MTV Video Music Awards: The Greatest Performances Of All-Time

With the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards just a few days away, we're looking back at some of the most iconic performances from the show's history.

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Image Credit: AP Images

Eveyr year, MTV brings together some of the biggest stars in music for an epic award show — the Video Music Awards! This year, the show on Aug. 30 will look a little different due to regulations put in place amidst the coronavirus, but there’s still plenty of entertainment to come. The VMAs have provided some of the most memorable television performances of all-time over the years, and we’re looking back at some of the best of the best.

The Video Music Awards are a bit of a more laid back award show, which means that just about anything can happen. From raunchy dancing to pregnancy announcements to unexpected makeout sessions, we’ve seen it all at the VMAs. The VMAs first took place back in 1984, so there have been more than 30 years of memories created at the show. Take a look at some of our favorite performances over the years:


Beyonce performs ‘Love On Top’ at the 2011 MTV VMAs. (AP Images)

It’s always a good time when Beyonce takes the stage, but her performance at the 2011 VMAs is one we’ll remember forever. Bey wore a sequined pink jacket and black pants for the performance, and she sang “Love On Top.” Obviously, it’s an extremely upbeat song, and Bey didn’t miss a beat as she danced around the stage. Due to her super high energy during the performance, it came as a complete shock when she whipped open her jacket at the end of the set to reveal a baby bump! Yes, Bey’s VMA performance doubled as a pregnancy announcement, and she gave birth to her daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, just months later (Jan. 2012).

Taylor Swift & Nicki Minaj

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Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj unite for a performance at the 2015 VMAs. (Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

Ahead of the 2015 VMAs, Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj got into a bit of a Twitter feud over the show’s nominations. Although they publicly made up online after their beef, fans were still wondering if it would be awkward when they came face-to-face at the show. Luckily, Taylor and Nicki proved there was absolutely no drama when Taylor surprised the crowd during Nicki’s opening performance. They sang Taylor’s hit, “Bad Blood,” together and hugged it out at the end of the set. No issues here!

Britney Spears & Madonna

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Britney Spears and Madonna kiss while performing at the 2003 VMAs. (AP Images)

The opening of the 2003 VMAs featured a collaboration performance with Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Missy Elliott and Britney Spears. At the time, these were THE hottest names in music. As if there wasn’t already enough buzz about the performance, things were turned up a notch when Britney and Madonna shared a steamy kiss right onstage! After years of working to shed her good girl image, this definitely seemed to do it for Britney!

Britney Spears

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Britney Spears performs with a snake at the 2001 VMAs. (AP Images)

Britney had quite a run at the VMAs in the early 2000s. Two years before her major moment with Madonna, she sang her hit, “I’m A Slave 4 U,” at the 2001 show. She wore the tiniest shorts and crop top ever — and then wowed EVERYONE by using a LIVE snake as a prop for her set. The look is still re-created to this day and Britney will always be remembered for this daring move onstage.

Lady Gaga

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Lady Gaga performs at the 2009 VMAs for the first time ever. (AP Images)

Lady Gaga’s first-ever VMAs performance was back in 2009 — and BOY did she make a statement. Gaga sang her songs “Poker Face” and “Paparazzi” at the show. During the performance, she wore an all-white outfit. She covered herself with fake blood and simulated her death, which resulted in the paparazzi snapping pictures of her dead body. The performance was an artistic piece about tabloid culture, and Gaga sent a harsh, but important, message with it.

Miley Cyrus & Robin Thicke

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Robin Thicke and MIley Cyrus break it down while performing at the 2013 VMAs. (MPNC / AKM-GSI)

It was the twerk seen ’round the world when Miley Cyrus performed at the 2013 Video Music Awards. Miley was going through a bit of a rebellious period at this time, and she held nothing back when she took the stage to perform “We Can’t Stop.” At one point, she collaborated with Robin Thicke, and grinded up on him for a sexy dance. Although it was all in good fun, viewers were shocked by the racy dancing since Miley was engaged (to Liam Hemsworth) and Robin was married (to Paula Patton) at the time.

Justin Timberlake

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Justin Timberlake takes the stage at the 2013 VMAs. (John Shearer/Invision/AP)

At the 2013 Video Music Awards, Justin Timberlake was given the Video Vanguard Award. This meant that he had about 20 minutes to perform a medley of his greatest hits. Of course, that meant a throwback to the NSYNC days. Rather than singing those classic songs alone, though, Justin brought out his NSYNC bandmates for the most epic reunion. They sang “Bye, Bye, Bye” and “Girlfriend” together.


Eminem performs during the 2000 VMAs. (AP Images)

Emimem’s performance at the 2000 VMAs began with dozens of Eminem look-alikes lined up on 6th Avenue in New York City. They then swarmed toward Radio City Music Hall, where the show was taking place. It was the perfect introduction for Eminem’s mash-up performance of “The Real Slim Shady” and “The Way I Am.” This was a career defining moment for Eminem, but also a big moment for the VMAs, as it was the first time that production went outside the venue for a performance.

Bruce Springsteen

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Bruce Springsteen opens the show with a powerful performance at the 2002 VMAs. (AP Images)

The 2002 VMAs took place nearly a full year after the 9/11 attacks in New York City. The event took place at Radio City Music Hall in NYC, and the attacks were clearly still heavy on everyone’s minds. So, to open the show, Bruce Springsteen was joined by the E-Street Band for a somber rendition of “The Rising.” The song came from Bruce’s album of the same name, which was written as a reflection after 9/11. The performance was an incredibly powerful moment.