9 Iconic VMA Performances

Getty Images
Getty Images / Getty Images

MTV might not play music videos too much anymore, but at last night’s Video Music Awards, music was front and center in a series of buzzworthy performances: Lady Gaga changed costumes XX times while singing her new single, “Applause”; NSYNC reunited; Katy Perry boxed; and Miley was just being Miley, twerking her way across the stage in a performance of questionable taste. Here are a few other iconic performances from 26 years of VMAs.

Madonna, “Like a Virgin”

In what was then a controversial and envelope-pushing performance, Madonna performed her breakout hit while wearing a wedding dress/bustier and rolling around the stage at the very first Video Music Awards in 1984. She later said that the moment was unplanned—and she had lost her shoe and was just trying to retrieve it.

Nirvana, “Lithium”

At the 1992 VMAs, Cobain and company went off script, starting to perform another of their songs before launching into “Lithium.” Toward the end of the performance, bassist Krist Novoselic threw his guitar into the air; it came down and hit him on the head, and he stumbled offstage. Meanwhile, Cobain destroyed the equipment while drummer Dave Grohl mocked Guns ‘n Roses singer Axl Rose.

Michael Jackson, Medley

The King of Pop brought out all of his signature dance moves—and Slash!—for this 15-minute medley of his hits from the 1995 VMAs.

Oasis, “Champagne Supernova”

It’s pretty amazing that famously feuding brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher could hold it together for this performance at the 1996 VMAs.

P. Diddy, “I’ll Be Missing You”

For the performance of this tribute to Notorious BIG at the 1997 VMAs, Diddy (or was it Puff Daddy?) recruited Faith Evans, Sting, and a choir.

Britney Spears, “I’m A Slave 4 U”

The previous year, Spears got tongues wagging when she performed a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” and her own song, “Oops! I Did it Again” in a sparkly, flesh colored ensemble. Her performance of “I’m A Slave 4 U” at the 2011 VMAs was controversial for another reason: PETA decried her use of live animals as props.

R. Kelly, “Trapped in the Closet”

The singer brought his oddly compelling musical soap opera to the VMAs in 2005.

Pink, “Sober”

Singing live and swinging on the trapeze are terrifying enough on their own. Combine them, and you have to wonder how Pink pulled off this unforgettable performance from the 2009 VMAs. (The next year, she would put together a similarly stunning aerial routine for her Grammys performance of “Glitter in the Air.”)

Beyonce, “Love on Top”

Shortly before this joyous performance at the 2011 VMAs, Jay Z’s lady announced she was pregnant.

Obviously, these videos just scratch the surface of memorable VMA performances. Let us know your favorites in the comments!