MTV VMAs 2016: 16 Most Iconic Performances Ever

Including Britney's snake, Madonna's powdered wig and Beyoncé's fierce choreo.

23/08/2016 14:59
J Kravitz/K Mazur/F Micelotta/K Winter/Image Direct

Over the past 31 years, the MTV VMAs have seen literally the biggest names in pop music take to the stage.

That’s no exaggeration - music heavyweights like David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince and Tina Turner have all taken to the stage and delivered memorable performances of some of their biggest hits.

And more recently, artists have used the platform of the VMAs to cement their place in the pop scene, with acts like Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, and Miley Cyrus all wowing (and quite often shocking) audiences around the world with their awards show appearances.

Here are just 16 of the most shocking, emotional and downright iconic VMAs performances ever...

  • Madonna - 'Like A Virgin' (1984)
    MTV brought out the big guns for the very first VMAs, with Tina Turner, David Bowie and Rod Stewart all on the bill.

    However, it was a new artist named Madonna who stole the show with this provocative routine, writhing around while dressed in raunchy bridal attire.
  • Cher - 'If I Could Turn Back Time' (1989)
    After shocking everyone with her barely-there outfit in the 'If I Could Turn Back Time' music video, it seemed only fitting that she sported it when she performed the track at the VMAs.

    21 years later, she wore it again when presenting Lady Gaga with Video Of The Year. Gaga, not to be outdone, was wearing her meat dress at the time.
  • Madonna - 'Vogue' (1990)
    Bringing a new meaning to 'yass queen', Madonna channelled Marie Antoinette for this stunning performance in 1990 complete with powder wigs, a lot of fan action and some jolly big bloomers.
  • Nirvana - 'Lithium' (1992)
    The VMAs aren't just about the pop acts, though, and after scooping Best New Artist in 1992, Nirvana also showed the world what they do best with this performance.

    After teasing the opening lines of their song 'Rape Me', they went into 'Lithium'.
  • Michael Jackson - 'Billie Jean'/'Dangerous' (1995)
    By 1995, the public had begun to talk more about Michael's colourful personal life than his musical offerings, so he used the opportunity at the VMAs to remind everyone why he was famous in the first place.

    Teaming up with Guns 'N' Roses' guitarist Slash, he began with a performance of 'Billie Jean', before dancing to some new material.
  • Michael Jackson and *NSYNC - 'Pop' (2001)
    The King of Pop returned to the VMAs six years later, to give his blessing to *NSYNC, joining them on stage to dance to their track 'Pop'.

    Time has not been kind to Justin Timberlake's beat boxing.
  • Britney Spears - 'I'm A Slave 4 U' (2001)
    It comes to something, though, when a surprise appearance from the King of Pop wasn't an award ceremony's most talked-about moment.

    That honour went to Britney Spears, who stole the show when she brought out a python during her performance of 'I'm A Slave 4 U'.
  • Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Madonna and Missy Elliott - 'Like A Virgin'/'Hollywood'/'Work It' (2003)
    There's so much to love about this video. Beyoncé's surprising excitement at seeing Britney emerge. The 'Queer Eye For The Straight Guy' squad mouthing along with every word. Guy Ritchie's begrudging standing ovation. Justin Timberlake's obvious discomfort. The most iconic pop song in history being interrupted by Madonna yelling 'yo, yo, yo, who that be?'

    So. Much. Going. On.
  • Britney Spears - 'Gimme More' (2007)
    Sadly, not all performances become iconic for the right reasons.

    Following this, it would be almost a decade before Britney performed at the VMAs again.
  • Janet Jackson - 'Scream' (2009)
    The music world was rocked by the death of Michael Jackson in 2009, and it wouldn't be right for the VMAs not to honour him at the awards show.

    After a host of dancers recreated some of MJ's best-known performances, Janet Jackson appeared to recreate the choreography from their 'Scream' video, which she totally nailed.
  • Lady Gaga - 'Paparazzi' (2009)
    Some artists were born to perform at the VMAs, and Gaga proved she was one of them in 2009, when she put on this weird and wonderful show.

    Shutting up critics who questioned her talent with her spot-on vocals, she went on to do what she does best... something weird. And it was perfect.
  • Beyoncé - 'Single Ladies' (2009)
    In the summer of 2009, it was all about 'Single Ladies', and YouTube became littered with people trying to recreate Bey's choreography, to varying results.

    The woman herself pulled it off effortlessly at the VMAs, first with two dancers as in the music video, and later with a whole squad.
  • Lady Gaga - 'Yoü And I' (2011)
    You'd be forgiven for not recognising Lady Gaga, who opened the show in 2011 performing as her alter-ego, Jo Calderone.

    We enjoyed the 'Yoü And I' performance. The three-minute monologue that preceded it? Less so.
  • Beyoncé - 'Love On Top' (2011)
    Even a dragged-up Lady Gaga couldn't eclipse Beyoncé in 2011, who used her performance at the VMAs to announce that she was pregnant with her daughter.
  • Miley Cyrus/Robin Thicke - 'We Can't Stop'/'Blurred Lines' (2013)
  • Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift - 'Trini Dem Girls'/'The Night Is Still Young'/'Bad Blood' (2015)
    Teaching us all a lesson in taking control of a narrative, Nicki Minaj bossed her VMAs performance by inviting Taylor Swift (who had previously attacked her on Twitter in a confusing row about that year's nominations) to appear at the end of her performance.

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