A History of Every Unforgettable Moment From the MTV Video Music Awards

The annual award show has always kept fans on their toes—and here's all the proof.

By Samantha Schnurr Aug 24, 2019 11:00 AMTags
Britney Spears, Madonna, Christina Aguilera, VMAWireImage

For as much as things change, they also stay the same. Exhibit A: the MTV Video Music Awards. 

Since the inaugural ceremony in 1984, the event has garnered a reputation as Hollywood's most unpredictable award show, one that still holds true three decades later. Beginning with Madonna's unforgettable live rendition of "Like a Virgin" while dressed as a bride to Cardi B teasing the debut of her newborn daughter on stage last year, stars always find a way to keep fans on their toes when it comes to the VMAs. 

Arguably one of the most famous moments in the MTV show's history was when Madonna joined forces with top songstresses Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera to open the 2003 show, sealing their place in the annals of VMA history with that kiss before Missy Elliott took over with her iconic hit, "Work It."

2019 MTV VMAs: By the Numbers

16 years later, the rapper is being honored at this year's VMAs as the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award recipient. Meanwhile, Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift are leading the nominee pool this year as the two stars tied for the most nods. With performances and appearances scheduled from Shawn Mendes and Camila CabelloLizzo, the Jonas Brothers and Elliot herself, standout moments are once again sure to be in store.

But, until host Sebastian Maniscalco takes the stage at the Prudential Center in New Jersey to kick things off on Monday night, revisit MTV's history of unforgettable VMA moments in E!'s gallery below: 

Rage Against the Machine, 2000

Who could forget when Rage Against the Machine bassist Tim Commerford expressed his displeasure at the band losing an award to Limp Bizkit by storming the stage and scaling a display tower? Although his moment was short-lived on television—since the network cut to a commercial—in reality, Tim's night was not since he was arrested and sentenced to a night in jail.

Lil Mama, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, 2009

Believe or not, the Kanye West-Taylor Swift incident was not the only impromptu onstage moment to happen during the 2009 show. After the now-infamous interruption, Lil Mama decided to unexpectedly join fellow New Yorkers Jay-Z and Alicia Keys during their duet of "Empire State of Mind."​

Madonna, 1984

The "Material Girl" famously sang "Like a Virgin" while rolling around the stage in a white wedding dress. 

Howard Stern, 1992

The Shock Jock lived up to his raunchy reputation when he was lowered onto the stage as a superhero named Fartman.

Kurt Cobain vs. Axl Rose, 1992

The two were involved in one of the most famous rock feuds. At the 1992 VMAs, tensions ran high backstage, where Cobain's wife Courtney Love, who also brought along then-newborn daughter Frances Bean, taunted Rose, prompting the Guns N' Roses frontman to threaten to beat up Cobain if he didn't shut his "bitch" up. Kurt then told Love, sarcastically, "Shut up, bitch!"

After he performed with his band Nirvana, the group's drummer Dave Grohl kept saying "Hi, Axl!" into his mic.

Michael Jackson & Lisa Marie Presley, 1994

Shortly after their wedding, the couple walked on stage holding hands as the audience cheered. After Jackson declared, "I'm very happy to be here and just think, nobody thought this would last," the King of Pop and Elvis Presley's daughter shared a kiss and walked off. 

Fiona Apple, 1997

The songstress won the award for Best New Artist in a Video, but used her acceptance speech as an opportunity to speak out against Hollywood, telling viewers, "This world is bulls--t."

Diana Ross and Lil' Kim, 1999

While presenting Best Hip-Hop Video, the legendary singer unexpectedly tapped Lil' Kim's exposed left breast.

Britney Spears, 2001

The pop princess unforgettably took the stage for her performance of "I'm a Slave 4 U" with a snake draped over her shoulders.

Eminem vs. Moby, 2002

Amid an ongoing feud between Eminem and MobyTriumph the Insult Comic Dog poked fun at their beef while roasting the latter artist to his face in the VMAs audience. Triumph then attempted to do the same to Eminem, who was not in the mood.

Eminem later took to the stage to accept the award for Best Male Video and said mid-speech, "That little Moby girl threw me out of my zone for a minute."

Britney Spears & Madonna, 2003

To open the show, Britney, Madonna and Christina Aguilera joined together for a rendition of "Like a Virgin" and "Hollywood," sealed with a headline-making kiss between the women. 

Britney Spears, 2007

The pop princess made her highly anticipated return to the VMA stage, though her performance of "Gimme More" was panned. 

Kanye West, 2009

The rapper crashed the stage when Taylor Swift won Best Female Video because he thought Beyoncé "had one of the best videos of all time." When Bey later won for Video of the Year, she asked T.Swift to join her on stage to have her moment.

Lady Gaga, 2010

Gaga made headlines when she sported the now-unforgettable meat dress by Franc Fernandez as the most awarded star of the night. 

Beyoncé, 2011

The pop star announced she and Jay-Z were expecting their first child together when she cradled her baby bump on the red carpet and literally dropped her mic and rubbed her baby bump at the end of her performance of "Love On Top."


Justin Bieber, 2011

The Biebs had his own snake moment when he brought a baby boa constrictor named Johnson to the show.

Miley Cyrus, 2013

Hannah Montana who? The former Disney star twerked her way into MTV history with her performance of "We Can't Stop" and a duet of "Blurred Lines" with Robin Thicke.

Nicki Minaj vs. Miley Cyrus, 2015

While accepting the award for Best Hip-Hop Video for "Anaconda," Nicki confronted Miley, who was hosting, over negative comments she had made about the rapper in a New York Times interview. She called the pop star a "bitch" and asked her, "What's good?"

Kanye West, 2015

At the end of his lengthy Video Vanguard acceptance speech, the rapper unforgettably announced his plan to run for president in 2020. 

Drake & Rihanna, 2016

The rapper sparked headlines when he declared his love for the songstress while presenting her with the 2016 Video Vanguard Award, telling the audience, "She's someone I've been in love with since I was 22-years-old."

Fifth Harmony, 2017

On the heels of Camila Cabello's exit, the girl group shocked the world when they opened their performance with the image of a fifth member falling off the stage.