Britney Spears, a live snake, 2001. Ring a bell?
Live snakes, 50 pounds of raw meat, and a pregnancy! No, I’m not talking about a class camping trip gone horribly awry. I’m talking about some of my all-time favorite moments in VMA history. The craziest, most over-the-top, most unexpected, only-on-MTV (because trust me, they’ll let you do anything from hang yourself from the rafters of Radio City to make out with Madonna) moments. The VMAs are a night of more access to celebrities than a year’s worth of gossip mags combined (except MUCH better music, and none of that who-wore-it-better stuff), where unforgettable live performances — Eminem’s army of bleached-blonde Marshall Mathers lookalikes storming Radio City at the 2000 VMAs — and fleeting moments — Beyonce’s coy, joyous pat of her belly at the 2011 MTV VMAs — instantly become the stuff of pop culture legend and lore.
Some of my all-time favorite VMA moments include Britney Spears’ late arrival to home room — which perfectly coincided with what would become the first of more than a decade’s worth of VMA appearances — during her 1999 VMA performance debut — plus, well, a whole lot more Britney. Check out 12 of my favorite, most unforgettable moments in VMA history, vote for your favorite, and get ready for the VMAs by watching must-see moments from the 2011 VMAs.
1.) Madonna performs “Like A Virgin” at the first-ever VMAs in 1984: Neil Armstrong planted a flag in the ground to signify to the world that he’d landed on the moon. Madonna humped the stage at the first-ever VMAs in 1984 during her performance of “Like A Virgin” to signify to the world that she’d landed on the map. Decades later, the expectation of an appropriate level of inappropriateness during VMA performances still abides.
2.) Nirvana performs “Lithium” at the 1992 VMAs, chaos ensues: Back in the early ’90s, when reality TV was basically just the nightly news and Snooki was just a 5-year-old figuring out how to perfect a pre-kindergarten hair poof, Nirvana gave one of their most unforgettable live performances (and perhaps the greatest rock performance in VMA history, despite an amp malfunction), Punking MTV execs by playing the first few lines of “Rape Me” (an anti-establishment hat tip), capped off by a perfect ending: Kurt Cobain smashing the band’s instruments, Krist Novoselic accidentally smashing his face with a bass, and Dave Grohl bating Axl Rose, who’d allegedly challenged Kurt to a fight backstage before the show. The fun didn’t stop there, though. Nirvana also sent a Michael Jackson impersonator to the stage to accept their Best Alternative Video VMA for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
3.) Michael Jackson performs a 15-minute medley of hits at the 1995 VMAs: As the king of pop and the unofficial but undisputed king of MTV (sorry, Carson), Michael Jackson enjoyed an eminent and celebrated VMA career. In 1995, a year after he and then-wife Lisa Marie Presley shocked VMA viewers with their on-stage PDA (ahhhh, newlyweds), he opened the VMAs with a 15-minute medley of hits like “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” and “Black or White,” backed by Slash on guitar, followed by Basically, the VMAs turned into a mini Michael Jackson concert. That same night, Michael and Janet Jackson shared the VMA stage when “Scream” picked up VMAs for Best Dance Video, Best Art Direction and Best Choreography.
4.) Courtney Love interrupts Madonna’s interview at the 1995 VMA Pre-Show: Oh, how I love a good, cold cat fight. Especially when it involves flying beauty products. And Madonna. And Courtney Love. No stranger to controversy (or to NGAF), Courtney Love crashed Madonna’s interview with Kurt Loder at the VMA Pre-Show by throwing her compact onto the platform. A clearly annoyed Madonna, to her credit, stayed patient and detached until she eventually just shut. it. down. Oh, Courtney. There’s a time and place for everything. And this wasn’t it. Until it was.
+ WATCH COURTNEY LOVE INTERRUPTS MADONNA’S INTERVIEW AT THE 1995 VMAs.
5.) Fiona Apple wins Best New Artist at the 1997 VMAs, DNGAF: Fiona Apple won Best New Artist at the 1997 VMAs, and instead of thanking her label, management, and/or God, she used her time in front of the mic to remind viewers that “this world is bull****.” Because it was the ’90s! And no one was happy!
6.) Britney Spears makes her VMA debut with “Baby One More Time” at the 1999 VMAs: Although she was essentially their opening act, Britney Spears kicked off *NSYNC’s “Tearin’ Up My Heart” VMA performance (and essentially managed to upstage them) with her own “Baby One More Time.” NSYNC fans may remember the guys’ sleveelessness and white-boy dreads and their dancers’ now-hilarious skin-tight mock turtlenecks and lamé pants, but Britney Stans and pop culture obsessives will never forget the moment Britney stepped onto the VMA stage for the very first time.
Check out more unforgettable moments in VMA history, and vote for your favorite after the jump.
7.) Eminem performs “The Real Slim Shady/The Way I Am” with an Eminem army at the 2000 VMAs: Before he took over Radio City Music Hall, Eminem took to the streets of New York, leading a posse of hundreds of Emimen clones dressed in his then-signature style — highlighter yellow buzz cut, oversized white tees, baggy jeans — into the 2000 VMAs for his performance of “The Real Slim Shady” and “The Way I Am.” The result was a mesmerizing moiré of Marshal Mathers, and even when the real Slim Shady himself stood up, it was hard to correctly ID him. Eminem won the Best Male Video (in addition to Best Rap Video and Video Of The Year) that year for “The Real Slim Shady,” and forebodingly, when he reached into his pocket to pull out his acceptance speech, he accidentally dumped out a handful of pills onto the stage. But after his legendary “The Real Slim Shady” performance — perhaps one of best rap performances of the show’s history — Eminem dropped a classic zinger on stage by referring to the VMAs as “the one night where you can fit all these people I don’t like into one room.” Burn notice!
8.) Britney Spears performs “I’m A Slave 4 U” WITH A LIVE SNAKE at the 2001 VMAs: All it took to become an instant VMA legend and own one of the most unforgettable live performances in pop music was Britney Spears (in peak form), and a seven-foot albino python named Banana. Just say the words “Britney Spears” and “snake,” and anyone who saw her iconic 2001 VMA performance (and surely you have if you’re reading this) will immediately conjure the chill-inducing iconic image of Britney — arrestingly sexy in a green bikini top and abs you could bounce a basketball off of — fearlessly gyrating across the dangerously pyro-rigged stage, with a wild reptile draped over her shoulders like NBD.
+ WATCH BRITNEY SPEARS’ “I’M A SLAVE 4 U” PERFORMANCE AT THE 2001 VMAs.
9.) Rihanna performs “Disturbia” atop a wooden volcano on wheels at the 2008 VMAs: Am I the only one who still goes hard for Rihanna’s 2008 VMA performance of “Disturbia”? Staging a televised production of “scary” could easy veer off into campy “It’s A Small World After All” territory (nothing’s scarier than scary-gone-cheesy) but Rihanna nailed both suspenseful and sexy and managed to throw in nods to the White Stripes and steampunk. Why are we not still talking about that? I am.
10.) Janet Jackson performs a dance tribute in honor and memory of Michael Jackson at the 2009 VMAs: With Michael Jackson’s untimely passing less than three months prior, the 2009 VMAs could not go on without a fitting tribute to the King of Pop. After a sobering eulogy by Madonna, Janet Jackson, along with some of the best dancers and dancers and choreographers in the game, let loose a mind-bending pop spectacle of theatrics, special effects, and superhuman dance. Through her post-modern performance of “Scream,” in lockstep with the visual of her brother on the screen behind her — she allowed Michael to live — and dance — again, before blowing a kiss to her brother above, leaving the astonished audience at Radio City — and watching on TV — transcended and gutted.
11.) Lady Gaga eschews couture in favor of a meat dress at the 2010 VMAs: The VMA invite pretty much comes with a mandate to dress COMPLETELY NUTS. And apparently Lady Gaga misread “completely nuts” as “completely meat,” because she wore 50 pounds of it to the VMAs. Ring a bell? Meat dress! You remember now, right?
12.) Beyonce reveals her baby bump at the 2011 VMAs: Ohey, remember when Beyonce let the ENTIRE WORLD in on a little secret? Here’s a refresher: after NAILING her debut performance of “Love On Top” (when you’re Beyonce, all you really need is a sparkly blazer, a leotard and that smile), Beyonce opened her jacket and patted her belly to reveal that an itty, bitty baby Blue Ivy was burgeoning inside of her. IN CASE YOU FORGOT. Oh, and then Twitter basically broke.
+ WATCH BEYONCE’S “LOVE ON TOP” PERFORMANCE AND BABY BUMP REVEAL AT THE 2011 VMAS.
Vote for your favorite unforgettable VMA moment, and check out the most incredible VMA photos ever!
Don’t miss the 2012 MTV VMAs live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, Sept. 6, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
Photo credit: Kevin Mazur/ WireImage