It all started in New York in 1984. Ronald Reagan was president. Times Square was a neon-shrouded dump. And MTV invaded Radio City Music Hall for the first ever Video Music Awards. Madonna took the stage in a lacy wedding gown to sing about virginity, Michael Jackson nabbed three Moonmen for “Thriller” and, well, pop culture was never the same again.
With the 2009 show returning to Radio City on September 13 at 9 p.m., we had to take a look back at the many, many ways — from Madonna making out with Britney Spears to hundreds of Slim Shady clones helping Eminem out with his live act — that the VMAs have rocked New York.
After the Cars won the inaugural Video of the Year award for “You Might Think,” the VMAs stayed New York-bound for just one more year. Hosted by Eddie Murphy, the ’85 show featured performances by Sting, Pat Benatar and the Eurythmics. But the night’s sentimental favorite was USA for Africa, the all-star charity ensemble including MJ, Tina Turner and Bruce Springsteen that took home two trophies for their single, “We Are the World.”
By the next year, MTV’s baby was ready to stretch its legs, expanding from a purely NYC-based show to one broadcasting live from Manhattan, Los Angeles, London, Miami and, oddly, New Haven, Connecticut. For the next seven years, the VMAs stayed on the West Coast, not returning to their Radio City roots until 1994.
The ’94 show was an unforgettable one from the very start. Months after they were married, Michael Jackson and wife Lisa Marie Presley took the stage as MJ said, “And just think, nobody thought this would last,” before the two awkwardly played kissy-face in front of the shocked audience. Later, a disguised Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys stormed the stage to proclaim that Spike Jonze should have won for Best Director for “Sabotage” and screamed, “This is an outrage!”
The performances were unforgettable too, including the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, Green Day, the Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, Boyz II Men and Snoop Dogg.
Things went so well in New York, the VMAs decided to stick around for the next three years. Weezer and TLC were the big winners in ’95, each taking home four Moonmen and, instead of an awkward kiss with his wife, Jackson rocked out a medley of classic tunes like “Billie Jean” and “Beat It.” The night’s most outrageous moment actually took place outside the venue, as a loopy Courtney Love interrupted Kurt Loder’s post-show interview with Madonna by throwing the contents of her purse at her. Love also confronted Tabitha Soren and fell off a chair.
Dennis Miller returned as host in ’96, and the show stayed put at Radio City. Oasis feuded onstage, as did Van Halen, but the band that dominated the evening was the Smashing Pumpkins, with a total of five wins.
By ’97, Chris Rock had taken over for fellow “SNL” alum Miller. In what would become a legendary acceptance speech, Fiona Apple unleashed an expletive-laced tirade and Rock issued her a swift verbal takedown. Performances that year included Puff Daddy’s tribute to Biggie Smalls, as well as U2, Beck, Bruce Springsteen and the Spice Girls.
After venturing west again, the show returned to New York for a new venue: the Metropolitan Opera House. Diana Ross fondled Lil’ Kim, Kid Rock played with Aerosmith and Run-DMC, and ‘NSYNC sang alongside Britney Spears.
Spears truly made her VMA presence known the next year at Radio City, when the then 18-year-old tore off her tuxedo mid-performance and had everyone thinking for a second she was actually naked, instead of, alas, in a flesh-colored outfit. Lest the ladies steal the night, Rage Against the Machine bassist Tim Commerford climbed up a fake palm tree onstage and refused to move, despite the crowd’s vociferous chant of “Jump!”
The VMAs stayed in New York for the next three years, and 2001′s Jamie Foxx-hosted event saw Brit wear a giant snake around her neck during “I’m a Slave 4 U,” in addition to performances by Jay-Z, Jennifer Lopez, Ja Rule and Linkin Park. Jimmy Fallon took over emcee duties the following year, overseeing a show that had Triumph the Insult Comic Dog picking a fight with Eminem, a stellar solo performance from Justin Timberlake and Michael Jackson mistakenly accepting the imaginary Artist of the Millennium award.
The year of The Kiss followed: Madonna, Britney and Christina Aguilera exchanging smooches during a medley of Madge’s tunes. Perhaps the action was getting a little too hot for the city, as the VMAs headed south to Miami for two years.
The show returned to NYC in 2006, and if the action inside Radio City that year — Jack Black as host, Lil’ Kim in a prison jumpsuit, killer performances by JT, T.I. and others — was any example, the 2009 Radio City show on September 13 is not to be missed.
The 2009 MTV Video Music Awards will take place September 13 at 9 p.m. ET. Additional celebrity presenters and performers will be announced in the coming weeks. To be the first to find out the inside scoop, follow the Inside MTV Twitter account at Twitter.com/InsideMTV.