6 Biggest Video of the Year Upsets in MTV VMA History

Green Day over Nirvana? Neil Young over Michael Jackson? Look back at the most controversial wins

By Makeda Yohannes Aug 25, 2016 10:00 AMTags

It wouldn't be the MTV Video Music Awards without a bit of controversy.

You might tune in to the MTV VMAs every year to see your favorite performers take the stage, or to see which of your favorite artists take home a Moonman. After all, a VMA is a coveted addition to any musician's trophy collection. Of course, the Video of the Year award is the most prestigious category of the night. While everyone has their personal pick for Video of the Year, a few contenders were the odds-on favorites to win—and didn't. 

6. 2013: Justin Timberlake vs. Robin Thicke 

While Timberlake is a long-time fan favorite and his video for "Mirrors" won, Thicke's "Blurred Lines" (feat. T.I. and Pharrell) was one of the most controversial and popular clips. His music video without a doubt made everyone jump out of their seat and sing, "Hey, hey, hey!" at the top of their lungs.

5. 2005: Green Day vs. Kayne West 

With Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams taking" the win, 2005 was the year the word "Jesus" was flying out of everyone's mouth—and it was not in the usual church circumstances. Rather, it was due to everyone reciting the famous "Jesus Walks" lyrics as they jammed to West's music video. 

4. 2003: Missy Elliott vs. Justin Timberlake

Elliot's "Work It" video received top prize, which surprised teeny boppers everywhere. Timberlake's "Cry Me a River," a kiss-off inspired by his ex-girlfriend Britney Spears, was a TRL staple. Don't feel too bad for JT, though: the song rose to the top of the music charts and won him a Grammy.

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3. 1992: Van Halen vs. Nirvana 

The winner of the night was Van Halen's "Right Now," according to the VMAs. But according to fans' hearts, the true winner was Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," with all of its rock 'n' roll vibes. 

2. 1989: Neil Young vs. Madonna

"This Note's for You" gave Young his first VMA. It marked the first time since The Cars' win in 1984 that an act took home the main award without winning in any other categroy. The Viewer's Choice award, meanwhile, went to another controversial music video: Madonna's "Like a Prayer."

1. 1984: The Cars vs. Michael Jackson 

Sure, The Cars' "You Might Think" video was the first to ever win Video of the Year, but to nearly everyone's dismay, "Thriller"—Jackson's pièce de résistance—was a pop culture staple and should have been the winner. It was—and still is—one of the best music videos. Period.

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