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The VMA's Most Memorable Moments


MTV's annual awards bash remains an event filled with water cooler momentsMTV

By Dave Lake
Special to MSN TV

Though it's been more than a decade since MTV was focused mostly on music, its annual Video Music Awards show remains one of the must-see awards ceremonies of the year. The award itself may not mean as much as winning a Grammy, an award voted on by other music professionals, but MTV's Moon Man trophy is an acknowledgment of an artist's impact on youth culture and pop culture at large -- and that's still meaningful. It also continues to attract high ratings while generating viral water cooler moments year after year, and that's more than those other stuffy awards shows can boast.

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1984: MTV's inaugural awards broadcast birthed one of the network's most iconic moments, Madonna's performance of "Like a Virgin." Entering the stage atop a giant wedding cake and sporting a sexy wedding gown, garters and Boy Toy belt buckle, Madonna slowly climbed down off the cake, removed her veil, let her hair down and concluded her performance by rolling around the stage and humping it, solidifying her reputation as the sexiest pop star of her generation.

1989: At the time, Andrew Dice Clay was the biggest comedian in the world, headlining arenas and launching his first feature film, "The Adventures of Ford Fairlane." But when Dice decided to forgo the lines that MTV had written for him and instead deliver some of his signature dirty nursery rhymes during his appearance, the network freaked and banned the comedian from their air for life, the first sentence of its kind.

Related: Everything you need to know about the MTV Video Music Awards

1989: That same year, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora performed a stripped-down version of the Bon Jovi hit "Wanted Dead or Alive," just their acoustic guitars and their harmonizing vocals. The performance was so memorable, the network launched "Unplugged" later that same year, hoping to recreate more of that magic. And they did. The show became one of the network's signature series, yielding several best-selling records, including Nirvana's "Unplugged."

1991: Just weeks after Paul Reubens, the creator of the beloved Pee Wee Herman character, made headlines after being arrested for masturbating in an adult movie theater, the comic made headlines a second time by showing up as Pee Wee and making his first public appearance since his arrest, uttering the now-famous line, "Heard any good jokes lately?"

1992: A few years before MTV would air "Punk'd," the network got punk'd themselves courtesy of Nirvana. After the network refused to allow the band to play their controversial single "Rape Me" on the broadcast, the band bowed out of performing. But when MTV threatened to boycott other artists on Nirvana's label, the band relented and agreed to play their hit "Lithium" instead. But after an introduction from Dana Carvey, Kurt Cobain strummed and sang the first few chords of "Rape Me," causing panic amongst the network honchos backstage. Just as MTV was about to send the live show into an unscheduled commercial, Cobain changed course and started into "Lithium," a move he later said was designed "just to give [MTV] a little heart palpitation." The performance is also notable for Krist Novoselic's bass toss at the end of the song. Frustrated with amp problems, the lanky bassist hurled his instrument high into the air & and caught it with his forehead, dropping him to his knees and sending him stumbling off stage in a daze. Then, as Cobain puts his guitar through his amp and commences trashing his gear, drummer Dave Grohl takes to the mic to taunt Axl Rose, whom he had been feuding with backstage. "Where's Axl," Grohl asks. "Hi Axl! Hi Axl!"

1992: "It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a really bad smell," said Luke Perry, as he introduced the superhero alter-ego of radio personality Howard Stern, who descended onto the stage in 1992 while breaking wind in a pair of derriere-less gold spandex pants.

1994: Newlyweds Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley emerged hand-in-hand to open the 1994 broadcast, briefly addressing viewers and engaging in a little PDA in the form of a passionate kiss that sent the crowd into a frenzy.

1996:David Lee Roth appeared onstage with his former Van Halen bandmates for the first time in 10 years, receiving a standing ovation, and eventually handing out a Moon Man trophy to Beck, whose acceptance speech was marred by a mugging David Lee Roth directly behind him. Though Roth and Eddie Van Halen shared a hug onstage, things quickly veered back into hostile territory once the quartet was off camera, where Eddie reportedly gave Roth an earful about his disrespectful display during Beck's speech. "If I ever see you again," he told his one-time singer, "You'd better be wearing a cup, pal!"

1997: After winning the Best New Artist award, Fiona Apple gave a memorably rambling meltdown of a speech, in which she bashed MTV and celebrity culture. "I didn't prepare a speech and I'm sorry," she began, "But I'm glad I didn't because I'm not going to do it like everybody else does it." She later offered up that "this world is bulls---," before quoting Maya Angelou and encouraging fans to, "Go with yourself." Chris Rock, that year's host, got the last laugh, however, cutting down the chanteuse with a single line: "Let's hear it for Fiona X."

1999: When Lil' Kim arrived onstage with her left breast exposed, save for a pastie covering her nipple, Diana Ross, who joined her onstage to present an award, couldn't resist feeling up the female rapper, jiggling her breast at the podium as Lil' Kim laughed.

2000: After Limp Bizkit were announced as the winners in the Best Rock Video category, Tim Commerford, bassist for fellow nominees Rage Against the Machine, raged against the decision by climbing atop part of the stage set and refusing to come down. He remained perched there during Limp Bizkit's acceptance speech, encouraged by Limp Bizkit singer Fred Durst to "stage dive, dude!" During the commercial, Commerford was removed by security and was eventually arrested and forced to spend the night in jail.

2000, 2001:Britney Spears, the world's biggest pop star at the time, made back-to-back memorable appearances in 2000 and 2001, first by stripping down to a flesh-colored outfit for "Oops, I Did it Again," that had viewers squinting at the TV to confirm she was actually wearing clothes, and the next year, with a routine that featured a giant python as her dance partner.

2003: During the show's opening number, Madonna kissed Britney Spears on the mouth, and later, Christina Aguilera, a sort of passing of the torch from one generation's sex symbol pop star to another's, creating another iconic VMA moment for both stars in the process.

2010: Making the boldest fashion statement in the history of the awards, Lady Gaga showed up to last year's ceremony in a dress made entirely of meat. Designed by Franc Fernandez and styled by Nicola Formichetti, Gaga, who is a vegan, said of the dress: "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. And, I am not a piece of meat." The dress currently resides in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame where it was preserved by a taxidermist and put on display.

2011: From meat couture to motherhood, performance art to artful performance, the VMAs hit a note of un-ironic superstar sweetness with Beyoncé's bravura performance of "Love on Top." The reliably tight choreography and her powerful vocals would have confirmed this as a show highlight on the strength of craft, but the tipping point was the moment the radiant diva opened her jacket to rub her growing baby bump -- a perfect real time memory punctuated by the reaction shot of daddy-to-be Jay-Z beaming from the audience.

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The MTV Video Music Awards air Thursday, Sept. 6, at 8 p.m. ET/7:00 Central on MTV.

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