Since their 1984 debut, the Video Music Awards have thrived on being the unpredictable younger sibling of America's awards-show family — and the fact that they're 31 years old this year hasn't slowed down their penchant for causing headlines and shaking up the pop music world. Here are 31 moments from VMAs past that have caused tongues to wag and eyebrows to raise.
24. Lady Gaga Hangs Herself Onstage (2009)
Lady Gaga's swift ascent to the forefront of pop music had one of its crowning moments when she garnered nine VMA nominations in her first eligible year. And she arrived at the broadcast ready to cement her status as a different kind of superstar, doubling down on the dark storyline of her nominated "Paparazzi" video with a surreal pop-art/art-pop performance. After some wacky masks and choreography, things took a turn when fame literally kills Gaga, and she closes the performance hanging from a noose, her face smeared in blood.
17. Lil Mama Crashes Jay Z and Alicia Keys (2009)
Natia "Lil Mama" Kirkland's only major hit, "Lip Gloss," was already two years in the rearview by the time of the 2009 VMAs. There's a good chance MTV wouldn't have even invited her if she wasn't employed by the network as a judge on America's Best Dance Crew. Kirkland got a little caught up in the moment and decided to be part of the show when Jay Z and Alicia Keys performed their chart-topping ode to the Big Apple, "Empire State of Mind." As the song came to a close, Kirkland decided to show her pride as a native New Yorker and join the two superstars onstage, posing in a b-boy stance while a nonplussed Jay Z did his best not to acknowledge her.
11. Diana Ross Meets Lil Kim's Cleavage (1999)
Lil Kim made a splash at the 1999 ceremony, with an electric purple wig that matched her much-chattered-about-outfit — a jumpsuit that dipped below her left breast, allowing it to roam free with only a pastie encumbering it. When Diana Ross came out to present Best Hip-Hop Video with Kim and Mary J. Blige, she was so enamored with Kim's willingness to show skin that she skipped the customary, "Hi, how are you" hug and went straight for her co-presenter's cleavage, giving it a jiggle that induced a big laugh from its recipient.
2. Kanye West Interrupts Taylor Swift (2009)
We'll never know how much (or little) the trajectory of Taylor Swift's brilliant career shifted because of a hot-tempered Kanye West snatching her mic amid her Best Female Video acceptance speech. Nor can we see where Kanye West would be today if he hadn't yelled "Imma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all-time!" before stalking off. And what of Queen Bey masking her disbelief in the audience? All already hyper-famous when it went down, the roles the trio have played before and since were all distilled in that moment. The five ensuing years yielded some of the finest creative output of their careers, but those awkward moments still loomed nearly as large via apologies, rebuffs, lines drawn and teams formed.
1. Madonna Kisses Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera (2003)
Nineteen years after Madonna's iconic "Like a Virgin" performance, the stage was set with a wedding cake once again — only this time there were three brides. Joining Madonna for a rendition of the track were Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, both of whom were trying to break out of their teen-idol boxes by proving how they were not, in fact, that innocent. Madonna decided to help both of them in that department, giving them mouth-on-mouth kisses — although the Britney one was steamier, and would be later teased in the video for their collab "Me Against The Music."
The rest of the list was pretty random. I think our only chance at good wtf-ery this year is Nicki if she performs Anaconda.