All the MTV VMA Performances We're Still Talking About

From Miley Cyrus and her foam finger to Lizzo and her bedazzled tequila bottle, here are all the performances fans may never stop talking about—for better or worse.

By Samantha Schnurr Sep 12, 2021 12:30 AMTags
Watch: What the MTV VMAs Looked Like 10 Years Ago

A bedazzled bottle of tequila. A foam finger. An albino Burmese python. 

Those are just some of the elements that helped take a handful of MTV Video Music Award performances from original to OMG. (You're totally picturing them right now, aren't you?) Since its debut in 1984, the MTV VMAs have become the stage for the bold, provocative, boundary-pushing and downright outrageous performances of artists' dreams. 

It seems like practically anything and everything has happened on the VMA stage in its near-four decades, whether it be shocking stunts or wild settings, surprise guests or big news.

Still, each new ceremony manages to usher in a fresh round of performances that reflect the culture and create a moment in Hollywood to stand the test of time. 

"Every VMA performance, that's what you're looking for," Miley Cyrus told MTV in 2013, on the heels of her own infamous outing with Robin Thicke. "You're wanting to make history."

The 2021 MTV Video Music Awards are already destined to do just that given the return of a live audience for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began. In 2020, the star-studded show relied on pre-recordings and significant social distancing to bring the show to life amid such unprecedented times. 

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Now, with stars like Camila Cabello, Lil Nas XKacey MusgravesNormaniShawn Mendes, Travis Barker and Machine Gun Kelly confirmed to perform during this year's show, it sounds like we can basically guarantee something attention-grabbing will unfold onstage once again.

Plus, with Doja Cat hosting, Billie Eilish and more celebs presenting and Justin Bieber leading the nominees this year, the show will be as star-studded as ever. 

Until the ceremony kicks off on Sunday, keep scrolling to revisit all the other MTV VMA performances fans still can't stop talking about—even decades later. Which new one will join the list next? You be the judge. 

Madonna (1984)

Madonna helped set the provocative and boundary-pushing reputation of MTV Video Music Award performances at the show's inaugural ceremony in 1984 when she crawled and rolled around the stage in a sexy bridal ensemble to her hit, "Like a Virgin."

Madonna (1990)

In 1990, the iconic performer put a sexy spin on 18th century France with this unforgettable routine to her famous track, "Vogue."

Britney Spears (2000)

With her first solo performance at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2000, Britney Spears dominated the stage in a now-iconic glittering nude costume to "Oops!...I Did It Again" and "Satisfaction." In those four minutes, she simultaneously cemented herself as a legendary part of the show's history. 

Britney Spears (2001)

The following year, the singer managed to top herself when she took the jungle-themed stage with a few wild co-stars to the tune of "I'm a Slave 4 U." First, she appeared inside a cage with a tiger and later danced with seven-foot albino Burmese python named Banana around her neck. 

Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Madonna (2003)

While Spears pushed the VMA boundaries with her previous performances, nothing was quite as shocking at the time as when she, Christina Aguilera and Madonna kissed during "Hollywood" in 2003 while dressed as brides and a groom.

Lady Gaga (2009)

For her first performance at the award show, Lady Gaga proved she doesn't hold back for her art as she concluded her avant-garde performance of "Paparazzi" bloodied and hanging above the crowd. 

Beyoncé (2011)

While Beyoncé is always one to deliver a standout show, her 2011 performance of "Love on Top" at the Video Music Awards will go down in history as one of her all-time most memorable since it also famously served as a pregnancy announcement

Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke (2013)

If there's one shocking performance that comes to everyone's mind when thinking about the MTV Video Music Awards, it would be Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke's controversial routine to "Blurred Lines" in 2013. Whether it was the dancing bears or the foam finger or Cyrus' twerking, the performance remains one of the most talked about moments in the show's history all these years later. 

Beyoncé (2016)

The same year she dropped her acclaimed visual album, Lemonade, Beyoncé impressively brought the tracks to life—bat included—on the VMA stage

Ariana Grande (2018)

Hailed as one of her best performances to date, Ariana Grande's live rendition of "God Is a Woman" finished with some very special guest stars: her mom and grandma. 

Lizzo (2019)

Lizzo redefined "good as hell" at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards as she delivered the ultra empowering performance of the night—inflatable butt, hair tosses and drinking from a bedazzled tequila bottle included. 

Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande (2020)

Between the Chromatica track list, impressive choreography, costume changes and an appearance from Ariana Grande for "Rain on Me"—all while masked—Lady Gaga dazzled viewers doing what she does best: putting on an unforgettable performance. 

(Originally published August 28, 2020 at 4 p.m. PST.)

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