17 Outrageous, Shocking And Memorable Moments That Defined The VMAs

Madonna, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé are just three of the stars who've made headlines at the ceremony in past years.
Dave Hogan / John Shearer / Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/ANDREAS BRANCH/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Since they launched in 1984, the MTV Video Music Awards have been the site of countless iconic celebrity moments.

While the show is well known for its A-list performances, sometimes the most drama actually happens off stage, whether a shocking feud coming to the boil, a hair-raising outfit choice turning heads or a bold outburst on stage.

From Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears to Kanye West and Madonna, here are just some of the most outrageous, shocking and memorable VMAs moments ever...

Nicki Minaj puts Miley Cyrus on the spot (2015)

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Weeks before the VMAs in 2015, Miley – who was hosting that year – commented in an interview that Nicki had been “not very polite”, when the rapper suggested that the lack of nominations for her Anaconda music video was due to her race.

Miley said at the time: “If you want to make it about race, there’s a way you could do that. But don’t make it just about yourself.“

What the We Can’t Stop singer probably didn’t count on was Nicki calling her out at the ceremony itself.

After winning one of the first awards of the night, Nicki remarked: “Now back to... this bitch that had a lot to say to me the other day in the press. Miley, what’s good?”

A flustered Miley responded: “Hey, we’re all in this industry. We all do interviews. And we all know how they manipulate s***. Nicki, congratulations.”

Michael Jackson makes a very embarrassing blunder (2002)

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File this under: “toe-curlingly awkward”.

The 2002 VMAs were held on Michael Jackson’s birthday, so producers couldn’t let it slip by without bringing him out on stage so that Britney Spears could present him with a cake.

What they hadn’t banked on was that when Britney called him the “artist of the millennium”, Michael would mistakenly think he’d been given an award with that title, and promptly start making an acceptance speech.

America meets a new Brand of controversy (2008)

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There was a time when wherever Russell Brand would go, controversy would soon follow, as America learned when the comedian was picked to front the VMAs in 2008.

He wound up on the receiving end of death threats when he repeatedly took shots at then-US president George W Bush, as well as joking about the Jonas Brothers’ purity rings.

MTV obviously wasn’t too bothered, though, as he was asked back the following year.

Justin Timberlake tries extremely hard to keep his cool (2003)


For those that don’t know, this image shows the VMAs audience’s reaction to Britney Spears and Madonna’s on-stage kiss in 2003.

If you look in the background, you can see a very blurry Carson Kressley getting his absolute life, Mary J Blige looking... concerned, we suppose the word is, and Justin Timberlake knowing full well the cameras are on him during his famous ex’s big moment, but giving them absolutely nothing.

Rose McGowan turns heads on the red carpet (1998)

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The VMAs are very often the birthplace of iconic red carpet fashion moments, which is exactly what happened when Charmed star Rose McGowan turned up to the ceremony in this barely-there ensemble.

“It was kind of like Russell Crowe and Gladiator when it comes out in the ring and he’s like, ’Are you not entertained?’,” the actor and activist shared. “And that was why I did that. That was my response to being assaulted.”

Madonna misreads the situation as she pays tribute to Aretha Franklin (2018)

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Madonna has been pushing buttons at the VMAs for decades, but in 2018, she caused a commotion without even meaning to.

That year’s event fell just days after Aretha Franklin’s death, an event which just happened to fall on Madonna’s 60th birthday.

During the show, the Queen of Pop was invited to give a speech, but in paying her respects to Aretha, proceeded to talk mainly about herself, which a lot of people took issue with.

Addressing the heavy criticism she faced, Madonna later told her Instagram followers she was actually only asked to share a personal Aretha anecdote as part of her opening speech, and she had not intended “to do a [full] tribute to her”.

Diana Ross gets a little over-familar with Lil Kim (1999)


Lil Kim gave the VMAs one of its most iconic looks in 1999, when she showed up in a purple one-piece and matching wig, with one of her breasts partially exposed.

As she took to the stage to present an award with Diana Ross, the legendary singer couldn’t resist passing comment on the revealing ensemble... before getting more than a little handsy with the rapper.

Lady Gaga wears... this (2010)

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Of course, if we’re talking about iconic VMAs fashion moments, we can’t possibly not mention Lady Gaga’s most memorable look ever... the meat dress.

What’s often forgotten is that the infamous garment was actually supposed to be a fashion statement about repealing the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in the US military, which was still in effect at the time.

This was also the year that Gaga was awarded Video Of The Year for Bad Romance, celebrating the win by belting out a line from her then-upcoming single Born This Way.

Lady Gaga wears... something else (2011)

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And how do you top an outfit made entirely of meat?

Why, by showing up in full drag as your cigarette-smoking, whiskey-swigging male alter-ego Jo Calderone, of course.

Beyoncé announces her pregnancy (2011)

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Queen Bey had us all speculating about whether she and Jay-Z were expecting their first child, when she struck this maternal pose on the red carpet.

Hours later, with Twitter alight with rumours, she confirmed that the couple did, indeed, have a baby on the way, following an incredible performance of her song Love On Top.

Taylor Swift puts her foot firmly in her mouth (2015)

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The Shake It Off singer had the world at her feet by the summer of 2015, but her public profile took a nosedive when she misconstrued a tweet from Nicki Minaj as a personal attack, and quickly went on the defence, leading to this awkward exchange.

Nicki and Taylor eventually performed together at that year’s ceremony, putting their supposed beef behind them.

Britney Spears makes a triumphant return (2008)

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Not all memorable VMAs moments are rooted in awkwardness and petty feuding, though.

Britney Spears’ 2007 VMAs performance came at the end of a turbulent year for the star, and what was intended to launch her comeback, wound up getting everyone talking for all the wrong reasons.

Just a year later, and with the whole world rooting for her, Britney made a return to the ceremony in 2008 looking happy, healthy and even taking home her first ever VMAs, including a Video Of The Year win for Piece Of Me.

Kanye West announces plans to run for president (2015)

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In lieu of a traditional performance, when Kanye West took home the Video Vanguard Award in 2015, he delivered an 11-minute speech, during which he discussed his music, his ongoing feud with Taylor Swift and his personal life.

The real headline-grabbing moment came at the very end of his speech, though, as Ye told the crowds, including his then-wife Kim Kardashian, seen grinning in the crowd: “And yes, as you probably could have guessed by this moment, I have decided in 2020 to run for President.”

This would later turn out to be completely true...

Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke raise eyebrows the world over (2013)

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We’ve got a whole separate list of performances, so we’ll not dwell on this too much, but we couldn’t do a round-up of outrageous VMAs moments and not include Miley’s 2013 routine.

It’s tough to pick exactly what the most shocking part of this career-defining performance was, to be honest. Was it the foam finger? The teddy bear-inspired leotard? Or Miley’s ever-present tongue as she twerked on Robin Thicke in front of the world’s media..?

Miley Cyrus hints that the show is fixed (2013)

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Despite stealing the whole show with her outrageous performance, Miley expressed her disdain with the VMAs in the middle of the 2013 ceremony, hinting that the show was fixed in favour of One Direction.

She tweeted that she had left the night early, adding: “I’m no psychic but congrats [to One Direction].”

And she wasn’t wrong either, with Best Song Ever being named Song Of The Summer, despite having been released less than a month earlier.

The group’s win led to some boos from the crowds, although they were later defended by fellow performer Lady Gaga.

Kanye West likes you and wants to let you finish. But... (2009)

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Yeah, we all know what went down here. But we’re still not over the shock it all, to be honest.

Lil Mama gets a little too enthusiastic (2009)

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But what people often forget is that Ye wasn’t the only star who stormed the stage that night.

During Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ closing performance of Empire State Of Mind, rapper Lil Mama surprised both of them by leaping onto the stage and starting to dance. She later confessed to feeling a little too “caught up in the moment”.


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