By Carrie Berk
It might be tough to pick the winners, but one thing is sure when it comes to the MTV Video Music Awards: They are always memorable. After all, the VMAs are far more than an awards ceremony. They set the stage for iconic live performances, tearful tributes, and groundbreaking collaborations.
Among the many highlights from the 2022 event (broadcast live from New Jersey’s Prudential Center on August 28th on MTV and Paramount+) were: a greatest hits medley by Nicki Minaj, who won a Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award; Global Icon Award winners Red Hot Chili Peppers paying tribute to late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins; Kane Brown beaming in from a concert to become the first male country solo artist ever to perform at the VMAs; Eminem and Snoop Dog performing as cartoon avatars; and Lil Nas X showing off a feather-fabulous Harris Reed skirt and hat for the red carpet.
Raising the Steaks
Lady Gaga donned a dress and headpiece made entirely of meat for the 2010 VMAs to protest a controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell“ policy that prohibited members of the military from revealing that they were homosexual or bisexual. Like others who opposed the rule, Gaga saw it as restricting gay rights by keeping military members from coming out.
“If we don’t stand up for what we believe in, if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones,” Gaga said in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres.
LGBTQ+ fans were grateful, but animal rights activists saw red.
Britney Spears took the stage with a live python in 2001 to perform her hit single “Slave 4 U.” The daring performance made headlines, not just for Spears’ vocals and body-baring attire but for the giant snake slithering around her shoulders.
Kanye West vs. Taylor Swift
Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video in 2009 to express his disapproval. The rapper claimed Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” should have won. He was immediately removed from the venue.
At the end of her 2011 VMAs performance of “Love On Top,” Beyoncé unbuttoned her blazer to reveal a growing baby belly. She didn’t say anything—rubbing her belly was enough to announce that she was expecting a child.
Miley Gone Wild
During a controversial 2013 performance, Miley Cyrus twerked with Robin Thicke during a medley of “We Can’t Stop” and “Blurred Lines.” The provocative display was a shocking departure from Cyrus’ Disney Channel persona—and a very public declaration that the former child star was no longer a Disney ingenue.
Ally Brooke, Normani, Dinah Jane, and Lauren Jauregui threw shade at ex-group member Camila Cabello at the 2017 VMAs. As their performance began, an unidentifiable fifth member intentionally fell backwards, and the four girls continued without her.
Madonna Takes the Floor
Madonna started her performance demurely, wearing a wedding dress and veil atop a giant cake as she sang “Like A Virgin,” but the performance took a seductive turn when she began to crawl on the floor. She ended the song on her back, with her dress above her head.
Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley’s Lip Lock
Three months after getting secretly married, Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley showed off their romance with a kiss on the VMA stage in 1994. The PDA silenced fans and members of the press who doubted their union was authentic.
Drake publicly admitted his love for Rihanna on stage at the 2016 VMAs. He fawned over the singer while presenting her with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, admitting that she was “someone [he’d] been in love with since [he] was 22 years old.”
Lizzo’s Cheeky Performance
A large inflatable derriere dominated the stage during Lizzo’s 2019 VMA performance of “Truth Hurts.” The bum jiggled from side to side as backup dancers bopped to the beat.
Preserving MJ’s Legacy
Janet Jackson performed a moving tribute to her brother Michael at the 2009 VMAs, just months after his death. She sang their duet “Scream” in front of a large screen that projected a video of the King of Pop performing, giving the audience the impression that the siblings were together on the stage.