The Wildest VMAs Moments of All Time

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Relatively speaking, the MTV Video Music Awards is a young ceremony. Making its debut in the '80s, and hitting its stride in the '90s and '00s, the VMAs quickly became the place for performers to lean in on their personas. It's earned a reputation of being bold, unpredictable, and controversial: in at least two cases, the cops have been called. Unlike buttoned-up affairs like the Oscars and the Met Gala, the VMAs is an arena where celebrities have traditionally felt empowered to go there.

So, if you enjoy drama, get ready: These are the wildest and most jaw-dropping moments from the VMAs.

Macy Grey's Dress

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This one's fairly self-explanatory: Macy Grey used her dress to promote her upcoming album, quite literally: "MY NEW ALBUM DROPS SEPT. 18 2001,” the front reads (and the back reads, "BUY IT.") Sadly, the ploy didn't work, and album sales were underwhelming.

A Double Denim Reference

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If you remember the Britney Spears-Justin Timberlake double denim outfit at another awards ceremony (the AMAs), so did Katy Perry and Riff Raff. Thirteen years after the original event, the pair gave us a slightly more modernized update to the "classic" look.

Britney and G-Eazy

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This incredibly awkward encounter included Britney Spears putting her hand on G-Eazy's crotch and the duo grinding up against each other, but the most cringe-y part might have been G-Eazy going in for a kiss...and Spears dodging away from it and shaking her head no.

Fifth Harmony Dumps a Member

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Wow, that felt...pointed! When Fifth Harmony took the stage in 2017, they started with five members, before the middle one jumped back and off the stage. It was a very not-subtle comment upon Camila Cabello, who had left the group at the end of 2016. Wow.

Beyoncé's Pregnancy Announcement

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Instead of a card, or a gender reveal party, or a themed cake, Queen Bey chose a more dramatic way to reveal she was pregnant with her first child: At the end of her Grammys performance, she literally dropped the mic, unbuttoned her jacket, and cradled her bump. Epic.

Rihanna Dodges a Kiss

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Oh goodness, this was awkward. While he was presenting Rihanna with the 2016 Video Vanguard Award, Drake admitted that he'd been in love with her since he was 22 (the two had dated years ago, and it was rumored they were dating again). Then he went in for a kiss...and Rihanna swerved.

T-Pain's Elephant

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I bet it's hard to stand out on a red carpet with so many stars. But T-Pain, accompanied by circus performers and a literal elephant...certainly stood out! This was all to promote Three Ringz, his studio album. The elephant was covered in gold jewelry and cloth, and T-Pain called her "my beautiful woman." Okay.

"Miley, What's Good?"

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Nicki Minaj is no stranger to beef or controversy (this isn't the only time she makes it on this list). But certainly one of her most memorable was during her acceptance speech, in which she called out Miley Cyrus as " this b**ch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley, what's good??"


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The very popular Howard Stern was hoping to reinvent a National Lampoon character and start a movie franchise with a gross "Fartman" skit on stage (with bare butt cheeks in the back!). Needless to say, the skit flopped, there was no movie, and the whole thing became a punchline.

Andrew Dice Clay Is Banned

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Banned for life, no less! On stage to introduce Cher, Andrew Dice Clay said some particularly colorful swear words and provided us with, among others, this nursery rhyme: “Rockabye baby on the treetop/Your mother’s a whore, I ain’t your pop.” So, you know, that did it!

Pee Wee Herman's Joke

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Following an arrest for indecent exposure at an adult movie theater, Pee-wee Herman (whose show was aimed at kids) immediately faced an onslaught of backlash. Yet, in the face of cancellation, he got onstage and quipped, "Heard any good jokes lately?” The crowd roared in appreciation.

Van Halen's Tough Reunion

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In a world of awkward moments, this one is right at the top: The strain between members of Van Halen (specifically Diamond Dave and David Lee Roth) literally played out right on stage as the group, ostensibly there to promote some greatest hits, tried and failed to make nice.

Courtney Love Interrupts Madonna

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After throwing her compact at Madonna, who was mid-interview, Courtney Love was invited to the conversation. It uncomfortable to watch, but included some impressively snarky Madonna commentary including, "Courtney Love is in dire need of attention right now."

Krist Novoselic Hits Himself With His Guitar

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While performing onstage in 1992, the bassist for Nirvana later remembered, "We started playing this song and my amp just didn’t work. So I thought, ‘I’m gonna do this bass toss and walk off.' Well, the bass got caught in the TV lights, and then boom! It fell on my head." He noted in another interview, "The only time I’ve ever dropped it was then in front of 300 million people.”

Cobain Slips In Lyrics

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In the same performance, Kurt Cobain was there to play "Lithium" but said he'd much rather prefer to play the more controversial, "Rape Me." He and the band was forbidden from doing so, but Cobain played the first few bars anyways before playing "Lithium."

Lil Mama Rushes the Stage

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While Alicia Keys and Jay-Z took to the stage to play “Empire State of Mind," (which is, to be fair, a banger), native New Yorker Lil Mama was so inspired that she took the stage. Was she supposed to? No. Both performers looked befuddled and just tried to keep going.

Eddie Murphy Takes Us to the Bathroom

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Eddie Murphy hosted the 1985 VMAs and decided to take viewers on a tour of Radio City in the middle of the show. What follows is spontaneous and funny, but in a bit that could have gone horribly wrong, he ends up in the women's bathroom, scaring the crap out of a very confused lady coming out of the facilities.

Taylor's Words for Harry Styles

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As One Direction took the stage to announce Best Pop Video, the camera panned to Taylor Swift (who had previously dated Harry Styles). There was no audio, but it sure looked like Swift was whispering to pal Selena Gomez, "Shut the **** up." Then 1D announced Gomez as the winner, lol.

Fiona Apple's Speech

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Pop icon Fiona Apple has never been one to shy away from speaking her mind. So, when she won Best New Artist, she had some thoughts for her fans. “This world is bull****...You shouldn’t model your life on what we think is cool, and what we’re wearing and what we’re saying and everything. Go with yourself.”

Lady Gaga "Dies"

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After being nominated for nine awards that year, Lady Gaga took the stage to perform "Paparazzi”—and then gave a wild performance, in which she ultimately got drenched in blood and ended the performance hanging limply from a noose. Fame killed her, get it?

Miley Twerks on Robin

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There was a lot at play in this performance, but the factors leading up to the "twerk heard round the world" involved some concerns about 1) Miley Cyrus' and Robin Thicke's age difference, 2) their not great live performance, 3) Cyrus' appropriation of twerking, 4) some lewd gestures made with a foam finger, and, ultimately, 5) Cyrus grinding up against Thicke.

Diana Ross and Lil' Kim

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Diana Ross thought Lil' Kim's costume on stage (bodysuit plus strategically placed pastie) was so funny that she reached over and, uh, jiggled Lil' Kim's breast. Both of them laughed it off, but Mary J. Blige over on our left there looks like she's absolutely not having it.

Prince's Butt

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In what I can only imagine must have been a funny sight gag for the audience, Prince took the stage in 1991 to deliver “Gett Off” in a yellow jumpsuit...that when he turned, revealed itself to be sheer. Specifically in the butt area. Yes, Prince showed everyone his butt on stage.

Madonna's Wedding Dress

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Madonna's always been an iconoclast, but one of her most infamous moments was when she sang "Like a Virgin" in a wedding dress (yes, her belt says "Boy Toy"!). Apparently, lol, she was originally planning to sing the song to a Bengal tiger on stage, although clearer heads thankfully prevailed.

Lady Gaga's Meat Dress

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If you're familiar with one wild VMAs outfit, it's probably this one. Lady Gaga appeared at the ceremony in a meat dress—and yes, it's actual meat—saying later that "If we don't stand up for what we believe in and if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones."

Britney and the Python

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To sing “I’m a Slave 4 U” on stage in 2001, a real, living python was placed around Britney Spears' neck—and she then proceeded to (carefully) dance around with it. In her memoir, Spears later said that she was terrified and the snake was hissing at her the whole time.

Eminem Threatens to Hit Moby

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After an altercation with, of all things, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Eminem got onstage to call singer Moby "that Moby girl" and added, "I will hit a man with glasses." (Moby had previously called "a misogynist, a homophobe, a racist, and an anti-Semite." Eminem had responded by calling him a slur in one of his songs.)

Adam "MCA" Yauch Storms the Stage

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In one of the weirdest moments from the show ever, Beastie Boys’ Adam “MCA” Yauch stormed the stage as his alter ego Nathanial Hornblower to protest Spike Jonze's winning for Best Director for R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts." In a largely incoherent speech, he said it was an "outrage" and a “farce."

Kid Rock Fights Tommy Lee

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The 2007 VMAs were, even by normal standards, chaotic (and including more than one fight), but the crowning "achievement" may have been when Kid Rock attacked Tommy Lee. The two share an ex in Pamela Anderson, and Kid Rock later noted their beef had been "going on for five years."

Tim Commerford Climbs a Set

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Rage Against the Machine band member Y.tim.K (Tim Commerford) was so mad that Limp Bizkit won for Best Rock Video that he climbed the stage scaffolding...and was arrested. He spent the night in jail and the incident was cited as a contributing factor for why the band broke up.

Madonna, Britney, and Christina

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Yup! With a callback to her iconic wedding dress performance, Madonna took the stage with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera clad in white to perform and, ultimately, kiss them both on the lips. A lot of (frankly homophobic) backlash followed, and Spears in particular was vilified.

Taylor and Kanye

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It was the beginning of a very complicated feud, but there's no denying that Kanye taking the microphone from a very stunned Taylor Swift to loudly proclaim that "Beyoncé had the best video of all time” was one of the most awkward awards show moments. Ever.

Katherine J. Igoe
Contributing Editor

Katherine’s a contributing syndications editor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle. In her role, she writes stories that are syndicated by MSN and other outlets. She’s been a full-time freelancer for over a decade and has had roles with Cosmopolitan (where she covered lifestyle, culture, and fashion SEO content) and Bustle (where she was their movies and culture writer). She has bylines in New York TimesParentsInStyle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Her work has also been syndicated by ELLEHarper’s BazaarSeventeenGood Housekeeping, and Women’s Health, among others. In addition to her stories reaching millions of readers, content she's written and edited has qualified for a Bell Ringer Award and received a Communicator Award. 

Katherine has a BA in English and art history from the University of Notre Dame and an MA in art business from the Sotheby's Institute of Art (with a focus on marketing/communications). She covers a wide breadth of topics: she's written about how to find the very best petite jeanshow sustainable travel has found its footing on Instagram, and what it's like to be a professional advice-giver in the modern world. Her personal essays have run the gamut from learning to dress as a queer woman to navigating food allergies as a mom. She also has deep knowledge of SEO/EATT, affiliate revenue, commerce, and social media; she regularly edits the work of other writers. She speaks at writing-related events and podcasts about freelancing and journalism, mentors students and other new writers, and consults on coursework. Currently, Katherine lives in Boston with her husband and two kids, and you can follow her on Instagram. If you're wondering about her last name, it’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.