The 2014 VMA’s will premiere Monday August 24. This means it’s time to remember how good they once were. As a music lover, this was the one event I always looked forward to. Screw the Grammys and who cares about the American Music Awards? The VMAs was the end all, be all of award shows. It was the place where anything and everything could happen. Of course, I don’t love the show as much as I once did. A lot of it has to do with the music it focuses on, but also they just aren’t the same. They feel more organized and less spontaneous than they used to be. But the VMAs will always be known for the amazing performances. Some were innovative, some just plain rocked. This playlist is all about the best performances in VMA history, including some of my personal favorites.
“The Real Slim Shady/The Way I Am” – Eminem (2000)
There have been some phenomenal moments in VMA history, but nothing compares to this Eminem performance. With a sea of look-a-likes behind him, Em and his clones slowly worked their way through Radio City Music Hall. The crowd couldn’t believe their eyes when a sea of blonde weaved through them. The rapper even stopped in front of Carson Daly and Fred Durst when their part in “The Real Slim Shady” came up. Once he got to the stage, Em put on a passionate and anger filled performance of “The Way I Am” and dedicated it to his critics, of which there were many at the time. It remains of his best and most innovative performances and one no one can ever duplicate.
Michael Jackson Medley (1995)
The King of Pop wasn’t a regular at the VMA’s, but one year after his awkward kiss with Lisa Marie Presley, he returned to the stage to perform a string of hits. Sporting a smart hair cut, MJ blazed through his classics like “Beat It,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Scream,” “Billie Jean,” and “Black or White” with a little help from Slash, who stayed on stage a little longer than Jackson wanted. Either way, Jackson was clearly excited as he ran across the stage shouting “Party!” while blasts of pyro went off. But he wasn’t done yet. The artist came back for what has to be the best rendition of “Dangerous.” Everything from the back up dancers to the costumes to putting on his sister’s voice was on point. He ended his 15 minute performance with the moving “You Are Not Alone.” When it comes to putting on a show, no one does it better than Michael.
“Sober” – Pink (2009)
Though Pink has done similar set ups since this, nothing beats when she first showed off her acrobatic skills at the 2009 ceremony. All while singing, she leaped and twirled through the air with the help of a trapeze artist. The entire time she hung above the crowd while pulling off impressive moves. When she flipped upside down and didn’t miss a beat, it made you hold your breath wondering if she was going to fall. But she pulled off the act flawlessly and proved to be one hell of a performer. She sounded great and looked stunning all while doing something most would consider dangerous. Many things happened at the ’09 ceremony, but this performance stands out among the rest.
“Three MCs and One DJ/Intergalactic” – Beastie Boys (1998)
I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about the Beastie Boys when I first saw this performance, but I knew I liked their performance. The part I liked in particular was “Intergalactic.” I hadn’t heard anything like it at the time. For some reason I also remember the TV screens behind them. With them jumping around the stage, they definitely had fun while rapping and it shows. Since then the song has turned into one of my favorites from the rap group and whenever I hear it I can’t help but think back to this performance.
“Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” – Backstreet Boys (1998)
For this performance, the loveable guys did what has to be their greatest song. With lots of sexy back up dancers, they pulled off some sweet choreography, while Nick and AJ did their best attempts to look sensual (nice try). Since my favorite was Nick, of course I loved the part where he gets to sing solo before joining the rest of the guys. At least this time they left the “scary” costumes they had in the video at home leaving nothing but sweet bubblegum pop.
“Slave 4 U” – Britney Spears (2001)
I wasn’t the biggest Spears fan at the time, but even I couldn’t deny what a good song this was. Here, she proved she was no longer the clean cut pop princess. Sporting her much talked about belly button piercing, looking sweaty, and wearing a revealing two piece, she shimmied and shook her way across stage making sure everyone got a good look at her toned physique. The eye-popping moment came when she sang and danced with an albino python draped around her neck like it was a plain scarf. As expected, no one could stop talking about the performance.It’s still one of the hottest and shocking moments in VMA history.
“Dope Show” – Marilyn Manson (1998)
Like many young children of the ’90s I thought Marilyn Manson was the creepiest thing around. This 1998 performance didn’t help my perception of him at the time. Once he opened that long coat to reveal breasts, I was so lost. The only thing I thought to myself was “I thought he was a man.” From some of the crowd reactions, it seemed like I wasn’t the only confused one. I wanted to change the channel, but it was so intriguing I just couldn’t. Of course now I absolutely love Manson and all his eccentricities, but the initial shock he gave me is why I will never forget this performance.
“Vogue” – Madonna (1990)
Sure, Madonna’s iconic moment is her performance on the very first VMA’s, but if you ask me this one takes the cake. It would’ve been so easy for the singer to go with something really sexy for this song. She could’ve even recreated the video and it still would’ve been great. Instead, Madonna wanted to leave her mark on the ceremony by doing the unexpected. She’s decked out in full Victorian garb with bloomers and all. She even has the deathly pale makeup and a fan to complete the look. Speaking of the fan, the snap of it during the choreography is so satisfying. She walked gracefully across the stage and even provided some tantalizing moments as the dancers peaked up her dressed and graciously cupped her breasts. It’s risque, unique, and just plain awesome.
“Like I Love You” – Justin Timberlake (2002)
Justin got everyone talking last year with his inclusion of a mini-Nsync reunion during a medley of his hits. While that was fucking awesome, the performance that I’ll always remember is his very first solo VMA appearance. This moment was special because it was his first live performance without Nsync. Many wondered how he would do or if he would get nervous on stage. Turns out he did pretty well. I just remember him coming out of that huge boombox looking a little like Michael Jackson in his fedora. It’s definitely not his strongest performance, but it’s pretty memorable.
“Scream” – Janet Jackson (2009)
2009 was a rough year for music. The world came to a halt with the death of Michael Jackson. There were endless tributes that year, but the best one was from his own sister Janet. It began with a medley of his hits while several dancers sporting his iconic outfits to serve as a reminder to the great music the man gave us. Then Janet stormed out to dance with her brother one last time. Considering what she was going through at the time she absolutely killed it. One could only imagine what was going on in her head. Even though she gave it her all, you could see the pain in her face when the last shot of the two came up on the screen.
“Pop” – Nsync (2001)
It’s Nsync and Michael Jackson. Do I need to say more? This was the ultimate treat for someone like me who loved both artists. And yes, I did jump and down when MJ stepped out. Amazing.
“Lithium” – Nirvana (1992)
This performance is notable for several reasons: one because it’s fucking Nirvana! But also for the prank Kurt Cobain pulled on MTV. The frontman wanted to perform “Rape Me,” but the network was insistent the group play the popular “Smell Like Teen Spirit.” They finally settled on “Lithium.” When cameras zoomed in on the band, Cobain opened with “Rape Me” causing everyone in the control room to panic before launching into the song they were supposed to play. Finally, comes the moment when Krist Novoselic’s bass hits him in the face. He was trying to catch it, but clearly failed. To make matters worse, Kurt kicked him in the butt as they walked off stage.
“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” – Green Day (2005)
Green Day had an amazing year in 2005. Their album American Idiot was still getting tons of praise and they were getting awards left and right for it. At the VMAs they were not only winners, they also gave us this memorable performance of the hit song you couldn’t get away from. Looking smashing in his jacket, tight pants, and eye liner Billie Joe Armstrong showed everyone why they were the best damn band on the planet (and still are). They did the song flawlessy, sounding great and everything, but the best part came at the end when Billie bulges his eyes and the stage is illuminated in red from all the pyro. It was the best performance of the night and even got them a standing ovation. It can’t get better than that.