This Sunday marks the 30th annual MTV Video Music Awards. But this isn’t your father’s VMAs. After excising the words “Music Television” from its logo a few years back, and allowing viewers to vote for winners at its annual awards show, MTV has given its famous moonman award a temporary makeover (see above) to commemorate the ceremony’s move to Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center. But one thing that hasn’t changed about the VMAs is the opportunity for show-stopping and iconic performances. From Britney’s snake to Madonna dressed as Marie Antoinette, we took a look back and picked 15 of our favorites.
15. Britney Spears, “I’m a Slave 4 U” (2001). Long before the albino Burmese python learned how to open doors, this one turned in one of the greatest VMA performances of all time, riding atop a bikini-clad 19-year-old Britney Spears’s glittery, sun-kissed shoulders.
14. Jon Bon Jovi & Richie Sambora, “Livin’ on a Prayer”/“Wanted Dead or Alive” (1989). In an era when hair bands and over-the-top stage performances ruled the VMAs, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora turned in a restrained acoustic performance that’s often credited as the launching point or MTV’s successful Unplugged series.
13. Beastie Boys, “Sabotage” (1994). The Beastie Boys were the merry pranksters of the ball in 1994, with the late Adam Yauch interrupting R.E.M.’s acceptance speech and Ad-Rock flipping the audience the bird. But for a bunch of punks, they were never tighter as a band than they were during their performance of “Sabotage.”
12. Kanye West, “Runaway” (2010). Kanye West premiered his new song, “Runaway,” with a minimalist performance at the VMAs in 2010, accompanied by three ballerinas, Pusha T, and, of course, his ego in top form.
11. Prince, “Gett Off” (1991). Long before Marilyn Manson bared his buttocks, Prince gave MTV viewers an eyeful during this electrifying seven-minute performance of his hit “Gett Off.”