Jennifer Lopez Was Supposed to Perform Alongside Madonna and Britney Spears at the 2003 MTV VMAs—Where *That* Infamous Kiss Happened

After Lopez had to drop out to film a movie, Christina Aguilera stepped in.

Britney Spears and Madonna at the 2003 MTV VMAs
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The 2003 MTV Video Music Awards (colloquially referred to as the VMAs) took place on August 28, 2003. Beyoncé and Jay-Z performed “Crazy in Love,” which was the hit of the summer. Coldplay, Black Eyed Peas, and 50 Cent also took the stage. But there was one performance that cemented its place in pop culture history: Madonna, alongside Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, whose performance is remembered less for the songs sung (by the way, that was “Like a Virgin,” “Hollywood,” and “Work It” with Missy Elliott) and more for the kiss. You know, that kiss. People reports that it was kept such a tightly guarded secret that Madonna had everyone clear out Radio City Music Hall during their rehearsals so no one would know that the surprise moment was about to happen—and after it did, it was all anyone could talk about.

Britney Spears and Madonna at the MTV VMAs

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Several former MTV staffers revealed, in a new report from Rolling Stone, that executives knew the performance would cause controversy once they found out what it entailed. “When you turn to Madonna, [MTV network chiefs] were always very understanding that this is her creative moment,” ex-MTV staffer Summer Strauch told the publication. (Madonna, by the way, was given complete control over the performance.) “They value whatever she chooses.”

Britney Spears at the 2003 MTV VMAs

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Details of the performance changed throughout production; Jennifer Lopez was actually supposed to perform with Madonna and Spears before she dropped out to film the movie Shall We Dance?. “I was fearful that the performance was in jeopardy,” said former MTV president Van Toffler.

Aguilera got on board, and rehearsals were going well, but everyone was kept in the dark about the performance shrouded in secrecy. Once worried that it would fall apart altogether with Lopez’s exit, after former VMAs director Beth McCarthy-Miller flew to Los Angeles to watch a run-through, she told Toffler “‘You’re not going to be able to tell anyone, but I think this is going to make you happy,’” Toffler recalled her telling him over the phone. “‘Madonna kisses Britney and Christina.’”

Britney Spears, Madonna, and Christina Aguilera at the 2003 MTV VMAs

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Madonna and Christina Aguilera at the 2003 MTV VMAs

(Image credit: Getty Images)

“You knew it was going to be a moment,” Strauch said of when she learned what the performance would entail. “I remember everyone smiling and high-fiving.”

Sure enough, Madonna kissed both Spears and Aguilera, and “the lip-locking prompted a media frenzy that’s still discussed today,” People reports. 

When Madonna cleared the area for rehearsals, “Radio stations around the country were coming to do live broadcasts from there, so we had to get literally everybody out,” said MTV’s former executive vice president of music and talent Tom Calderone. “And then you’ve got the gift room—that had to be evacuated. Even security. At the end, there were only a handful of us in that room, and a few people in the truck outside [where McCarthy-Miller and her team dictated the camera shots].”

Britney Spears and Missy Elliott at the 2003 MTV VMAs

(Image credit: Getty Images)

In the end, the secrecy paid off, as it was the No. 1 news item of the moment. It’s still spoken about today—Pink recently claimed to have been asked to be a part of the performance alongside Gwen Stefani. And, a controversy though it was, MTV reportedly appreciated it—in fact, that’s why they wanted Madonna to perform in the first place, as she had always been known for stirring the pot.

“You give Madonna the germ of an idea or just the real estate, and she’s going to take it,” Toffer said. “She had a history of pushing us and pushing culture, and that’s what was great about her and what was great about MTV. We pushed culture in provocative ways.”

Speaking of the Queen of Pop, Page Six reported that Madonna wants Spears (who is currently going through a separation from husband Sam Asghari) to join her on her Celebration tour, hoping she'll join her onstage at one of her Los Angeles shows in March. (Madonna had to push back her tour after a health scare over the summer.) In particular, the outlet writes, Madonna wants to mark the twentieth anniversary of their collaboration, the song “Me Against the Music,” which came out in October 2003, two months after the infamous onstage kiss. 

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.