Justin Timberlake’s Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award: What Is It?

Timberlake joins the ranks of Michael Jackson, Madonna and Britney Spears with this VMA honor.

It may sound crazy, but did you know that MTV has been honoring forerunners in the music video sphere since the genre’s very infancy? Yup, we’re progressive like that, and — on August 25 at the 2013 Video Music Awards — we plan to add another performer to a roster that already includes the likes of David Bowie, Guns ‘n’ Rose and LL Cool J. That’s right, MTV will be doling out another Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, and, this time, it will go to a man who’s famous for “bringing sexy back” — among other things.

On Thursday (August 15), MTV announced that Justin Timberlake will be performing at the 2013 VMAs. Having won 14 awards in the past — and nabbed six nominations for the 2013 iteration — Timberlake is no stranger to MTV’s longest-running awards show. So it’s really no surprise that the singer is being honored with an award also gifted to luminaries like the Beastie Boys and Peter Gabriel.

The first Vanguard awards were given out in 1984 at the inaugural Video Music Awards, just three years after MTV hit the air. At the time, Michael Jackson was not associated with the prize — that would come much later.

Music videos as they are today were still a very young art form, and acts like the Beatles and David Bowie were at the forefront of the revolution — the Beatles created short films for songs like “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Penny Lane,” and, perhaps most famously, “A Hard Day’s Night,” a flick directed by Richard Lester. David Bowie worked with Mick Rock to shoot some of the earliest music videos in the ’70s. For that, Bowie, the Beatles and Lester won the first passel of Vanguard Awards in 1984.

Over the next nearly 30 years, more and more performers entered the Vanguard firmament. Madonna — referred to in the book I Want My MTV as the “second” video artist, after Michael Jackson — scooped up the award in 1986, having popped her VMA cherry in ’84 with her seminal “Like a Virgin” performance, complete with frothy wedding dress.

Speaking of Jackson, the King of Pop took home his own Vanguard Award in ’88, honoring — among his many achievements — the border-busting video for “Thriller,” the first music video inducted into the National Film Registry. His name wasn’t attached to the award, however, until a few years later.

The Beastie Boys — who provide the rallying anthem for this year’s VMAs, “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” — joined Madonna and Co. in the Vanguard club in 1998, at which time recently departed Adam Yauch spoke out about U.S. military aggression in the Middle East. “The United States has to start respecting people from the Middle East in order to find a solution to the problem that’s been building up over many years,” he said, with admirable foresight.

U2 tried to take the stage in 2001 for a performance of “Elevation” and “Stuck in a Moment” in honor of their win, but the band encountered a power issue and found themselves sans elevator riser on stage. At the time, Bono joked that MTV “forgot to pay the electricity bill.”

What the VMAs lacked in literal sparks, however, they made up for with showmanship that year— especially when it came to Britney Spears’ performance of “I’m A Slave 4 U” — complete with a giant snake. It was for spectacles like that — and many to follow — that Spears nabbed the most recent Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award in 2011, an honor doled out by 2013 VMA performer, Lady Gaga.

Yes, from the earliest days of what we consider to be music videos to today — when any video you desire is available with the click of a mouse — MTV has been honoring innovators. Innovators who have graced our stage to make musical memories perhaps just as lasting as the videos themselves.

When Justin Timberlake takes the stage on August 25, we expect nothing less.

Check out a full list of Vanguard winners below.

» Britney Spears (2011)
» Hype Williams (2006)
» Duran Duran (2003)
» U2 (2001)
» Red Hot Chili Peppers (2000)
» Beastie Boys (1998)
» LL Cool J (1997)
» Mark Romanek (1997)
» R.E.M. (1995)
» Tom Petty (1994)
» Guns ‘N Roses (1992)
» Bon Jovi & Wayne Isham (1991)
» Janet Jackson (1990)
» George Michael (1989)
» Michael Jackson (1988)
» Julien Temple (1987)
» Peter Gabriel (1987)
» Zbigniew Rybczynski (1986)
» Madonna (1986)
» Kevin Godley & Lol Crème (1985)
» Russel Mulcahy (1985)
» David Byrne (1985)
» Richard Lester (1984)
» The Beatles (1984)
» David Bowie (1984)

Brenna Ehrlich is a reporter for MTV News as well as the senior writer/editor for the O Music Awards. In the past, she served as associate editor at Mashable, penned a netiquette column for CNN and co-authored the blog and book "Stuff Hipsters Hate." She likes trying not to die in moshpits and listening to songs on repeat. Follow her on Twitter @BrennaEhrlich for news on cats and punk bands.