MTV VMAs 2020: 20 Performances That Stole The Show In Previous Years

Featuring Britney's snake, Miley's foam finger and Beyoncé's big reveal.

For more than 30 years, the MTV VMAs have seen the biggest names in pop music take to the stage, with music heavyweights like Madonna, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé all delivering memorable performances of some of their biggest hits.

More recently, newer artists have used the ceremony to show off their star power, wowing (and quite often shocking) audiences around the world with their appearances.

Here are just 20 of the most memorable, scene-stealing and downright outrageous 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 then-emerging new artist named Madonna who stole the show with this provocative routine, writhing around while dressed in raunchy bridal attire.

It might seem tame by today’s standards, but the uproar truly helped put her on the map, and set her on her way to become one of the most famous singers in the world.

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.

And while the performance was a mile away from the chic and artsy music video that helped make Madonna’s chart-topping hit Vogue so famous, she still managed the full choreography, even in full Versailles garb.

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, bringing grunge music to a more mainstream audience than ever before.

Britney Spears – I’m A Slave 4 U (2001)

Like countless stars before her, it was a performance at the VMAs that cemented Britney’s place on the pop landscape, and while no one was doubting her pop credentials before this, her I’m A Slave 4 U routine was a moment it was clear she was a force to be reckoned with.

While a lot is made of the fact she dances with a snake during this performance, it should also be noted that Britney opens the show sharing a cage with an actual live lion (and the stars of a certain Netflix documentary, if you look closely).

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. One of 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 go down in history for the reasons you would hope.

While Britney’s performance came after a shaky 12 months in her personal life, the singer had bounced back by the following year, even taking home her first haul of VMAs, including the coveted Video Of The Year for Piece Of Me.

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 in the early days of her career with her spot-on vocals, she went on to do what she does best... something odd.

And it was perfect.

Beyoncé – Singles Ladies (Put A Ring On It) (2009)

In the summer of 2009, it was all about Single Ladies, and YouTube became littered with people trying to recreate Bey’s choreography, with varying results.

The woman herself pulled it off effortlessly at the VMAs, first with two dancers as in the music video, and later with an entire squad.

Kanye West – Runaway (2010)

One year on from the stage invasion that got the world talking, it was announced that Kanye West would be returning to the VMAs stage, leaving the world wondering what he would deliver.

At the end of a 12 months that had seen even President Obama branding him a “jackass”, Kanye debuted Runaway with this minimalist performance, featuring ballerinas, interpretative dancers and some of his most personal lyrics ever.

Lady Gaga – Yoü And I (2011)

You’d be forgiven for not recognising Lady Gaga in the above clip, which sees her opening the show in 2011, performing as her alter-ego, Jo Calderone.

We have to say, we enjoyed the Yoü And I performance. The three-minute monologue that preceded it? Not so much.

Beyoncé – Love On Top (2011)

Even a dragged-up Lady Gaga couldn’t eclipse Beyoncé in 2011, who used her incredible performance at the VMAs to announce that she was pregnant with her daughter, Blue Ivy.

Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke – We Can’t Stop/Blurred Lines (2013)

Genuinely, what can we even say? A truly outrageous four minutes.

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 come for her on Twitter in a confusing row about that year’s nominations) to appear at the end of her performance.

Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj – Side To Side (2016)

Listen, we don’t even want to be spoken to after a spin class, let alone do one live in front of millions of people, all while serving live vocals.

Props to Ariana Grande for pulling this off.

Rihanna - Medley (2016)

When Rihanna was given the coveted Video Vanguard title in 2016, she pulled out all the stops to make sure it was a night to remember.

In fact, over the course of the evening she performed several short blasts of a number of her hit singles, reminding everyone of her impressive back catalogue.

Beyoncé – Lemonade (2016)

Grab a cup of tea before you hit play on this one because, clocking in at just over 17 minutes, it’s a bit of a commitment.

You know what, though? We wouldn’t cut a single second of it. What a performance, and what an absolute flex from one of the all-time greats.

Lorde – Homemade Dynamite (2017)

Proving she’s not going to let a little thing like having the flu stop her from performing at the VMAs, Lorde took to the stage anyway.

Unable to sing, though, she instead gave an interpretive dance to Melodrama album cut Homemade Dynamite... with mixed results.

Kendrick Lamar – DNA./HUMBLE. (2017)

There’s no questioning that the VMAs in 2017 belonged to Kendrick Lamar.

Not only did he scoop Video Of The Year with HUMBLE., he also opened the show with this stunning performance, involving lasers, ninjas and a whole lot of fire.

Normani – Motivation (2019)

Having consistently proved herself as one to watch, both during and after her time in Fifth Harmony, the 2019 Video Music Awards truly was Normani’s moment to shine.

Throwing it right back to the glory days of MTV, Normani served full choreo, a costume change and even recreated the iconic basketball move from the song’s music video.

Missy Elliott – Medley (2019)

By the time Missy Elliott was awarded the Video Vanguard award in 2019, everyone knew it was a win that was long overdue.

And clearly, so did Missy, giving this absolute powerhouse performance that served as a true victory lap for an artist that has always pushed boundaries with her music videos.

Her seven-minute performance included references to her much-loved videos like Work It, Get Ur Freak On and Pass The Dutch, but also opened with a new song, Throw It Back, showing she’s still very much setting the standard.