The MTV Video Music Awards have given us some certifiably legendary moments over the years — from Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” performance in 1984 to Nirvana’s unforgettable set in 1992, from Britney’s coming-out party in 2000 to this year’s Michael Jackson tribute, with about a million stops in between. If you can think of a groundbreaking performance or star-making turn, there’s a pretty good chance it happened at the VMAs.
That said, for better or worse, the VMAs have — at times — also been a stomping ground for celebrity bad behavior. And in line with that, er, legacy, the media world is in an uproar over Kanye West’s onstage antics at Sunday’s VMAs, in which he interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video and essentially said that Beyoncé deserved the award. (An incident for which he has apologized.)
In fact, men (and the occasional woman) have been behaving badly at the big show for more than two decades now, doing the kind of stuff (brawls, trespassing, condescending and bloviating speeches) that could land normal folk in jail. So, while we’re not condoning West’s outburst by any stretch, we do feel compelled to point out that he’s not alone … not by a long shot.
And to illustrate that point, here’s a list of the biggest bad boys in VMA history:
50 Cent: The G-Unit general nearly went to war with Fat Joe at the 2005 VMAs, after the portly rapper made a disparaging crack about Fiddy’s crew onstage (something to the effect of “I’d like to tell the people at home I feel so safe tonight, with all this police protection courtesy of G-Unit”). Later in the show, Fif strode to the podium and launched into a profanity-laced tirade against Joe, and there were backstage accounts of G-Unit henchmen searching for Joe (who, by this point, had wisely left) around the bowels of the American Airlines Arena.
Fiona Apple: After being presented her Best New Artist award by Elton John (seriously!) at the 1997 VMAs, Apple launched into a hilarious, holier-than-thou (even by the heady standards of the ’90s) acceptance speech in which she quoted poet Maya Angelou, rolled her eyes a lot, and poked at the music industry from whence she came, stammering, “What I want to say is, everybody that’s watching this world … this world is bullsh–, and you shouldn’t model your life about what you think we think is cool, and what we’re wearing and what we’re saying. Go with yourself.” The audience jeered her (as did the press), but Apple stood by her words. Proof, if any more were needed, that girls can be bad boys too.
Andrew Dice Clay: There are plenty of men who have done plenty of bad things at the VMAs, but there’s only one man whose bad behavior earned him a lifetime ban: comedian Andrew Dice Clay, who, thanks to a profanity-laced performance at the 1989 awards (oh those naughty nursery rhymes), has been banned from the show for all eternity. And while, yes, tensions between Dice and show producers quickly thawed and the lifetime ban was lifted — he made a cameo at the ’92 VMAs, trying to get into the show, only to be turned away by comedian David Spade, who served as VMA doorman that year — no one else can claim they went far enough to receive the boot for life.
Tim Commerford: At the
2000 VMAs, Commerford, the heavily tatted (then) bassist of Rage Against the Machine, decided to interrupt Limp Bizkit’s Best Rock Video acceptance speech by scaling some onstage scaffolding and threatening to jump. Clearly flummoxed, LB frontman Fred Durst egged Commerford on, saying, “Stage-dive, dude!” and “Take a dive!” before ending his speech with “and [Commerford's] a p—y ’cause he won’t jump.” As the show went to commercial, security attempted to dislodge Commerford from his perch; several minutes later, they finally succeeded, and he (and his bodyguard) spent the night in jail. The stunt was also rumored to have fueled the tension between Rage and frontman Zack de la Rocha, eventually leading to their breakup.
Eminem: He’s never been one to shy away from bad behavior, but at the 2003 VMAs, Eminem took things to another level, nearly brawling with a vegan DJ and a hand puppet. All the trouble started when Triumph the Insult Comic Dog got too close to Em and his posse (as part of a comedy bit gone horribly wrong), leading to some sorta scuffle. Then, immediately following the incident, Eminem won Best Male Video, and he stormed to the stage and challenged Moby — who had called the rapper “a misogynist, a homophobe, a racist and an anti-Semite” — to a fight, saying, “I will hit a man with glasses.” Eventually, Em and Triumph would bury their beef in the “Ass Like That” video, but to this day, he and Moby have yet to settle their squabble.
Vince Neil: At the 1989 awards, Neil — supposedly hell-bent on revenge after Guns N’ Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin either a) kicked or b) made a pass at his wife — leapt out of the crowd and sucker-punched Strads as he walked offstage. GN’R frontman Axl Rose decided to stick up for his guitarist, and spent much of the following year trying to get even with Neil, which came to a head the following year in a now infamous bit of tape in which Neil challenges Axl to a fight outside of Tower Records in Hollywood. Remember when rock and roll was awesome?
Kid Rock/ Tommy Lee: Given that the 2007 VMAs took place in Las Vegas, it seems appropriate that Rock and Lee decided to act like a pair of aging heavyweights, duking it out on the floor of the Palms Resort & Casino while Alicia Keys performed onstage. Reportedly, Rock sucker-punched Lee over some “disrespectful” e-mails Lee had sent from Pamela Anderson’s BlackBerry (both men had relationships with Anderson), resulting in a table-tipping tussle that ended with both men being escorted from the casino. Criss Angel, who was sitting with Lee, was also ejected, though one presumes he used his magic to re-enter the building undetected.
Axl Rose: If there was a backstage beef that happened at the VMAs during the late ’80s and early ’90s, there’s a pretty good chance it involved (or centered on) Rose, who’s sort of like the Michael Jordan of this entire list. We’ve already covered the Vince Neil incident at the ’89 awards, but there was also his infamous spat with Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain at the ’92 show, which started backstage when Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love, dared mouth off to the Axl. Rose responded by telling Cobain to “Control [his] b—h” (nobody mouths off to Axl), and when Cobain and company laughed at the threat, it only further infuriated Rose. The drama spilled onto the stage, when, after Nirvana’s performance, drummer Dave Grohl ran to the mic and shouted, “Hi, Axl! Where’s Axl?” (nobody taunts Axl). To the best of our knowledge, this feud hasn’t been settled … yet.
David Lee Roth: At the 1996 VMAs, all four original members of Van Halen reunited onstage for the first time since their infamously acrid breakup in 1985, presenting the award for Best Male Video to Beck. But Roth’s behavior onstage — he mugged for the camera during Beck’s acceptance speech — was deemed “embarrassing” and “disrespectful” by VH guitarist Eddie Van Halen, and things only got worse from there. Backstage, Eddie and Roth nearly came to blows after Diamond Dave made a crack about Van Halen’s recent hip-replacement surgery, reportedly lunging at him and shouting, “If you ever speak to me like that again, you’d better be wearing a cup.” Needless to say, the reunion ended right then … though, a decade later, everyone was able to put their differences aside for a tour. Except for bassist Michael Anthony, who was fired by Van Halen (and replaced by his 15-year-old son Wolfgang) for reportedly touring with one of VH’s other frontmen, Sammy Hagar.
Kanye West: Perhaps you’ve heard about his actions during last night’s VMAs. But West actually has a long and storied history of bad behavior at awards shows, including the 2007 VMAs, when he melted down backstage after his performance was relegated to a suite at the Palms (he was also none to happy about losing Video of the Year to Rihanna … we sense a theme here), vowing never to return to the show. Obviously, he did. And though West has apologized publicly for his latest outburst — three times at the time of this article’s publish, and also once to Swift personally — we still can’t give him a pass on his previous actions.
The 2009 MTV Video Music Awards might have wrapped, but the party is far from over. Stay tuned for behind-the-scenes updates, party reports and much more.