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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Long before Marilyn Manson bared his buttocks, Prince gave MTV viewers an eyeful during this electrifying seven-minute performance of his hit “Gett Off.”
This performance, from back when Eminem was still scrappy and blond, was a simple, effective translation of the rapper’s crass but astute social critique.
Lady Gaga’s shock-pop performance of this hit from her debut album, The Fame, was, perhaps, the moment we realized the singer wasn’t content with simply being another cookie-cutter pop star, and that she was truly…“special.”
Putting a twist on her iconic performance of “Like a Virgin” at the inaugural VMA ceremony in 1984, Madonna played the groom to Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera’s not-so-blushing brides for this gender-bending performance that, according to one Christian group, led millions of impressionable youth down the greased pole to hell. All in a day’s work.
Beyoncé transposed her “Single Ladies” music video—which won Best Choreography, Best Editing, and Video of the Year—to the nth degree in this show-stopping performance from 2009.
Nirvana only performed once at the VMAs, but it marked the official amp-trashing, Axl Rose-taunting end of MTV’s glam-rock era.
Dressed in a corset, fishnet stockings, and a G-string, Marilyn Manson and company brought their rejection of the culture of beauty to the startled masses with this 1997 performance.
As host Dana Carvey said following the band’s orgiastic performance, “Boy, things are really heating up down there…I’ve never seen the Chili Peppers in cuter outfits.”
Before she threw the contents of her makeup bag at Madonna during the post-show, Courtney Love took to the stage at the 1995 VMAs to numbly dedicate Hole’s exhilarating performance of “Violet” to “Kurt…and Kristen…and River…and Joe, and Rob, and today Joni Abbott…”