Over the course of nearly 40 years, MTV’s Video Music Awards (VMAs) have provided some of pop culture’s most unforgettable moments.
Ahead of its 2023 ceremony, airing live tonight (12 September) from New Jersey’s Prudential Center at 5pm PST/8pm EST, read below to relive some of the show’s most memorable moments – from Madonna’s unfortunate wardrobe malfunction to Kanye West’s infamous interruption of Taylor Swift.
1984: Madonna’s wardrobe malfunction
During the VMA’s 1984 inaugural show, the Queen of Pop – who could be dethroned by Taylor Swift as the ceremony’s most decorated artist tonight – performed her hit single “Like A Virgin”.
Unfortunately, as the now-65-year-old singer was walking down the set’s staircase, one of her white stiletto shoes fell off.
In an attempt to make the accident appear choreographed, Madonna dove for the shoe; however, her white, poofy dress flipped up and exposed her bare bottom.
“Those were the days when you shouldn’t show your butt to have a career,” she recalled during a 2022 appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. “Now it’s the opposite.
“It happened by accident, and I didn’t even know my butt was showing. And it wasn’t even like the whole butt. It was just like a butt cheek, like half of a butt cheek,” Madonna said. “But when I went backstage, my manager told me my career was over with.”
1999: Diana Ross touches Lil Kim’s breast
Diana Ross joined fellow artists Mary J Blige and Lil Kim on stage to present the Beastie Boys with the 1999 award for Best Hip-Hop Video. Ross shared an embrace with Blige before turning her attention to Lil Kim.
Notably, Lil Kim was sporting an all-purple ensemble that featured a revealing element, with one of her breasts exposed (although she was wearing a purple nipple pastie). In a playful gesture, Ross reached out and gave her breast a jiggle.
2000: Rage Against the Machine’s protest against category loss
In 2000, Rage Against the Machine’s bassist Tim Commerford climbed atop the award show’s set in protest of the rock band’s category defeat to Limp Bizkit.
Commerford’s fit over losing Best Rock Video to the nu-metal band landed him in jail for the night, and the “Killing In The Name” group split up soon after.
2003: Three-way Madonna, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears kiss
Despite her risky blunder at the 1984 VMAs, Madonna made several comebacks. In 2003, she made headlines again when she shared an on-stage kiss with both Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears while performing her track “Hollywood”.
2009: Kanye West’s infamous interruption
One of the most unforgettable moments in VMA history remains Kanye West’s sudden and unexpected interruption during Taylor Swift’s first-ever win.
Just as the singer was accepting the honour for Best Video by a Female Artist for “You Belong with Me”, the rapper, 46, ran on stage and grabbed the microphone from her hands.
“I’m really happy for you – I’mma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!” West announced, leaving Swift speechless.
The moment went on to inspire popular memes, as well as a years-long feud between the two artists. In 2020, the “All Falls Down” rapper addressed the incident, saying that he crashed Swift’s speech because God told him to.
2009: Lady Gaga’s blood-curdling costume
During a theatrical rendition of her song “Paparazzi”, Lady Gaga appeared to ooze blood from her top mid-section. Dressed in a white wig, white thigh-high boots, and a white two-piece outfit, the singer was unphased by the mess, later confirming that the shocking scene was intentional.
2010: Lady Gaga’s meat suit
The next year, Lady Gaga made another bold statement. Walking up to receive her award for Best Video of the Year for her hit “Bad Romance”, she wore an outfit entirely made from raw Argentinian beef.
She later revealed that it was a nod to her “equality is the prime rib of America” line from her speech against America’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on LGBT+ people serving in the military.
2011: Beyoncé confirms pregnancy
Beyoncé used the VMA stage not only to give an incredible performance of “Love on Top” but also to announce she was pregnant with Blue Ivy.
After belting out the 2011 hit, she turned to the camera, undid her sparkly purple blazer, and simply gave her small baby bump a rub.
2013: Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke
Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke gave fans an extremely provocative performance of Thicke’s mega-hit, “Blurred Lines”.
As Thicke sang the lyrics, Cyrus danced around the stage in an overtly sexual manner. At one point, she twerked on Thicke’s crotch. The “Party in the USA” singer’s “inappropriate” dance routine sparked major backlash from parent groups.
She later responded to the criticism, saying: “I don’t pay attention to the negative because I’ve seen this play out so many times.
“How many times have we seen this play out in pop music? Madonna’s done it. Britney’s done it. Every VMA performance, that’s what you’re looking for; you’re wanting to make history,” she added at the time.
2015: Justin Bieber’s emotional breakdown on stage
Following his performance of “What Do You Mean”, Justin Bieber broke down sobbing on stage as the crowd cheered loudly for him.
“I just wasn’t expecting them to support me in the way that they did,” Bieber told Jimmy Fallon of the moment in 2015. “Last time I was at an award show, I was booed.
“Stepping into situations, you just can’t help but feel judged. I was just feeling judged and wanting to win so badly and just wanting to do what I love so badly that I just put everything on the line,” he continued.
“That’s what’s so special about the emotional moment at the end,” he said. “It was authentic, it was real. I was really just wanting it so bad.”