Remember when Britney Spears danced with a live python or that time Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift in the middle of her acceptance speech? Wild moments like these have become commonplace at the MTV VMAs. You never know what outrageous thing celebrities will do to top the previous year.
Since its debut in 1984, the Video Music Awards has thrived on being the unpredictable and risqué sibling of America’s award shows. Each year, there is at least one headline moment that makes viewers gasp. So, get ready to clutch your pearls as we review the most iconic and unexpected moments in VMA history.
Courtney Love Pulled a Kanye Before Kanye (1996)
Courtney Love was interrupting other celebrities long before Kanye West even made it to the VMAs. Yet, most people forget that she famously, in her typical fashion, disrupted Kurt Loder’s post-red-carpet interview with Madonna at the 1996 VMAs by throwing a makeup compact at the pop singer.
Loder then invited Love to join the interview, where she continued her erratic behavior. Madonna barely kept her cool and threw some passive-aggressive shade at Love. The uncomfortable encounter goes down as one of the most cringe-worthy interviews ever caught on tape. However, it was relatively mild compared to other VMA moments.
Lady Gaga Smelled Like a Barbecue (2010)
Lady Gaga has worn some bizarre outfits over the years, but nothing tops her 2010 VMA meat dress. The singer donned 40 pounds of thin-cut Argentinian beef that she was stitched into backstage. The extra-rare dress with a matching purse and headpiece left her smelling like the beginning of a barbeque.
Not only was it a bold fashion choice, but Gaga informed everyone that the dress was a statement for human rights and what you believe in. Animal rights groups condemned the meat dress. Today, it is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was preserved by a taxidermist as a type of jerky.
Britney Spears Wasn’t the Only One Slithering Across the Stage (2001)
Besides her father, the biggest snake Britney Spears has ever worked with is the albino Burmese python from her 2001 performance of “I’m a Slave 4 U.” During the Amazonian-themed performance, Spears’ dance moves were polished, and she moved like a snake even before Banana the python joined her on stage.
While PETA wasn’t too thrilled with the stunt, Spears’ performance went down in music history. The iconic moment marked her departure from Disney-esque teen bops and entry into adult pop. She might have been afraid of Banana at first, but she wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to stun everyone.
Michael Jackson Thought His Birthday Cake Was an Award (2002)
Michael Jackson had many historic and strange moments at the VMAs throughout his career. In 2002, the award show happened to fall on his birthday, so producers planned to present him with a cake. Britney Spears introduced him as the artist of the millennium, so Jackson thought he was getting an award.
Jackson went on stage, assuming he won the “Artist of the Millennium” award and started to make a speech. No one stopped him, and things got weirder when he gave a shoutout to David Blaine, saying, “Your magic is real, and I believe in you.” Meanwhile, the beautiful cake was sitting right behind him.
When Kanye West Started a Decade-Long Feud (2009)
“Imma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.” The interruption was heard worldwide, leading to a decade-long feud between Taylor Swift and Kanye West. After winning the Best Female Video award, Swift was shocked when Kanye emerged from the audience.
When he snatched her mic and hijacked her acceptance speech, Swift stood by as Kanye announced that Beyonce should have won the award instead. The iconic moment led to years of awkward encounters, diss tracks, and Swift going into hiding. Kanye said God told him to do it, so he obviously had to, right?
A Not So Innocent Mid-Performance Makeout (2003)
Almost 20 years after she released “Like a Virgin,” the OG Queen of Pop set the stage with a wedding cake once again. This time Madonna was joined by Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera for a rendition of the hit song, and it left quite the impression.
Spears and Aguilera were trying to break out of their teen idol boxes to prove they were not so innocent. Madonna decided to help them in that department by locking lips with them. It was a moment no one could forget even if they wanted to.
Nirvana’s Bassist Hit Himself in the Face (1992)
As Nirvana rose to superstardom, they gained a reputation for destroying instruments. While it fit their rocker image, their stunts didn’t always go according to plan. When they performed at the 1992 VMAs, Krist Novoselic’s bass did more damage to him than vice versa.
When Nirvana took the stage to perform “Lithium,” Novoselic stole the spotlight by tossing his bass in the air. It was a move he did at many of their concerts, but he failed to catch it this time. The guitar hit him in the face, and it looked pretty painful.
Eddie Murphy Took a Meeting in the Ladies’ Room (1985)
The award show was still finding its place when the second annual VMAs aired in 1985. Eddie Murphy was on a hot streak in Hollywood, so he was given the honor of hosting, and he stole the show with a strange impromptu skit.
While Glen Frey made an acceptance speech, Murphy interrupted him and proceeded to take Frey and presenter Morris Day on a trip to the press room. He made detours along the way, stopping in the ladies’ bathroom. He surprised a woman freshening up, and the show had to cut to a commercial.
Janet Jackson Danced Her Heart Out (2009)
The 2009 VMAs took place just a few months after Michael Jackson’s sudden death, and his absence was felt deeply. The King of Pop had performed numerous times, and the music industry wanted to honor him in a meaningful way.
The late singer’s sister, Janet Jackson, was the perfect person to perform the loving tribute. She recreated the duet “Scream,” a song she and Michael collaborated on. Janet danced her heart out as a video of Michael doing the same choreography played behind her. The performance had the entire audience on their feet.
Diana Ross Meets Lil’ Kim’s Cleavage (1999)
Lil’ Kim made quite the impression when she arrived at the VMAs wearing an electric purple wig that matched her revealing jumpsuit. The outfit allowed her left breast to be free with just a pastie covering it. However, that wasn’t even the most shocking part.
When Diana Ross joined Lil’ Kim and Mary J. Blige to present the Best Hip-Hop Video award, she was fascinated by Lil’ Kim’s freeness. Ross skipped the generic greetings and went straight to fondling Lil’ Kim’s chest. Luckily, Ross got a big laugh from Lil’ Kim.
Prince Brought the Cheekiness (1991)
During his seven-minute performance of “Get Off,” the late artist wasn’t afraid to get a little frisky. In typical Prince fashion, he demonstrated 23 positions in a one-night-stand, leaving little to the imagination in his yellow cutout suit. Even his nearly naked backup dancers couldn’t steal the spotlight.
Prince remained the focus despite the flame-filled, multi-tiered stage with multiple musicians, especially after a few spins revealed the cheeky cutouts on his backside. He gave everyone something to talk about, and it was the highlight of the evening.
Blurring the Lines of Appropriateness (2013)
No matter how hard people try, they can’t seem to get the image of Miley Cyrus in a nude latex bikini twerking on Robin Thicke out of their brains. The performance started with Cyrus popping out of a giant teddy bear to perform “We Can’t Stop.”
It got more uncomfortable to watch as Cyrus twerked around with dancing bears while she continued to stick out her tongue. The cringe-worthy segment ended with her stripping down to the nude bikini as Robin Thicke joined her to sing “Blurred Lines.” It’s still burned in our minds.
The Most Over-the-Top Pregnancy Announcement (2011)
There wasn’t an award or performance that could have overshadowed Beyonce’s headline-worthy announcement at the 2011 VMAs. As she finished singing “Love on Top” in a shimmering, sequined blazer, Queen Bey opened her jacket to reveal a noticeable baby bump.
Everyone in the crowd lost it as Beyonce rubbed her belly. It was the most significant pregnancy announcement of all time, with millions of viewers watching at home. Only Beyonce could top herself when she broke the internet a few years later to announce her second pregnancy.
Will the Real Slim Shady Please Stand Up (2000)
Who knew it was so easy to find a bunch of white guys with bleach blonde buzz cuts in 2000? Surprisingly, it was pretty simple for Eminem to cast several lookalikes for his 2000 VMA mashup performance of “The Real Slim Shady” and “The Way I Am.”
The Eminem clones made for one of the most memorable performances of his career. Accompanied by his small army, Eminem stole the show and made a lasting impression. But seriously, will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
Macy Gray Promoted Her Album in an Interesting Fashion (2001)
If there’s anyone who knows how to promote an album, it’s Macy Gray. The “I Try” singer took her moment of screen time as a presenter to get the word out about her upcoming album. She wore a dress that no one could ignore.
Gray donned a gown that was a blend of pink lace and metallic denim with iron-on silver letters that read, “My new album drops Sept. 18, 2001.” On the back, it said, “Buy it.” The unique dress had everyone talking, but it didn’t help her album’s sales.
The Relationship Announcement No One Wanted (1994)
“Just think, nobody thought this would last,” and it didn’t. Before Michael Jackson’s brief marriage to Elvis Presley’s daughter ended, he and Marie Presley made their relationship public on the 1994 VMA stage. The unlikely couple shared an awkward kiss for everyone to see.
Jackson looked like he was ready for a bullfight while Presley seemed to be having second thoughts about their stunt and the whole relationship. The kiss itself looked more unnatural than the people standing around the stage waiting for Jackson to start speaking.
Madonna Set the Tone for Performers (1984)
Wherever Madonna goes, she never fails to shock people. At the first Video Music Awards in 1984, she might not have won the most awards, but she surely made history. The Queen of Pop posed as a life-sized bride on top of a 17-foot wedding cake.
Madonna surprised the crowd with “Like a Virgin,” the title single from her album that hadn’t been released yet. Then 26, she rolled around and added some thrusts while wearing a mix of white lace and punk bling. She initially wanted to sing with a live tiger, but that was shut down.
Banned for Life (1989)
While getting banned from the VMAs might seem challenging, considering how much they tolerate, Andrew “Dice” Clay did the impossible. We don’t know what producers expected when they gave the X-rated comedian a three-minute slot to introduce Cher, but he took his jokes too far for TV.
Clay took the opportunity to debut two of his infamous “dirty nursery rhyme” jokes. To make matters worse, he also uttered George Carlin’s “seven dirty words you can never say on television.” After this stunt, he was not only banned from the VMAs but from all of MTV.
“Miley, What’s Good?” (2015)
The VMA stage is known not only for performances but also for revealing celebrity beefs. When Miley Cyrus hosted the VMAs in 2015, she started pre-show drama when asked about Nicki Minaj’s comment about the type of people nominated for Video of the Year in a NYT interview.
Cyrus said she was unimpressed with Minaj’s complaints about the VMAs lack of diversity. When Minaj accepted her award that night, she said, “And now back to this b**ch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley, what’s good?” Those are fighting words.
Rihanna Swerved on Drake (2016)
The 2016 VMAs were special for Rihanna because she was honored as the Video Vanguard Award recipient of the evening. However, her former boyfriend Drake took the moment to make things awkward for the singer and the audience when he presented her with the award.
He took a chance and professed that he had been in love with Rihanna since he was 22. When she walked on stage to accept the award, Drake went in for a kiss, and she quickly dodged his advances. Rihanna smoothly avoided an uncomfortable lip lock on national television.
Rose McGowen Left Little to the Imagination (1998)
If you thought Lil’ Kim’s pastie and jumpsuit combination was revealing, you must have missed Rose McGowan’s 1998 red carpet look. While she might not have been a performer that evening, she went down in VMA (and award show) history for the most scandalous outfit.
Her dress, or lack thereof, was basically a bunch of strings and mesh. At least she wore a thong, which matched her then-boyfriend, Marilyn Manson’s outfit. While many shocking looks have been on the red carpet, we don’t know if anyone has topped this.
Rage Against the Machine Raged at Their Loss (2000)
The rock band walked the line between politics and music throughout their career, but Rage Against the Machine’s reputation seemed to collapse at the 2000 VMAs. The band performed and competed for the Best Rock Video award but lost to Limp Bizkit.
When Limp Bizkit won, Rage Against the Machine’s bassist, Tim Commerford, didn’t take the loss lightly. Instead of putting on his “gracious loser face,” Commerford interrupted the acceptance speech and climbed on the stage’s scaffolding. He spent the night in jail and spurred the band’s breakup.
“Heard Any Good Jokes Lately?” (1991)
Paul Reubens had been dealing with a lot of bad publicity in 1991. After being arrested for self-pleasure in Florida, CBS pulled reruns of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and his mugshot spread like wildfire. He became the punchline of every joke, but Reubens picked himself up.
When he presented an award at the 1991 VMAs, Reubens took the stage dressed as his character Pee-wee. With five words, he proved that he still had a sense of humor. He said, “Heard any good jokes lately?” If you can’t beat them, join them.
Lil’ Mama Was an Unwelcomed Guest on Stage (2009)
It had already been two years since Lil’ Mama’s “Lipgloss” went viral, but she didn’t want to give up her 15 minutes of fame. If she hadn’t been a judge on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew, Lil’ Mama wouldn’t have even been invited to the 2009 VMAs.
However, she made a spectacle of herself and ruined her chances of getting another invite. When Jay Z and Alicia Keys were performing “Empire State of Mind,” Lil’ Mama got carried away and joined them on stage to show her NY pride. Jay Z did his best to ignore her, but it was hard.
NSYNC Revived Our Teenage Dreams (2013)
In 2013, Justin Timberlake was being honored with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the VMAs. While his solo career had already been a massive success by then, Timberlake hadn’t forgotten where he started. For his big performance, he brought it back to the beginning.
Timberlake made every ‘90s kid’s dreams come true by reuniting NSYNC on the VMA stage. The original members danced and sang through their greatest hits, including “Girlfriend” and “Bye Bye Bye.” Like most people, Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez were caught fangirling in the audience.
Missy Elliot Proved That Legends Never Disappear (2019)
Although her career hit an all-time high in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Missy Elliot proved that her career will always be legendary. At the 2019 VMAs, she received the Video Vanguard Award and took fans down memory lane with a medley of her top hits.
Missy Elliot’s performance included “Get Your Freak On,” “Work It,” “Pass That Dutch,” and “Lose Control.” As Cardi B phrased it, she is a “living legend.” The segment got everyone out of their seats, and she solidified her immense power in the music industry.
Lady Gaga Was Too Gory (2009)
Inspired by the tragic death of Princess Diana, Lady Gaga staged her own death at the 2009 VMAs. As her first eligible year at the award show, she earned nine nominations, but her performance cemented her status as a different kind of pop star.
Gaga’s theatrical performance of “Paparazzi” caused quite the stir as fake blood dripped down her white outfit, and she pretended to hang herself. It was definitely dramatic, and she has continued to make bold statements every time she appears at the VMAs.
Milton Berle Wasn’t a Fan of the Audience (1993)
Few presenter pairings have been as perfect as Milton Berle and RuPaul, the most famous drag queens of their times. The two presented an award to Aerosmith, but not for their song “Dude Looks Like a Lady,” and it wasn’t as glorious as it could have been.
While this pairing could have been comedy gold, the chemistry between Berle and RuPaul was not what people expected. Berle was annoyed by the rowdy audience and said, “Shut up, will ya?” Meanwhile, whenever RuPaul adlibbed, Berle would say, “He wasn’t supposed to say that.”
Tommy Lee and Kid Rock’s “Fight” Sent Someone to the Hospital (2007)
The 2007 VMAs were the first and last time the award show took over the Las Vegas Palms Casino. The show took over the whole hotel, but things started to go south when Kid Rock pretended to attack Tommy Lee while Alicia Keys performed.
The show continued to derail when Mastodon’s guitarist got into a post-show fight and was sent to the hospital for a concussion and brain hemorrhaging. Everything about the evening was a disaster, and the following year, the show returned to a more traditional venue.
Fifth Harmony Invented Pettiness (2017)
If Fifth Harmony ever wanted to change the group’s name, they could call themselves the “Shady Ladies.” After Camila Cabello left the group, they performed at the VMAs for the first time without her. However, they made sure to let everyone know they weren’t over her departure.
As the group began their performance, five shadowy figures appeared on stage. Just before the music started, one of the figures was dramatically pulled off stage, which people assumed represented Cabello. It looks like the girls were still hurt that she ditched them.
Someone Grab Justin Bieber a Tissue (2015)
There was a time when Justin Bieber was seen as the bad boy of the music industry. He went down a dark path for a while, but in 2015, the pop star made his big return to the VMA stage. Halfway through his mashup of “Where Are U Now” and “What Do You Mean,” Bieber broke down in tears.
He later revealed that he was nervous about everyone judging him. As an artist who has been booed on stage more than once, he was afraid his comeback wouldn’t be as successful as he had hoped.
Beyonce Made a Powerful Statement (2016)
Just when you thought Beyonce couldn’t top her pregnancy announcement moment, she set the bar higher with her 2016 performance. During the unforgettable 17-minute medley of songs from her Lemonade album, she made sure to include an important social message.
During the segment, Beyonce gave a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement and closed the performance by standing powerfully in front of an enormous sign that spelled out “Feminist.” The image instantly became a part of pop culture history. Beyonce never disappoints a crowd.
Weird Al Tried to Out-Woo the Audience (1989)
You might know him for his parody songs like “Amish Paradise” and “White and Nerdy,” but some people know him from his bizarre VMA moment. While presenting an award with Jasmine Guy, Weird Al didn’t let the hyped-up crowd’s excitement get past him.
Every time the crowd started to “woo,” Weird Al would “woo” back at them but louder. Meanwhile, his co-presenter looked more than uncomfortable with a fake smile plastered across her face. He then tried to steal the Moonman from Guy when the winners weren’t present to claim the award.
MCA Joined the Interrupting Legacy (1994)
In 1994, R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” video won the award for Best Director. However, that didn’t sit well with Beastie Boys’ MCA. When Michael Stipe got up to accept the award, MCA stormed the stage like many other people have throughout VMA history.
He argued that the Beastie Boys’ video should have won the award and called R.E.M.’s win a fluke. MCA made things weirder when he said he came up with the idea for Star Wars. Stipe was confused because he thought Bono was jumping on stage.
Miley Cyrus Exposed Everything (2015)
When Miley Cyrus hosted the VMAs in 2015, there were many shocking moments throughout the evening. It started with her wild outfits, which were clearly inspired by Lil’ Kim’s pasties, and Cyrus showed off a little more than she expected.
At one moment, Cyrus accidentally flashed her nipple, and MTV aired it. She was backstage switching costumes behind a black curtain when the cameras showed up. The moment was so quick that no one actually saw anything, but it was a moment to remember.
Van Halen’s Reunion Wasn’t Smooth (1996)
Van Halen has had a troubled past with their lead singers, and it is one of rock’s best soap operas. A significant moment in this drama played out in front of the VMA audience in 1996. David Lee Roth joined the band for the first time in over a decade to perform.
They were promoting a greatest hits album, but it was evident that the relationship between Diamond Dave and Eddie Van Halen was still frayed. Van Halen’s reunion was not what people expected, and it took another decade for them to repair their relationship.
Ariana Grande Brought Soul Cycle to the Stage (2016)
The VMA stage is the perfect place for over-the-top displays and performances. Artists go all out with extravagant sets and outrageous routines. However, none of those compare to Ariana Grande’s 2016 performance of her song “Side to Side.” She brought her Soul Cycle class to the stage.
Grande and her backup dancers powered through the song while riding stationary bikes, lifting weights, and dancing on pommel horses. We will never know how she managed to belt out the hit single without getting tired. Whatever her workout routine is, we want to try it.
Taylor Swift Defined “Squad Goals” (2015)
After some not-so-great moments at past VMAs, Taylor Swift decided to bring her girl gang to the award show for support. She showed up with her “Bad Blood” squad, and they assembled on the red carpet for an iconic photo op. Her friend group couldn’t have been more star-studded.
Swift’s squad included Gigi Hadid, Martha Hunt, Hailee Steinfeld, Cara Delevingne, Selena Gomez, Serayah, Mariska Hargitay, Lily Aldridge, and Karlie Kloss. The group’s photo cemented the term “squad goals” into everyone’s vocabulary. If we had famous friends like her, we would bring them everywhere too.
Kelly Clarkson Was Worth Every Drop (2005)
As Kelly Clarkson was rising to the top of the charts, the American Idol winner got the opportunity to perform at the 2005 VMAs. She performed her hit single “Since U Been Gone,” and the fierce rendition showed that she was a force to be reckoned with.
What made the performance so crazy was that Clarkson unleashed an indoor thunderstorm, which had never been seen before. It took 3,000 gallons of water to pull off the stunning visual effect, and it was worth every drop. No one has used that much water since.
Eminem Can Take the Heat (2002)
Before the 2002 VMAs, Eminem was already at odds with Moby. He was also facing backlash because of his problematic lyrics. The artists sat only a few seats apart at the ceremony, and tension built throughout the night.
When Eminem took the stage to accept his award, he said, “That little Moby girl threw me out of my zone.” The crowd booed him, and Moby responded at a press conference. He said, “Let’s all try to be easy on Eminem… he’s just another white guy trying to make an honest living stealing Black people’s music.”
Howard Stern’s Flatulent Routine Wasn’t a Blowout (1992)
When Howard Stern was still climbing to fame, he decided to use the VMA stage to promote his movie franchise. He created the character Fartman, who originated in The National Lampoon pages. Stern hijacked the character for the award show.
The flatulent comedy routine didn’t go over well with MTV, and Stern’s plans for a Fartman movie were crushed. When a comedian has to resort to bathroom jokes, you know they have run out of material. Let’s just say it wasn’t a highlight of Stern’s career.
Machine Gun Kelly Almost Got Into a Brawl (2021)
As we have seen in the past, the VMAs are full of drama, which adds to the appeal of the award show. However, no one could have predicted that Megan Fox’s beau, Machine Gun Kelly, would be the source of a big scene on the red carpet.
The event had barely started when MGK got into a scuffle with MMA fighter Connor McGregor as they posed for pictures. The two had to be separated before it turned into a full-out brawl, but we almost wanted to see that fight. McGregor might be short, but he is an MMA champion.
2020’s Virtual Show Was… Interesting (2020)
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 VMAs were outrageous. MTV decided to put on virtual awards show for safety reasons, and the show was forced to pivot to remote segments. Host Keke Palmer and presenters were seen on a digitally rendered rooftop with a CGI crowd.
Some bizarre highlights of the evening included Lady Gaga’s numerous outfit (and mask) changes for her performance, Miley Cyrus’ backdrop was almost blinding, and the Black Eyed Peas had illuminated crotches. Overall, it was the most bizarre ceremony in the show’s history.
Let’s Talk About Their “Baby Daddies” (2021)
While these two are not musically inclined, Megan Fox and Kourtney Kardashian are in relationships with two famous musicians. To introduce Machine Gun Kelly and Travis Barker, MTV gave the spotlight to Fox and Kardashian, which turned out to be quite strange.
It was hard to focus on what they were saying because of Fox’s nude illusion dress that almost topped Rose McGowen’s 1998 look. If you missed their introduction, Fox said, “New York, I need you to get extra loud for our future baby daddies,” while Kardashian stood there awkwardly waiting for her cue to remember the performers’ names.