In honor of this year's MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 12, 2021, Wonderwall.com is taking a look back at some of the wildest moments from the VMAs over the years — from bonkers celeb style to headline-making performances, unexpected smooches, on-stage meltdowns and more. Keep reading to relive the most unforgettable moments, starting with this one: Britney Spears truly walked on the wild side while performing "I'm a Slave 4 U" during the 2001 MTV VMAs. After kicking off the performance in a cage with a real tiger — "Tiger King" star Doc Antle handled the big cat (more on that here) — she shimmed around the stage with an albino Burmese python wrapped around her shoulders.
Keep reading for more wild moments from past MTV VMAs…
Who could forget Kanye West's infamous "Imma let you finish" diss?! During the 2009 MTV VMAs, Taylor Swift won the Moonman for best female video for "You Belong With Me." But before she could make her acceptance speech, Kanye jumped on stage, grabbed the microphone and announced, "I'm sorry, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time!" The crushed country-pop cutie later told People magazine, "I was standing onstage, and I was really excited because I'd just won the award, and then I was really excited because Kanye West was onstage. And then I wasn't excited any more after that."
Beyonce stole the show during the 2011 MTV VMAs when — following an incredibly energetic performance of her hit single "Love on Top" that saw her belting while nailing complicated dance moves in sky-high stiletto pumps — she dropped her mic and unbuttoned her sequined tuxedo jacket to reveal she was pregnant with her first child, daughter Blue Ivy Carter. As she rubbed her baby bump, the audience erupted in thunderous applause. The telecast also showed her hubby, JAY-Z, sitting in the audience and beaming while celebrating the news with pal and collaborator Kanye West.
PETA was not pleased… During the 2010 MTV VMAs, Lady Gaga donned an ensemble — a minidress, platform wedges and a fascinator — comprised of 50 pounds of raw meat.
Next up? The liplock(s) seen 'round the world! During the 2003 MTV VMAs, Madonna notoriously kissed both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera — who were dressed in ensembles that channeled Madge's iconic look from her performance of "Like a Virgin" during the 1984 VMAs (more on that later!) — as they closed out a rendition of the Queen of Pop's 2003 single "Hollywood."
The first couple of grunge rock, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, made waves when they arrived to the 1993 MTV VMAs with young daughter Frances Bean Cobain in tow. (She'd just celebrated her first birthday less than two weeks earlier.) The Nirvana frontman died just seven months later in April 1994.
Awkward! Just four months after they tied the knot, Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley opened the 1994 MTV VMAs in a truly unforgettable fashion: They took the stage hand-in-hand to thunderous applause from the live studio audience. Then, as the cheers died down, the King of Pop said, "Just think, nobody thought this would last." He then pulled in his wife for a big awkward kiss. (By the way, the critics were right: A year and a half later, she filed for divorce.)
Back in 2000, no one thought twice about Aaliyah winning an award. She was at the top of her game — and the world loved her like they had never loved an R&B singer before. In hindsight, however, it reads like a tragedy: The 2000 MTV VMAs were the final award show the "Are You That Somebody?" singer attended before her untimely death the following year.
Where to start with Miley Cyrus's highly offensive performance during the 2013 MTV VMAs… She kicked things off with a rendition of her hit single "We Can't Stop" clad in a cartoon teddy bear onesie and accompanied by backup dancers with dwarfism dressed in teddy bear costumes. (One backup dancer later called the performance "the most degrading thing" she's ever done and said that it left her feeling "less than human.") But then Robin Thicke joined Miley on stage for a duet of his extremely controversial hit single "Blurred Lines" … and things took a turn for the worse. Miley stripped down to flesh-toned latex separates to twerk on Robin, who was doing his best impression of Beetlejuice in a black-and-white striped suit. Suffice to say viewers watching from home were not thrilled to see the erstwhile Hannah Montana (the Disney Channel series had just ended two years earlier) bumping and grinding on a much older (and married!) man. At the time, Miley was just 20 and nearly half Robin's age. Robin, meanwhile, was married to Paula Patton at the time. To make matters worse, "Blurred Lines" had started generating criticism for some of its seemingly misogynistic lyrics, which The Daily Beast's Tricia Romano perfectly described as "kind of rapey."
When Cardi B took the stage cradling what appeared to be a baby during the 2018 MTV VMAs, audiences everywhere thought they might be getting a glimpse of her newborn daughter, Kulture. But Cardi tricked us all: She was actually pretending to nurse a Moonman.
LL Cool J won the Moonman for best rap video for his hit "Mama Said Knock You Out" during the 1991 MTV VMAs. But that wasn't what had everyone talking… The real story? The rapper-actor raised eyebrows (and temperatures!) by going shirtless throughout the show.
Kendrick Lamar got all fired up (literally!) while opening the 2017 MTV VMAs: A backup dancer completely engulfed in flames joined the rapper on stage as he performed his hits "DNA" and "HUMBLE," and later, more backup dancers scaled a wall of flames behind him. Kendrick also dominated the awards that year, taking home six Moonman trophies including video of the year.
50 Cent's brief but intense love affair with Vivica A. Fox kicked off after he made a public play for her heart during the 2003 BET Awards. "I wanna thank Vivica Fox for wearing that dress," he said while concluding his acceptance speech for best new artist. The actress — who donned a darling long-sleeved lilac mini with a plunging neckline that night — looked extremely flattered (and more than a little shocked!) as the rapper attempted to shoot his shot with her in front of millions of people. But the gamble paid off! Two months later — after his team reportedly got in touch with her people to set them up — Fiddy and Vivica posed together on the red carpet at the 2003 MTV VMAs. (How's that for manifestation?!) And if he liked her dress before, well…
During the 2018 MTV VMAs, Jennifer Lopez easily proved why she deserved the Video Vanguard Award. In honor of the big accomplishment, she performed an amazingly impressive medley of some of her biggest hits with a fleet of dancers and cameos by DJ Khaled and Ja Rule, all while wearing an exclusive wardrobe custom-designed by Versace.
Nearly a decade before Kanye West crashed Taylor Swift's acceptance speech during the 2009 MTV VMAs, Rage Against the Machine bassist Tim Commerford made a scene during Limp Bizkit's big moment. As the Fred Durst-fronted rap-rock band took the stage to accept the award for best rock video during the 2000 MTV VMAs — which they won over Rage's Michael Moore-directed "Sleep Now in the Fire" music video — Tim rushed the stage in protest: He climbed a massive set piece and refused to come down. After security forcibly removed him, he was arrested and even spent a night in jail. "We were up against Limp Bizkit, one of the dumbest bands in the history of music," he recalled during a 2015 appearance on ESPN Radio. "We're up against them and their singer made the video. So it was Limp Bizkit versus Rage — [a] Fred Durst-directed video versus Michael Moore. And I'm sitting there with Michael and I'm like, 'Hey man, if that camera doesn't come over here, I'm climbing up that structure and I'm gonna sit there like a f****** gargoyle and throw a wrench in this show.' And he's like, 'Tim, follow your heart.'" The rest is history!
Madonna — who pretty much set the stage for outrageous performances during the VMAs — slayed at the first ever MTV Video Music Awards in 1984. The Queen of Pop, who donned a white wedding dress for the occasion, writhed around sensually on stage while performing her hit "Like a Virgin." The performance might seem super low-key by today's standards, but it certainly raised eyebrows back in the '80s!
It's one of the most iconic acceptance speeches in award show history: "This world is bulls***," Fiona Apple said while accepting the award for best new artist during the 1997 MTV VMAs. (To be fair, she warned us when she kicked off her acceptance speech that she wasn't "going to do this like everybody else does it.") After quoting Maya Angelou, the singer-songwriter launched into a bizarre, unexpected and slightly hypocritical lecture about staying true to oneself: "You shouldn't model your life [after] what you think that we think is cool and what we're wearing and what we're saying and everything. Go with yourself," she said, later adding, "It's just stupid that I'm in this world."
JAY-Z and Alicia Keys closed out the 2009 MTV VMAs, which took place in New York City, with a rendition of their hit single "Empire State of Mind" — and the hometown crowd went wild! But no one went crazier than Lil Mama who, while overcome with emotion, jumped on stage to join the A-list rapper and the singer-songwriter for the final moments of their performance. "I was feeling it and it just happened," she later explained, adding that she meant no disrespect to her fellow native New Yorkers, who mostly ignored her as she vibed alongside them.
For a while, Kanye West and Taylor Swift were actually on good terms. She even presented the Video Vanguard Award to him during the 2015 MTV VMAs! After gushing about a few of his biggest career achievements, she made light of the time he infamously interrupted her acceptance speech during the 2009 MTV VMAs: "To all the other winners tonight, I'm really happy for you and Imma let you finish, but Kanye West has had one of the greatest careers of all time," she said. After the rapper took the stage, they shared a big, warm hug. Taylor then joined Kim Kardashian in the audience — and wrapped an arm around the reality star's shoulders — as they listened to Kanye's acceptance speech. At first, the dad (Kimye's eldest child, North West, had arrived two years earlier) seemed contrite: "If I had a daughter at that time, would I have went on stage and grabbed the mic from someone else's?" he wondered. "This arena, tomorrow it's gonna be a completely different setup — some concert, something like that. The stage will be gone. After that night, the stage was gone, but the effect that it had on people remained." But then he went off script. After alleging that he saw Justin Timberlake crying when the pop star lost the Grammy for album of the year to The Chicks back in 2007, he criticized MTV for exploiting his feud with Taylor for ratings, fessed up to smoking marijuana before delivering his acceptance speech and seemingly backtracked on his previous words of contrition, saying, "I will die for the art! For what I believe in. And the art ain't always gonna be polite!" He then announced his intention to run for president in 2020 — "As you probably could have guessed by this moment, I have decided in 2020 to run for president," he said — and concluded with a literal mic drop.
MTV banned Andrew Dice clay from the network for life following his appearance on the 1989 MTV VMAs telecast. Before introducing a performance by Cher, he delivered an incredibly raunchy three-minute stand-up routine featuring some of his famous dirty nursery rhymes — and several words that aren't fit for print. Here's one of the poems that made him persona non grata with MTV: "Rockabye baby on the treetop / Your mother's a w****, I ain't your pop."
Courtney Love infamously interrupted Kurt Loder's live interview with Madonna during the 1995 MTV VMAs by throwing makeup at the Queen of Pop. "Courtney Love is in dire need of attention right now," Madonna said as the Hole frontwoman came to sit with her and the MTV host. ("No, don't please," Madonna responded when Kurt asked if they should invite Courtney to join them.) After Madonna managed to excuse herself from the three-way interview, Courtney and Kurt continued chatting for a few minutes … until the interview came to a sudden end when the "Celebrity Skin" singer suddenly fell out of her chair. But that wasn't the end of her wild night… Later in the evening, security had to drag Courtney off the stage in the pressroom when she started acting up behind the scenes during the show.
Prince closed out the 1991 MTV VMAs with a rendition of his hit single "Gett Off." Midway through his performance — which featured scantily clad backup dancers simulating an orgy — he gave a twirl … and revealed that his yellow suit featured completely sheer panels over his buttocks.
Lady Gaga took the stage during the 2011 MTV VMAs as her male alter ego, Jo Calderone. After a three-minute bit during which Jo essentially roasted Gaga for her theatricality, Gaga-as-Joe sat at a piano and launched into a rendition of her hit single "You and I." She was later joined on stage by backup dancers dressed like Jo and by Queen guitarist Brian May, who shredded his guitar as Jo climbed atop the piano. Later in the evening, Jo returned to the stage to present the Video Vanguard Award to Britney Spears … and to make some lewd comments about the pop princess. (They nearly kissed after Jo handed over Britney's Moonman trophy!) But that wasn't the end of Jo, who closed out the night by visiting the press room to conduct a few behind-the-scenes interviews.
Beyonce made her debut as a solo artist during the 2003 MTV VMAs. She kicked off her performance by singing "Baby Boy" while descending from the top of the stage upside down. She then transition into her massive hit "Crazy in Love," accompanied by then-boyfriend JAY-Z. (They didn't publicly reveal they were a couple until the following year.)
When Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston took the stage from opposite directions in matching brown gowns during the 1998 MTV VMAs, everyone froze. The two powerhouse singers — contemporaries who shot into the spotlight around the same time — were often pitted against each other in the press, which pushed a narrative that the divas were feuding. Nope! Rather than letting the rivalry rumors get the best of them, the two women made light of the situation. A few months later, they released the duet "When You Believe" from the movie "The Prince of Egypt." The power ballad went on to win the Oscar for best original song.
Gwen Stefani has been giving us major looks since the '90s — but none as adorably out-there as the ensemble she wore to the 1998 MTV VMAs. The No Doubt frontwoman paired a furry bikini top with a Judy Jetson-inspired skirt over loose-fitting black pants and platforms sandals. She wore her blue cotton-candy-colored hair in space buns and completed her look with henna tattoos and a bindi plus several more face jewels wrapped around her eyes.
"Miley, what's good?" It's one of the most buzzed-about lines in the history of the MTV Video Music Awards. When Nicki Minaj took the stage to accept the Moonman for best rap video during the 2015 VMAs, she made a point of calling out Miley Cyrus, who hosted the show that year, for making disparaging comments about her in the press. Here's what started the drama between the two women: Even though the music video for Nicki's hit "Anaconda" broke streaming records on YouTube, it didn't score a nomination for video of the year in 2015. "When the 'other' girls drop a video that breaks records and impacts culture they get that nomination. … If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year," she tweeted two months before the show, referencing the VMAs' history of overlooking women of color. Then, when asked to comment on Nicki's perspective during an interview with The New York Times in the days leading up to the VMAs, Miley dismissed the rapper by calling her "not too kind." Cut to Nicki's acceptance speech, during which she called Miley "this b**** that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press." As a hush fell over the stunned live audience, Miley tried to get things back on track: "Hey, we're all in this industry. We all do interviews and we all know how they manipulate [stuff]," she said before congratulating Nicki on her big win and letting out a deep sigh. Nicki, meanwhile, could be seen angrily gesturing and cursing at Miley, though the microphone nearest her had apparently been muted.
The 2016 MTV VMAs were all about Rihanna. Not only did she perform four different times during the show, but she also took home the Video Vanguard Award that night. And who better to present her with the iconic prize than her frequent collaborator and rumored ex Drake? The rapper introduced RiRi by calling her "someone I have been in love with since I was 22 years old" and "one of my best friends in the world." Aww! Rihanna, meanwhile, laughed and rolled her eyes, making it very clear where Drake stands with her: squarely in the friend zone.
Who can forget Michael Jackson's iconic performance at the 1995 MTV VMAs? The King of Pop and rocker Slash cut one of the most memorable silhouettes in pop culture history: The pair stood downstage as wind machines blew smoke around them while MJ danced and Slash killed the guitar solo during "Black or White." When the performance ended, the crowd at Radio City Music Hall went wild!
During the 2013 MTV VMAs — more than a decade after they released their fourth and final album, 2001's "Celebrity" — the men of *NSYNC reunited to honor Justin Timberlake as he received the Video Vanguard Award. Chris Kirkpatrick, Lance Bass, JC Chasez and Joey Fatone joined JT on stage to perform a medley of two of their hits: "Girlfriend" and "Bye Bye Bye." Cue the screaming! (They haven't performed together again since then.)
Following a run of bad behavior (a DUI, assault charges, a mop bucket-urination incident and more) that nearly derailed his career, Justin Bieber brought his apology tour to the 2015 MTV VMAs. Following a performance of his hit "Where Are Ü Now," the then-controversial pop star performed "What Do You Mean?" live for the very first time. It turned out to be an especially emotional experience for the singer, who ended his set in tears as the crowd rewarded him with a standing ovation.
During the 1996 MTV VMAs, the original members of Van Halen — Alex Van Halen, Eddie Van Halen, David Lee Roth and Michael Anthony — reunited for the first time in more than a decade to present the award for best male video. Fans loved the reunion, which was more than a little awkward, but still had everyone wondering, "Why Can't This Be Love?" Unfortunately, David, who'd left the band in 1985, later accused his former bandmates of using him as a publicity stunt, which shut down any hopes for a permanent reconciliation — at least until 2007 when he rejoined the band for good.
In one of the most emotional moments in MTV VMAs history, Janet Jackson took the stage during the 2009 MTV VMAS to celebrate brother Michael Jackson, who'd died just three months earlier, with a fantastic performance that showcased three of his biggest hits — "Thriller," "Bad" and "Smooth Criminal" — along with their collaboration "Scream." There wasn't a dry eye in the house as the pop star honored her late big brother.
That's one way to promote your album! Posing for photographers at an award show is great exposure, but Macy Gray wanted to make sure people knew about her next album too. The singer showed up at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards in this self-serving getup — a hot pink and blue metallic dress complete with an advertisement for her upcoming release. The dress read "My new album drops Sept. 18, 2001" on the front and "Buy it" on the back. Hey, social media didn't exist yet, so we can't blame her!