The Most Memorable MTV VMA Performances

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Who’s ready for yet another awards show?

Next Thursday, Sept. 6, MTV will present the Video Music Awards. For the past few years, we’ve sat idly by and watched a once-entertaining and unpredictable juggernaut go through the motions while fans feign excitement. But enough about Lil’ Wayne.

See, back in my day, there was no Yoo-Toobe, social media or blogs (…ahem…) to oversaturate our brains  every time our favorite artists hiccuped. Nope, we were often at the mercy of video playlists – if MTV decided to play Shaggy’s “Boombastic” 2,000 times an hour, sorry buddy, you’ll just have to deal with Mr. Romantic until Beavis and Butthead came on. And you can bet Beavis n’ dem were watching Shaggy too on their own show.

But the VMAs were special. It was a chance to see all your favorite artists proving their greatness, debuting new music and interacting with each other.

In honor of next week’s show, I’m going to highlight some of my favorite VMA memories. Don’t confuse me – the following songs aren’t necessarily the best performances, but they’re the ones that still clearly stick out in my mind years later. Seeing that I can’t even remember who was on last year’s show, even though I blogged about it, that’s quite an accomplishment. VMAs 2012, I dare you to top this.

Oh, and before someone complains, I DID NOT include things like the Madonna/Britney kiss from 2003 and Kanye’s “Imma let you finish…” speech from 2009. That would be like claiming my favorite Thanksgiving meal was when my grandma pimp-slapped my uncle. That was just a silly sideshow, not part of the main course.*

Eminem, “The Real Slim Shady” and “The Way I Am” (2000)

I was still on the fence regarding Eminem in 2000. Clearly he was a great rapper, but I wasn’t yet buying into the hype that he was an emerging hip-hop great. This performance didn’t automatically place him in my Top Five Rappers of All Time List (although he would make it there eventually) but his creativity wowed me. An army of Eminem clones sounds silly on the surface but it was quite a statement. Record labels were searching far and wide for their own “Eminems” at the time – Marshall used his performance to show that they’re all just following the leader. Pretty brilliant.

Britney Spears, “I’m A Slave 4 U” (2001)

There was a ton of hype surrounding Brit-Brit’s 2001 performance, and surprisingly, she exceeded those sky-high expectations. This set was so memorable because there was a LOT of hate that Britney “disrespected” the memory of Aaliyah (who died not long before the show) because Brit danced with a snake. Playa please. Yeah, I know Aaliyah danced with a snake too, but come on, it’s not like the woman invented reptiles. Whether or not Britney intentionally danced on Aaliyah’s grave is irrelevant – the performance was hot.

Bobby Brown, “On Our Own” (1990)

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of Bobby B. In fact, he may very well be the most overrated R&B star ever. Yeah, I said it. However, I can’t front, I loved “On Our Own” and Bobby was AMPED for this performance. By the end of the performance he was sweatin’ and sounding like Florida Evans. If Bobby can literally dance out of his clothes without lip-synching, why do today’s rappers – who do nothing but stand around – need backup recordings? Step your games up, young’ns. And peep the “King of R&B” around the 1:10 mark as he picks up a mysterious vial and (not so discretely) shoves it in his pocket. That’s our Bobby!

M.C. Hammer, “U Can’t Touch This” (1990)

Let’s just examine what’s going on here:

– Grown men on all fours lifting their legs like they’re peeing on each other.

– Dudes proudly wearing pajamas that read HO without a shred of irony.

– Hammer running into the audience and going ballistic while his legions of Smurfs do the Running Man on stage.

More than 20 years later (!!!!!) and I STILL have no idea what the point of that performance was but as a kid Hammer had me jumping all over the living room furniture along with him. Well played, sir.

Michael Jackson, a whole bunch of his hits (1995)

Confession: Mike in the mid-90s freaked me out. This was the era when it was clear he was transforming from a black man to Edward Scissorhand’s mom and not turning back. But this performance reminded me why Michael is the greatest performer to ever live. MJ runs through all his hits in an epic 15-minute showcase. I doubt it will ever be topped.

I’m sure I missed a few – what are your favorite VMA performances?

* By the way, my grandma never pimped-slapped my uncle, though it wouldn’t have shocked anyone if she did.



  1. “Edward Scissorhands’ mom”? heehee. Edd, that was as wrong as Fantasia in a body suit. Ha. Glad your uncle was saved the slap. Great choices on the VMAs. I can’t add any but I do have a question. Do you remember the episode when Beavis and Butthead were watching Kool Moe Dee’s “Wild Wild West?” That has to be one of my favorite ones. (“Uhhh, Beavis, black cowboys are cool.” “Yeah, yeah!”) Those guys were true role models.

    Another good Stereo post!

  2. I sure do remember that one!

  3. Ok, I went back through the history and remembered a couple of good ones. Even though it was a sideshow, when PeeWee (on the heels of his infamous arrest) asked “Heard any good jokes lately?” I thought I’d fall out.

    But Edd, I can’t leave out Puff performing “I’ll Be Missing You” with Sting (and others) at the ’97 VMAs: (That one’s still tough on account of B.I.G.’s early departure. You wrote about Aaliyah and what could have been with her career and I think something similar could be said about Notorious.)

    • I remember reading in Faith’s book that she didn’t want to do that tribute (BIG’s death was still too fresh) and Puffy basically threatened her to make her go through with it. Stay classy, Puff. But you’re right, this performance is a definite standout, especially considering the circumstances.

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