Whereas some other award shows are inundated with old white men, the MTV Video Music Awards have a long history of celebrating women. After all, it was a young emerging female pop artist who single-handedly gave the VMAs its first-ever viral moment, decades before going viral was even a thing.
The 2017 VMAs promise to be no different. With host Katy Perry at the helm and Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award recipient P!nk set to take the stage in what we can only hope will be a gravity-defying moment, the hype around this year's show is already being driven by the badass women at the forefront of the action.
In honor of all of the fierce women who will indelibly leave their mark on the VMA stage on Sunday, August 27, let's take a look at the 11 baddest girl power moments that came before them.
Madonna performs "Like a Virgin"Getty Images
No other recording artist benefited from the rise of MTV in the early 1980s quite like Madonna, the pop provocateur known for pushing the boundaries in her videos and live performances. So it makes perfect sense that Madonna's controversial performance of "Like a Virgin" at the inaugural Video Music Awards in 1984 ultimately set the tone for decades of memorable performances to come.
She materialized from a 17-foot tall wedding cake in white lace and a sexy bustier, accessorized with a "BOY TOY" belt buckle, but it was what happened next that changed everything for Madonna and the VMAs. When one of her stilettos accidentally slipped off as she descended the tiered cake, the scrappy pop star dropped down and began to provocatively writhe around on the floor. It was erotic and sensual, and Madonna completely owned it. Although some inside Radio Music Hall thought Madonna had killed her career in that moment, the viewers at home thought differently. With "Like a Virgin," Madonna proved that anything could happen on the VMA stage — including the image of an albino burmese python on Britney Spears's shoulders.
Rihanna reclaimed the color pinkGetty Images
Rihanna celebrated her Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award with not one but four performances at the 2016 VMAs — each one a medley of her greatest hits (of which there are many) and each awash with the color pink. Rihanna has a thing for the color pink. It's become one of her signatures over the years, but there on the VMA stage, shrouded in varying shades of pink, Rihanna turned the traditionally feminine color into a powerful statement. Women have dominated pop music for years — Rihanna herself has 14 No. 1 singles — and at the 2016 VMAs, the color pink reigned supreme.
TLC brings CrazySexyCool to the stageGetty Images
The release of "Waterfalls," the third single off TLC's sophomore album, CrazySexyCool, changed the trajectory of the group's career. The song spent seven weeks at No. 1 and scored TLC four VMA wins in 1995, including the coveted Video of the Year award. That night, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas made history by becoming the first black performers to take home the trophy for Video of the Year. The trio also took to the stage to perform a timeless CrazySexyCool medley of "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg," "Creep," and "Waterfalls" in coordinated monochromatic outfits. They turned the VMA stage into their altar, demanding to be worshipped. And worship we did.
Beyoncé makes a FEMINIST statementMTV
Where were you when Beyoncé redefined feminism at the 2014 VMAs? Bey closed out the show with an incredible 16-minute medley from her self-titled album, one that included feminist imagery and ended with tears as she accepted the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award from her husband, Jay-Z, and daughter Blue Ivy. At one point during her performance, Beyoncé and her dancers lined up on stage while the words from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's speech "We Should All Be Feminists" flashed across the VMA stage. (The singer had previously sampled the speech in her anthemic, girl-power single "Flawless.")
"We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are," Adichie's voice rang out in the venue. "We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, 'You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you will threaten the man.'"
She concluded with a flawless definition of feminism: "The person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes." Only Beyoncé, in her sparkling bodysuit, and the bold, pink words, "FEMINIST" could be seen on stage. It was a moment decades in the making. Beyoncé brought feminism to the global stage, as millions of women watched from home in stunned solidarity. Two years later, Beyoncé returned to the VMA stage for a show-stopping medley from Lemonade that celebrated black women and femininity.
Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift perform togetherGetty Images
Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift are two successful women at the top of their respective games, and they pulled a fast one on everyone at the 2015 VMAs when Swift popped out of nowhere for an unannounced assist on "The Night Is Still Young." The superstar duo, clad in matching red sparkles, closed things out with a tongue-in-cheek performance of "Bad Blood," Swift's ode to a soured female friendship. Of course, this spectacle quelled rumors of possible bad blood between Minaj and Swift. They even hugged it out at the end! Most importantly, it's the kind of thing that only the VMAs could pull off. It's the show where anything — even a collaboration between Swift and Minaj — can happen.
Fiona Apple declares: "This world is bullshit"
When 19-year-old Fiona Apple accepted the VMA for Best New Artist in 1997, no one knew what to expect from the broody singer-songwriter. But chances are they probably didn't anticipate her to skewer pop idolatry and proclaim, "This world is bullshit." But that's Apple in a nutshell: a beautiful anomaly. "You shouldn't model your life on what we think is cool, and what we're wearing and what we're saying and everything," she continued. "Go with yourself."
It's the kind of thing you would expect a woefully earnest 19-year-old to say. The infamous acceptance speech was highly criticized at the time, but according to Rolling Stone, the speech was born out of Apple's own insecurities over feeling like a sell-out. Afraid that she was getting recognition for superficial reasons, the singer promptly lashed out at celebrity culture at the VMAs. It was bold and unfiltered and uniquely Apple.
Besides, she was right; this world is bullshit.
Lil' Kim, Da Brat, Missy Elliott, and Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes celebrate "Ladies Night"Getty Images
At the 1997 VMAs five fierce women of color celebrated "Ladies Night" in typical fashion: glitzy costumes, a troupe of backup dancers glistening in gold body paint, and a man-drawn chariot. Lil Kim, Da Brat, Missy Elliott, Left Eye, and Angie Martinez didn't just bring the heat with their vivacious live performance of "Ladies Night (Not Tonight Remix)" — they set the stage on fire. (Beyoncé would later channel the late Lopes's shimmering VMA look in a show-stopping Givenchy number at the 2015 Met Gala.)
Britney Spears and Madonna give us the "Kiss Heard Around the World"Getty Images
Nineteen years after Madonna tossed and turned on the floor of the VMA stage in her white lace wedding gown, two of her early aughts pop disciples, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, paid homage to the Queen of Pop's legendary performance of "Like a Virgin" at the start of the 2003 show. Spears and Aguilera, in a bid to shed their bubblegum pop images, donned matching wedding dresses and writhed around on the floor with their bouquets. The pop princesses were ultimately joined by the icon herself, who played the part of the groom, and what followed was a brazen display of female sexuality.
Sure, watching Madonna seductively pull a lace garter from Aguilera's leg was exhilarating, but watching her kiss Spears on the lips — with tongue! — was a generation-defining moment. (Madonna kissed Xtina, too, but the Britney kiss was first and steamier.) I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I saw Madonna kiss Britney. I'll never forget it. The performance alone deserves a VMA.
Lorde becomes the first woman to win Best Rock VideoMTV
At the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards, New Zealand singer Lorde became the first woman in VMA history to take home the award for "Best Rock Video," beating out 3-time winners Linkin Park, as well as Imagine Dragons, Arctic Monkeys, and The Black Keys. Categorizing her breakout hit "Royals" as a rock song may have been up for debate, but Lorde, with her goth-punk aesthetic and DGAF attitude, fit the bill of a rock star. Dressed in all black — her signature at the time — the then-17-year-old endeared viewers to her unpolished charm with the perfect acceptance speech, complete with an accidental curse word. ("Sorry for swearing!" she quickly apologized.)
"Is there like a specific place I'm supposed to be looking?" Lorde asked, looking for the right camera. "This is super crazy and I'm super grateful." She then thanked her high school classmates who appeared in the video, as well as everyone who voted, and in that moment, the world truly met Ella Yelich-O'Connor.
Amber Rose and Blac Chyna take a stand against slut shaming
In 2015, good friends Amber Rose and Blac Chyna walked the VMAs red carpet in matching nude ensembles colorfully emblazoned with derogatory words like "hoe," "gold digger," "stripper," and "slut." The anti slut-shaming message was received loud and clear. "They call us sluts and whores all the time, so we just embrace it," Rose told Kelly Osbourne during the VMA pre-show. "I have slut written across my vagina." It doesn't get anymore badass than that.
Miley Cyrus frees the nippleMTV
Miley Cyrus is not known for her subtlety. While hosting the 2015 VMAs, the singer "accidentally" freed the nipple when the curtain she was hiding behind while changing fell down as she reached for her microphone. However, seeing how outspokenly supportive the "Malibu" singer has been of the #FreeTheNipple movement over the years, it wouldn't be completely out of the realm of possibility if the slip turned out to not be entirely accidental. She's just being Miley!
See all of the badass ladies of the 2017 VMAs take the stage at the Forum in Inglewood, California, on Sunday, August 27 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. Check out the full list of nominees here and vote for Best New Artist now!