The VMAs are synonymous with wacky and controversial moments. And those particularly unpredictable opening acts have made the show stand out from all those stuffy Hollywood kudosfests. That’s why, in preparation for this year’s big show on September 7, we dug into the MTV vaults to bring you the top 10 most memorable show starters in VMA history.
10. The year was 1984. It was the inaugural Video Music Awards in New York City, and it was the opening performance to define all subsequent opening performances: Madonna singing “Like a Virgin.” Between the now-infamous wedding dress, which included a belt that read “Boy Toy,” and the rolling and writhing around onstage, Madonna pretty much set herself up for success … and inspired a quarter-century’s worth of artists to try to beat her.
9. In 2005, MTV enlisted Sean “Diddy” Combs to host the show, and the honor of opening the ceremony also fell on his shoulders. Since Diddy thinks he can do anything, he decided that he would have a dance-off against himself. Spoiler alert: Diddy won.
8. In 2006, Jay-Z, never one to shy away from the attention, opened the show’s return to NYC with a dramatic kickoff on the Top of the Rock observation deck at Rockefeller Center. It all went down just blocks away from the show’s home base of Radio City Music Hall and set the tone for what would be one very exciting evening hosted by Jack Black.
7. Diddy, back in his Puffy days, once again graces our list with his 1997 star-powered and very stirring tribute to his late friend, the Notorious B.I.G. Biggie’s widow, Faith Evans, 112 and Sting joined him singing his hit “I’ll Be Missing You.” It was a very serious moment from a performer who sometimes borders on the ridiculous.
6. In 1991, there was only one comeback that could really set the tone for the event. Paul Reubens, who shortly after his arrest at a Florida adult movie theater, put on his famous skinny gray Pee-Wee Herman suit and asked everyone: “Heard any good jokes lately?” The crowd loved it.
5. Jersey boy Bruce Springsteen proves that not even a force of nature could stop him. In 2002, he played his song “The Rising” in the rain, and like a phoenix rising from the ashes, he ascended from the drenched night as the evening’s clear winner.
4. No host in VMA history set the gold standard for opening monologues like Chris Rock did in his three stints as emcee. In 1997, 1999 and 2003, no one was safe from Chris’ biting, foul-mouthed jokes. In Chris’ world no one was safe. He took jabs at everyone from rappers like Diddy to pop tarts like the Spice Girls. He didn’t even let the infamous Madge/ Britney/ Christina kiss upstage him. Yeah, he’s that good.
3. Although it wasn’t exactly the peak of Britney’s great VMA performances, this was the one that had people talking for months after the show aired from Las Vegas. Her 2007 train wreck, in which she lazily “danced” and lip-synched her way through “Gimme More” in an ill-fitting bikini, left people wanting less.
2. It was 1994’s kiss seen around the world. In an effort to prove their love for each other, bizarre couple Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley performed some PDA that made everyone squirm in their seats. “And just think, nobody thought this would last,” Michael proclaimed. Lucky for us, it didn’t, but unfortunately that image of them kissing did.
1. What else could top our list than the VMAs’ ultimate girlie-action moment? Bringing our list full-circle back to “Like a Virgin,” Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, both dressed as brides, entered the stage together. They were soon joined by Madge herself, dressed as a groom, who then locked lips with each of the pop tarts. Britney later told CNN, “I didn’t know it was going to be that long and everything.” But are we sure glad it was!