No one will ever forget the opening number of the 2003 VMAs, when Madonna brought Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera along to perform “Like a Virgin,” then kissed them both.
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Katy Perry said it best when she compared Kanye West’s 2009 antics to stepping on a kitten. To recap: West famously ran up on stage, snatched the microphone from a shocked Taylor Swift, who’d just beat out Beyoncé for best female video, and took over the speech. “I’m really happy for you, I’m gonna let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time,” he declared as the speechless audience looked on.
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Seemingly burying the hatchet (at least temporarily), Taylor Swift presented Kanye West with the 2015 Video Vanguard Award. Of course, the 2009 incident was mentioned, but it was all in good fun, as Swift said that West has had “one of the greatest careers of all time!”
West then gave a buzzy acceptance speech in which he sort of apologized to Swift, dropped some sweet anecdotes about his daughter North and admitted to smoking pot pre-show. Highlight of the night.
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Fifth Harmony began their performance of “Drown” in 2017 with five people on the stage, but before the song truly kicked off, one member was thrown off stage. Fans quickly assumed the booted performer was meant to represent Camila Cabello, who quit Fifth Harmony in 2016.
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Miley Cyrus shocked viewers by stripping down to a nude bikini top and briefs and grinding, twerking and thrusting on fellow (married) performer Robin Thicke at the 2013 show in one of the raciest performances in MTV history. “Madonna’s done it. Britney’s done it. Every VMA performance … that’s what you’re looking for; you’re wanting to make history,” the starlet said afterward. Uh, mission accomplished?
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It was good while it lasted! Fans went wild when the original members of Van Halen walked the VMA stage to present an award in 1996, appearing together for the first time in more than 11 years. Unfortunately, the reunion was short-lived: the group nearly came to blows (over a hip-replacement joke, no less) backstage, ending the reunion before the night was over.
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Receiving the Video Vanguard Award in 2014, Queen Bey took full advantage of her time on stage, delivering a killer 15-minute set of her hits before her husband JAY-Z and daughter Blue Ivy joined her on stage to present her with her statuette.
“Thank you. I have nothing to say, but I’m thrilled with so much gratitude. I just thank God for this moment. I love y’all so much,” she tearfully told the crowd. “My beloved, I love you. My fans, I love you. MTV, I love you. Good night!”
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Well, a lot of people have been pretty naked at the VMAs. But in 1999, Lil’ Kim wore a one-shoulder look that featured only a pastie on her left breast, causing co-presenter Diana Ross to give Lil’ Kim’s uh, lil girl, a joking tap as they hit the stage together.
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In a moment that was just so uncomfortable, the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, and his new bride, Lisa Marie Presley (only child of rock ‘n’ roll king Elvis Presley) attempted to prove to the entire world how “real” their marriage was by making out on stage (which always works) at the 1994 awards show. “Just think, nobody thought this would last,” Jackson said before initiating the most awkward kiss ever. Unsurprisingly, two years later the couple called it quits.
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Was it something we said? Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher went on one of his bad-boy tirades during a performance at the 1996 show by swearing, wandering the stage and making lewd gestures during his brother Noel’s guitar solo. He finished the song by tossing a beer on the stage and storming off.
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Drama was brewing between VMAs host Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj prior to the 2015 awards, after Cyrus called the rapper “not too kind” in an interview with the New York Times. Minaj retaliated while accepting the award for Best Hip-Hop Video, starting with, “Now, back to this b—- that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press.” Within seconds, though, she was letting it all out: “Miley, what’s good?!” Cyrus was quick to defend herself, implying her words had been manipulated by the Times. The Internet was torn on whether or not the drama was real — you be the judge.
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While accepting her best new artist award in 1997, Fiona Apple decided to scrap the typical thank-you speech and use the opportunity to share her deep thoughts on life. “This world is bullshit,” she said. “You shouldn’t model your life about what you think that we think is cool or what we’re wearing or what we’re saying. Go with yourself.” Truer words have never been spoken.
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At the 2016 awards, Drake presented sometimes-flame Rihanna with the Video Vanguard Award, delivering a moving speech in which he said, “She’s someone I’ve been in love with since I was 22 years old. She’s one of my best friends in the world. She’s a living breathing legend in our industry.”
When handing RiRi her statuette, he went in for a kiss — but the pop star turned her cheek (ouch!). Twitter freaked out, though Rihanna later thanked the rapper for his words in a lengthy Instagram post about the night, saying, “Your speech was so touching and I love you for that!”
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Let them eat cake! Madonna took costuming to a whole other lavish level for her 1990 performance of dressing up in extravagant royal garb that included an enormous wig, pearls, a pannier, a plunging neckline, a corset, fan and over-the-top set with gilded decor. After all, nothing is fancier than channeling Marie Antoinette!
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There has never been a smile so big! After rocking out on stage to her song “Love on Top” at the 2011 show, Beyoncé unbuttoned her sparkly jacket and put her baby bump on display, signaling to the audience that, yes, she was indeed pregnant. Jay Z beamed from the front row, Kanye was pumped – it was a joyous occasion for all. If only people had paid more attention to how she introduced the song: “I want you to stand up on your feet,” she said. “I want you to feel the love that’s growing inside me.” Ah, like a baby!
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Read the room! Before presenting Video of the Year at the 2018 awards, Madonna paid tribute to Aretha Franklin, in a moment critics called totally tone deaf.
The singer said that, if not for Franklin, she would not be Madonna, and then proceeded to speak about herself rather than focusing on Franklin’s legacy. People were upset with not only Madge, but MTV as well, for what they saw as a lack of a proper tribute to the legendary Franklin, who died on Aug. 16, 2018 of pancreatic cancer.
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