In the 32-year history of the awards show, we’ve seen pop icons pash, reveal their pregnancies, wear dresses made out of actual meat, wear dresses made out of nothing at all and – wait a second, I’mma let you finish, but we all know the most bonkers moment of the MTV VMAs goes to Kanye West when he interrupted Taylor Swift onstage in 2009 and declared the best video of all time belonged to his girl Beyonce. Ahem.
Kanye vs Taylor Swift – 2009
You hardly need reminding of this moment: it’s the story that won’t die and that Tay Tay wishes she could be “excluded from the narrative” of. You remember. The year is 2009, Beyonce’s seminal ‘All The Single Ladies’ is ringing out from every radio, and yet Taylor Swift’s ‘You Belong With Me’ is named ‘Best Video Of The Year’, presented by her former flame Taylor Lautner (why does nobody comment on the awkwardness of this more? Ah, pop culture notes lost to the ages). This was Taylor pre-Squad days, pre-Kloss, pre-Victorias Secret, pre-Hiddleston. She was still the awkward girl sitting at the front of the class, hoping we’d all get on board with her country music thing.
Of course, one person who definitely <wasn’t> on board was Kanye West, who stormed the stage midway through her acceptance speech to proclaim “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you. Imma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.” He was booed off the stage, as Taylor stood there looking confused and hurt. Poor thing. Since then the narrative has all but exploded, culminating in Yeezy giving something he probably thought looked like a contrite tribute to Taylor at last year’s VMAs but was actually him announcing he would run for President, followed by the release of his single Famous – choice lyric ‘I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous’ – and then the secret taping of Taylor and Kanye’s conversation about said lyric getting leaked on Kim Kardashian’s snapchat. Ah, the VMAs. Such bonkers memories.
Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke twerk enthusiastically – 2013
No amount of therapy will help erase the image of Miley Cyrus twerking all over Robin Thicke at the 2013 VMAs from our minds. In fact, there was so much to take in from the entire performance – from the giant dancing teddy bears to Miley’s furry onesie to her limbs akimbo performance, to the shocked reactions of the audience – Drake nodding half-heartedly off-beat is one of our favourite gifs EVER – but it was when she stripped off to nude bra and undies and brought out Robin Thicke from the depths of some Beetlejuice revival tour to sing a few choruses of his summer anthem ‘Blurred Lines’ that things took a turn for the crazy, with Miley proceeding to twerk enthusiastically with the star and Thicke responding with a very ill-advised wiggle of his hips. In the aftermath of this moment, Thicke and his wife Paula Patton split up, and so did Miley and her then-fiance Liam Hemsworth, although the pair have since reconciled.
Britney Spears and Madonna lock lips - 2003
Actually, that headline should read Britney Spears, Madonna and Christina Aguilera lock lips, but unfortunately X-Tina’s part in this glorious charade has been lost to history, with people preferring to remember the infamous Madonna and Britney, Bitch kiss instead. And boy, was it unforgettable – Britney shedding her good girl image with one open-mouthed snog with Madge, and Madonna proving once and for all nobody does controversy quite like her. And Justin Timberlake looking on in horror. The perfect blend of tabloid glee and pop culture cringe: they just don’t make VMA moments quite like this any more.
Beyonce announces her pregnancy – 2011
These days, pregnancy announcements require a nude Instagram snap or a carefully orchestrated tabloid interview. But back in 2011, Beyonce all but broke the internet when she performed a slowed-down version of her hit single ‘Love On Top’, powering through the song’s glorious key change and then, right at the end, dropping the mic, unbuttoning her sequined blazer and clutching her swelling stomach, confirming that she was pregnant with her first child. The crowd, predictably, went wild. Kanye West was practically weeping with joy and Lady Gaga – dressed as her male alter ego Jo Calderone, remember that??? – punched the air exuberantly.
Madonna is Like A Virgin – 1984
At the very first MTV VMAs in 1984 an ingénue by the name of Madonna sung her hit single Like A Virgin in a bridal veil and puffy wedding dress, while writhing on the top of a styrofoam wedding cake. Throughout the performance, she slowly shed each layer of her dress and let down her hair. And, okay, compared to the twerking and the kissing and the nearly-nude costumes of today’s ceremonies, it may look relatively tame, this performance was simply scandalous in 1984 and totally iconic.
Britney is a slave with a snake – 2001
Britney, Bitch, is unlikely ever to live down her 2001 MTV VMA performance of ‘Im A Slave 4 U’, which came complete with jungle theatrics, botanic-printed short shorts, backup dancers dressed as leopards who on occasion were actually ridden by Britney, Bitch as part of the routine, bedazzled belly buttons and, of course, an albino diamond python wrapped around one Britney, Bitch’s neck. At the time, Britney admitted she was terrified of the snake, but that was nowhere apparent in her truly Fierce catwalk strut clutching the snake. This performance was one for the history books, and one crazy moment that all other performers have attempted to live up to since.
Beyonce is a Feminist – 2014
The VMAs has a history of bestowing fake-sounding awards, and their ‘Video Vanguard’ award is one such dubious honour. The winner in 2014 was Beyonce, who accepted the award in a bedazzled onesie after an unforgettable performance of a medley of her hits Flawless and Yonce, with husband Jay-Z and daughter Blue Ivy clapping on from the audience. What makes this performance so great, isn’t its wholehearted embrace of strobe lighting, nor Beyonce’s on point dance moves, but the big old billboard that flashed up right in the middle, emblazoned with the word ‘Feminist’. The move took the word to the masses and cemented Beyonce’s position as Chief Pop Culture Feminist Envoy. Long may she reign.
Nicki Minaj asks Miley, What’s Good? – 2015
When Miley was asked back to the VMA stage to host last year, everyone was on tenterhooks wondering what crazy moments would ensue. And we certainly got one, when Nicki used her acceptance speech to call out the evening’s host. ‘Miley, what’s good?’ The now-infamous slam has become a massive meme, doing the rounds of the internet almost daily.
Lady Gaga wears a meat dress – 2010
Lady Gaga seems to have toned down her act a little bit in recent years, so much so that we forget that just six short years ago she was doing things like attending awards ceremonies in dresses made entirely out of raw meat.