The MTV Video Music Awards' Five Most Iconic Performances

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Tomorrow night is the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards. For fans of music videos, it's the most wonderful time of the year–a time for faux lesbian makeout sessions, backstage celeb fights and dresses made out of meat. Along with honoring the best that the medium has to offer, what's kept viewers tuning in year after year have been heart-stopping career-defining performances. In observation of VMA season, we at the Weekly are taking a look back at the performances that set the standard for all VMAs to come.

Madonna – “Like a Virgin” 1984

The very first MTV Video Music Awards is most remembered for three things: the weird choice of Dan Aykroyd and Bette Midler co-hosting, The Cars' “You Might Think” winning Video of the Year (beating Herbie Hancock's “Rockit” and Michael Jackson's “Thriller,” the night's biggest winners) and Madonna's provocative “Like a Virgin.” As controversial as it was eye-catching, it made the show a can't-miss event for years to come and lead to a memorable tribute 20 years later with both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. No matter what we have to see about her these days, we do owe her these props: No one has ever made a wedding dress look so gloriously slutty.


Bon Jovi – “Living On a Prayer / Wanted Dead or Alive” 1989

Arguably the show's most influential performance, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora's stripped down acoustic renditions of two of their blockbuster album Slippery When Wet's biggest hits mirrored the gritty deglamorized hard work of “Wanted Dead or Alive's” music video, as well as introduced an element of intimacy to the show. The performance was so celebrated, that the network responded by creating “MTV Unplugged,” a show exclusively featuring acoustic concerts.

Marilyn Manson – “The Beautiful People” 1997

The 1997 Video Music Awards were one of the show's absolute best years. Closing an absolutely stacked program was Marilyn Manson's television debut. The brash shock-rocker's bold statements (seen here uncensored) and unprecedented imagery made him an inescapable mass-media conversation topic. Host Chris Rock, who had fun with “The Beautiful People” earlier in the night, quickly reminded viewers after the performance to seek spiritual guidance as only he can.


Eminem – “The Real Slim Shady / The Way I Am” 2000

After having the biggest selling album of the music industry's biggest summer, Eminem had a victory lap of sorts with his 2000 VMA performance. Following an oft-forgotten fun meta-introduction by Jim Carrey (seen here in full), Mr. Mathers recreated the multi-Eminem scenery of his “The Real Slim Shady” video and turned in a monumental performance. The night got even better for Em as he won Video of the Year honors and blew off Fred Durst along the way. Anybody know how many gallons of peroxide were used to create this intro?

Britney Spears – “I'm a Slave 4 U” 2001

By the early-2000s, MTV's “TRL” had become the barometer for what was hot in music. Since first appearing on the channel in late 1998, Britney Spears had become a teen-pop staple. While you could make a case for just about any of her VMA performances being the most iconic, her coming of age 2001 rendition of “I'm a Slave 4 U” completed her transition from bubblegum to adulthood as well as gave us the unforgettable image of a scantily clad Ms. Spears holding an albino python.

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