Since the MTV Video Music Awards debuted in 1984, viewers could always count on one thing: Someone would do something shocking and/or totally inappropriate at some point during the ceremony. The best part is you never know exactly who is going to pop off. Will the best moment be an incredible performance? Will it be someone getting into a fight? Will there be blood involved? Will the players still have a career afterward? A marriage? The VMAs are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get and who’s nuts. We’ve rounded up some of the most memorable moments in VMA history since the show’s beginnings way back when.
1984: Madonna humps the stage in her VMA debut
In retrospect, this is nothing compared to Madonna’s later performances, but at the time, at the very first MTV VMAs in 1984, Madonna dry humping the stage in front of every music exec in the industry, being beamed into the living rooms of every Middle American TV set, was shocking — and it definitely set the tone for what kind of show the VMAs wanted to be.
1991: Prince demonstrates all 23 positions in a one-night stand
Performing his song “Gett Off” from the Diamonds and Pearls album, Prince pretty much staged an orgy for VMA viewers. But with all the simulated sex going on around the stage, no one could take their eyes off Prince himself, both because of his incredible dance moves and (probably mostly) because his butt was literally hanging out of his pants thanks to an artfully-placed cutout.
1993: RuPaul drags Milton Berle for filth
RuPaul and Milton Berle were paired together because RuPaul is a drag queen and Berle used to do comedy in drag — and that’s where their similarities end. RuPaul started their bit by going totally off-book and insulting Berle by saying the legend now wears diapers. What the audience didn’t know, and RuPaul revealed in her book, is that Berle allegedly groped her butt and breasts backstage.
1994: Michael Jackson & Lisa Marie Presley gross everyone out
The marriage of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley seemed like little more than a publicity stunt to the cynical public, and this super-awkward kiss at the 1994 VMAs did little to convince us otherwise. The pair divorced two years later.
1997: Fiona Apple explains, “This world is bullshit”
When Fiona Apple won Best New Artist for her beautiful and moody album Tidal, the then-teen gave a super-emo acceptance speech that sounded totally petulant at the time, biting the hands that fed her — but now, 20 years later, sounds 100 percent accurate.
1999: Diana Ross cops a feel
Lil’ Kim thought she was being cute wearing a jumpsuit that allowed one of her girls to hang loose, nipple covered by a pasty only to appease the FCC. She probably wasn’t counting on getting felt up by icon Diana Ross.
2000: Britney Spears strips on live TV
Britney Spears murdered her virginal good-girl image with this single, incredibly sexy performance in which she stripped off a perfectly respectable black business suit to reveal a sparkly, transparent bodysuit, making her appear nearly nude. The mashup of “Satisfaction” with a harder remixed “Oops! I Did It Again” signaled a new era for Brit-Brit. Not that innocent, indeed.
2002: Michael Jackson accepts a nonexistent award
What was supposed to be simple acknowledgment of the King of Pop’s birthday went sideways when Michael Jackson misinterpreted Britney Spears’ intro calling him the “artist of the millennium” as receiving an Artist of the Millennium award, which doesn’t actually exist. His confusing “acceptance speech” left the audience briefly befuddled, but hey, it’s MJ, and he was super-sweet about it, so they gave him a standing ovation anyway.
2002: Eminem throws a tantrum over a puppet
Triumph the Insult Comic Dog fanned the flames of the beef between Moby and Eminem (super-random, we know). Eminem looked like he was about to punch a puppet and then just a few minutes later had to deal with another nemesis, Christina Aguilera. He used his acceptance speech time to insult Moby with sexist comments. Stay classy, Eminem.
2003: Justin Timberlake’s face when Madonna kisses Britney Spears
Madonna totally made out with both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera during their joint 2003 VMAs performance, but the best part was seeing Justin Timberlake’s stone-cold expression watching Madonna move in on his ex-girlfriend.
2007: Tommy Lee & Kid Rock kick each other’s asses
We don’t know what about Alicia Keys’ performance set these two off, but Tommy Lee and Kid Rock had to be physically separated and dragged away from each other after throwing punches in the middle of the 2007 VMAs. We suspect mutual ex Pamela Anderson might have had something to do with it…
2007: Britney Spears’ depressing “comeback”
2007 was not a good year for Britney Spears — see the head-shaving photos and the smashing cameras with an umbrella incident for proof — but her performance at the 2007 VMAs was supposed to prove she still had it. Sadly, it did the exact opposite. Spears was a shadow of her former self: untoned, unprepared and disheveled. We’re so happy she’s pulled it together in the decade since.
2009: Lady Gaga hangs herself
Taking performance art to a whole new level, Lady Gaga demonstrated how fame will eventually kill all celebs, either literally or figuratively, when she finished her performance of “Paparazzi” by hanging herself, face covered in blood.
2009: Kanye West with the worst interruption of all time
2011: Beyoncé reveals her baby bump
Blue Ivy’s award show debut came in 2011 when Beyoncé announced her pregnancy in the most public of ways: by whipping open her jacket at the end of her performance of “Love on Top” and declaring, “I want you to feel the love growing inside of me!” while rubbing her baby bump.
2013: Miley Cyrus ends Robin Thicke’s career
Twerk queen Miley Cyrus shook her ass all over Robin Thicke during their “We Can’t Stop”/”Blurred Lines” mashup and totally abused that poor foam finger. While Cyrus took a ton of heat for the performance, Thicke tried to distance himself from it, and managed to come off like even more of a sexist cad than his song did. He hasn’t had a hit since, but Cyrus is still going strong.