From the day they first pick up an instrument until they put it down for the last time, musicians go through certain rites of passage that they are likely to always remember. There’s their very first performance, the first time they hear their song on the radio, the first time they’re recognized on the street — and, of course, there’s the first time they appear on MTV. For many artists, that unforgettable first comes in the form of their debut video, but a number of others found alternate routes to airtime, from backup dancing to scoring a cameo in the video of a friend to simply volunteering as an extra.
Take a look at some of this year’s Video Music Award nominees and their first times on MTV:
Before he strapped on the bulletproof vest, 50 Cent wore padding of another kind. Five years prior to becoming a household name with “In Da Club,” the Queens, New York, MC appeared as a hockey player in Onyx’s video for “React.” 50 raps from the bench, but with helmet on and stick in hand, he’s ready for the ice.
In her VMA-nominated solo videos, Gwen is flanked by her Japanese dancers, Love, Angel, Music and Baby. But Stefani was with her fellow No Doubters when she first appeared on MTV, back in 1992. The video was “Trapped in a Box,” and it cost just $5,000 to make, a far cry from the lavish “Hollaback Girl” and “What You Waiting For?” clips. Gwen still rocked the platinum blond, she just covered it up with a backwards white baseball cap. It’s her then-boyfriend, Tony Kanal, who looks the most different, sporting long black locks. Stefani has said she was big into overalls at the time, but she’s wearing a plaid jumper here. The clip’s rooftop scene was shot at Gwen’s grandma’s house, where No Doubt also filmed the “Just a Girl” video.
“I was in ‘Thriller,’ ” Elliott deadpanned, before laughing, “No, I’m just playing.” She was, however, in several videos before she broke out as a solo artist, beginning with Jodeci’s remix for “I’m Still Waiting.” “That’s when I was in a group called Sista,” Elliott explained. “I haven’t seen that video since I don’t know when. I think we had on black vests. All I remember is those ponytails. I think we were by a pool or something.” Actually, it was a Jeep, but her head-bob move is instantly recognizable — it’s the huge hoop earrings and flipped-up brim that separate her from the fashionable Miss E we have come to love.
Years before Odadjian and his high school friends formed System, the band’s bassist appeared on MTV as an extra in AC/DC’s video for “Big Gun” from 1993’s “Last Action Hero” soundtrack. He was just 13 years old. “You see me full-on,” Odadjian said. “It just happened where Arnold Schwarzenegger came next to me. … It was bad lighting, because they had more light on me than they did Arnold. And I’m watching it going, ‘Whoa, dude — I’m on TV!’ It was really strange.”
More than a decade before they reinvented themselves with the political concept album American Idiot, Green Day debuted on MTV acting a bit like idiots (tearing up a couch with a knife, for instance) in their 1994 video for “Longview.” Aside from hair color and number of tattoos, however, the band’s look has remained mostly the same over the years.
Although it was only a few years ago, it’s easy to forget Kanye was once just a lowly producer happy with a split-second shot in one of his clients’ videos. West made his MTV debut in Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” clip, dancing with a trio of ladies and showing off the tattoo on his left arm. In a camouflage Padres shirt, Kanye was hardly the dapper dresser he is today, but bling props for the belt buckle.
Nowadays, Ashlee is a multimillion-selling artist like big sis Jessica, but back in 2001, she was riding her coattails as a backup dancer on the “TRL” Tour with Destiny’s Child, Eve and 3LW. When MTV cameras chronicled a day on the road for a special, Ashlee found herself on the network for the first time. “I was, like, sitting in the background on the bus,” Ashlee recalled, laughing. “It was funny.”
The braids and goatee, the pimp cup, the fo’ shizzle — none of his latest props accompanied Snoop Doggy Dogg (as he was known then) when he first hit MTV, appearing in Dr. Dre’s 1992 video, “Deep Cover.” Snoop was still representing for Long Beach, however, with a white hometown cap covering up his box haircut.
It’s hard to imagine Mariah Carey covering up most of her voluptuous bod, but that’s exactly what she did for her first appearance on MTV, in the 1990 video for “Vision of Love.” Dressed in a leathery leotard, Carey wore her hair in curls and looked more like a young Christina Aguilera than the Mariah we know today.
It’s well known that J. Lo’s television debut was as a Fly Girl on “In Living Color,” but she also used her dance skills to land on MTV, busting a move in Janet Jackson’s 1994 video “That’s the Way Love Goes.” Lopez, with dark “Selena” hair, is seen playing coy with a male dancer while enjoying Jackson’s house party. J. Lo later appeared in future husband Marc Anthony’s clip for “No Me Conoces” and played a Cleopatra-like love interest in P. Diddy’s “Been Around the World” before launching her own career as a recording artist.
Just about the only thing that the Destiny’s Child of today has in common with the DC that first appeared on MTV in 1998’s “No No No” video is a beautiful Beyoncé with lush hair. LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson have since been replaced by Michelle Williams, and Kelly Rowland no longer sports a buzz cut.