceptance speech for the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award in which he reiterated the importance of tolerance, slammed the judgment process of award shows and MTV all in one. Whether he actually goes through with a future campaign or was just caught up in the moment, there’s no denying that Kanye knows how to conjure up the best entertainment at the VMAs.
4. Michael Jackson’s Legacy Sealed (1995)
The King of Pop truly was a one-of-a-kind performer, which was evident in his 1995 VMA appearance. The late star dazzled audiences with his signature dance moves and had everyone singing along to several of his timeless hits. The standout moment was named the Best VMA Pop Performance and Most Iconic VMA Performance by fans in 2011, and remains to this day a show-stopper.
3. Justin Timberlake Reunites *NSYNC (2013)
Following the release of his wildly successful two-part album The 20/20 Experience, Justin Timberlake was deemed the President of Pop and honored with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the 2013 VMAs. Timberlake performed a high-energy 15 minute set of his biggest solo songs, but the real treat came when he was joined onstage by former bandmates JC Chasez, Lance Bass, Joey Fatone, and Chris Kirkpatrick for a brief performance that caused high-pitched squeals from fans around the world.
2. Beyoncé’s Baby News (2011)
When she announced her pregnancy with twins Rumi and Sir Carter earlier this year, Beyoncé seemingly broke the Internet. But she also did it at the 2011 VMAs, the same night she announced she was pregnant with first-born daughter Blue Ivy. Bey showed off a growing baby bump on the red carpet, and confirmed the news again after a stellar performance of “Love on Top.” She set a record as the subject of the most Twitter mentions per second that night, with nearly 9,000 tweets each second. It also helped the show become one of the highest-rated programs in VMA history. All hail the Queen.
1. Kanye West Interrupts Taylor Swift (2009)
The most memorable moment in three decades of the VMAs has to go to Kanye West’s bizarre interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for the Best Female Video award. While Kanye has become known for his erratic and even offensive behavior, this moment stands alone as his most controversial. Swift, then just a 19-year-old country music starlet, took home the prize for her “You Belong With Me” video much to the rapper’s chagrin, and he proceeded to let Swift and the world know that Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” video was the only worthy one in his eyes. The two have endured quite a turbulent relationship since this first meeting and combine for one of Hollywood’s most notorious celebrity feuds, which was recently reignited through Swift’s latest single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” the video for which is set to premiere during the show.
The 33rd MTV Video Music Awards will take place tonight live from The Forum in Los Angeles. Catch the show, airing at 8 p.m. EST. Katy Perry serves as host with expected performances from Lorde, Ed Sheeran, The Weeknd, Shawn Mendes and many more.