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32 Most Outrageous MTV VMAs Moments of All Time

From Miley’s twerk to Eminem being a jerk, the craziest highlights from the ceremony’s wild past

Britney Spears and Madonna - 2003 VMAs Kiss

Madonna and Britney Spears shared an iconic kiss at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards.

Christopher Polk/Getty

Since their 1984 debut, the Video Music Awards have thrived on being the unpredictable younger sibling of America's awards-show family — and their penchant for causing headlines and shaking up the pop music world hasn't diminished. Here are 32 moments from VMAs past that have caused tongues to wag and eyebrows to raise. 


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.


Kevork Djansezian/AP


RuPaul and Milton Berle Dress Each Other Down (1993)

Few VMA pairings have been more inspired than Milton Berle and RuPaul, the most famous cross-dressers of the Forties and the Nineties, respectively, presenting a Viewer's Choice Award to Aerosmith (not for "Dude Looks Like A Lady," if you were wondering). But while it could have been comedy gold — Mr. Television himself in a three-piece suit standing at eye level with RuPaul's push-up bra — their chemistry left something to be desired. Berle, rattled by the rowdy crowd, kept telling audience members "Shut up, will ya?" and stammered "He wasn't supposed to say that!" when RuPaul adlibbed.


Neil Young’s “This Note’s for You” Scores One for Anti-Corporate Satire (1989)

In the late Eighties, baby boomer rockers and Me Decade pop stars were displaying very different attitudes about musicians getting in bed with advertisers — and the last VMAs of the decade became an unlikely battleground. Pepsi sponsored the 1989 Viewer's Choice Award, which went to Madonna's "Like a Prayer," a song premiered in a Pepsi ad. Video of the Year, however, went to "This Note's for You," a cantankerous comeback hit from Neil Young that humorously took aim at pop's new wave of corporate synergy — a song, it should be said, contains the lines "Ain't singing for Pepsi/Ain't singin' for Coke." It was sweet revenge for Young, whose video was initially banned from MTV for its use of corporate trademarks.

Lady Gaga in her meat dress at the 2010 Video Music Awards

Lady Gaga in her meat dress at the 2010 Video Music Awards

Kevin Mazur/WireImage


Lady Gaga Wears a Meat Dress (2010)

Encased in over 40 pounds of thin-cut Argentinian beef, Lady Gaga cut a figure even more impressive than her dominant 13 nominations at the 2010 Video Music Awards. "If we don't stand up for what we believe in and if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones," she later told Ellen DeGeneres regarding the symbolism of the gown. "And I am not a piece of meat." Complete with beef-wrapped heels, hat, and purse, the outfit was assembled by L.A. designer Franc Fernandez with cuts from his family butcher, and reportedly had a sweet smell. Just before accepting the Video of the Year award for "Bad Romance," she quipped, "I never thought I'd be asking Cher to hold my meat purse." After a jerky-style preservation job, the dress was displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


Tommy Lee and Kid Rock Stage the Las Vegas Fight Club (2007)

In 2007 the Video Music Awards took over the Las Vegas casino the Palms, with not only performances on the venue's main stage, but entire hotel suites given over to parties "hosted" by nominated artists. The train started going off the tracks from the opening close-up on Britney Spears's hastily assembled wig, and got more chaotic from there. Kid Rock attacked Tommy Lee during Alicia Keys's performance in an incident that caused Jamie Foxx to quip about "white-on-white crime." West got upset that his performance was in a suite and not on the main stage and reportedly claimed he would "never return to MTV." Mastodon guitarist Brent Hinds got into a post-show fight that resulted in a concussion, brain hemorrhaging and vertigo. The next year's ceremony returned to the cozier confines of a Los Angeles studio lot — where West closed the show.

Marilyn Manson and Rose McGowan during 1998 MTV Video Music Award Arrivals

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic


Rose McGowan’s Dress (1998)

Well, or lack thereof…


Michael Stipe Gets Bum-Rushed by MCA as Nathaniel Hornblower (1994)

A Best Director win for R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" didn't sit too well with the Beastie Boys' Adam "MCA" Yauch — or at least his lederhosen-loving alter ego Nathanial Hornblower. As Stipe accepted the award, MCA stormed the stage, grabbing the mic in defense of director Spike Jonze, who directed the group's video for "Sabotage." "This is an outrage, because Spike is the director that has just — I'm from Switzerland, OK? Let me just tell everyone that," MCA began in heavily accented speech. Things got a bit less coherent from there, with Yauch calling R.E.M.'s win a "farce" and saying he "had the ideas for Star Wars and everything." Stipe quipped after the show: "At first I thought it was Bono."


Miley Frees the Nipple (2015)

"Oh, sorry, my tit's out?" Miley Cyrus asked coyly. It was only a matter of time before the "Free the Nipple" activist suffered a lack-of-wardrobe malfunction sometime during the 2015 VMAs. The camera tried to stop it — it cut away a few times — but it came in like a wrecking ball. 


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.


Michael Jackson Accepts Imaginary “Artist of the Millennium” Award (2002)

The 2002 VMAs happened to coincide with Michael Jackson's 44th birthday, and the producers thought it would be a nice occasion for some torch-passing — in this case, with birthday wishes (and a cake!) presented by Britney Spears. But Jackson, while standing backstage, heard Spears refer to him as the "artist of the millennium," which led to him thinking he'd won a newly minted award with the same name. (The gift, which looked like a trophy, if not one of MTV's Moonmen, probably helped further confuse matters.) His sweet acceptance speech — which included thanks to David Blaine — confused the audience at first, but they eventually rolled with it enough to give him a screamy ovation.


Van Halen’s Reunion Hits the Skids (1996)

Van Halen's lead-singer trouble is one of rock's greatest soap operas. A pivotal chapter played out right in front of the VMA viewing audience, when David Lee Roth appeared with the band for the first time in over a decade to promote a couple of not-very-classic new songs they recorded for a greatest hits package — remember "Me Wise Magic," anyone? The frayed relationship between Diamond Dave and Eddie Van Halen was still in evidence on the VMA stage, and it would be another ten years before the two could finally put their differences aside to tour together again.


Courtney Love Interrupts Madonna (1995)

During Kurt Loder's post-show red carpet interviews for the 1995 broadcast, Madonna, settling into her distinguished elder stateswoman era, was having a lovely conversation when another ambitious blonde began tossing items from her makeup bag. Loder invited Courtney Love up, and a few minutes of very strange, legendary live television ensued.