5 Iconic Moments From the 2007 MTV VMAs: Britney, Brawls & More

Anton Emdin
             

After ping-ponging between New York and Los Angeles for years -- with a disastrous, hurricane-Katrina whipped trip to Miami in 2005 -- MTV rolled the dice in 2007, broadcasting its Video Music Awards from Las Vegas. The format-shattering night included sets by Justin Timberlake, Fall Out Boy, Kanye West and the Foo Fighters in half a dozen “fantasy suites,” a mid-show brawl between Kid Rock and Tommy Lee and Britney Spears’ stumbling “comeback” performance of “Gimme More.” 

“It was classy, it was show business,” MTV red carpet host Sway Calloway said of the high-sheen event. “It was a shiny quarter, neon signs. Even the red carpet went all the way through the casino, so I felt like a circus ringleader. Things felt extra-Vegas, like in the movies.” 

Fall Out Boy bassist/lyricist Pete Wentz remembered ordering everything on the menu for his band’s suite. “We always get to the limit when someone says ‘you can do anything,’ so we asked for pyro and a stripper pole with furries dancing on it… we asked if we could do a foam party,” he said. “It was this amazing idea on paper, but it was totally chaotic in person, which made it more amazing.”

Here are the five most memorable moments from that hot Sept. 7, 2007, night at The Palms, with eyewitness accounts from those who lived it.

Britney Spears Vs. Herself

The endlessly hyped VMA return of Spears after her darkest personal days was awkward. Looking woozy on her feet and struggling with the basic choreography, a clearly lip-synching Brit phoned-in the low-energy “Gimme More” performance, which confused some in the room, and at home.

“She didn't look all the way there,” said Calloway. “I think people were like ‘what the fuck is wrong with her?’ You’d never seen her off beat before, she was always on message, on routine… she definitely wasn't ready, it wasn't her. The dream became a nightmare.” 

Wentz couldn't see the performance live in FOB’s suite, but recalled talking to a friend working for the show’s production company and being told it was “trainwrecking, [and] not in a good way.” He recalled being bummed out at the time about it and watching back replays on the band’s subsequent world tour where the footage appeared heavily edited.

MTV News senior writer James Montgomery spent most of the night in FOB’s suite, but he remembered that Spears’ rehearsals were on full lockdown, “which is funny because it seemed like she didn't rehearse at all… a lot of us were surprised by how ill-prepared and hazy she was.” 

Kid Rock Vs. Tommy Lee

The rap rocker and Motley Crue drummer managed to steal the spotlight from Alicia Keys’ performance when they got into a brawl in the audience that may or may not have been linked to their respective histories with Lee’s ex, Pamela Anderson.

Calloway was sitting two tables back with boxing legend Floyd Mayweather Jr. “Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson were at a table together and I remember Tommy going over there and it escalated pretty fast,” said Calloway. “Alicia kept going because not everyone realized what was happening, but I could see as plain as day it was a commotion. Tommy Lee looked like he said something to her [Anderson] and Kid Rock said something back and they got in each other’s faces and you could hear the crowd go “oooh” and the hum got louder, then they went at it.”

Kanye Vs. 50 Cent

Speaking of feuds, the two MCs played up their ongoing back-and-forth over whose album would reign supreme on the album charts. Days later, ‘Ye’s Graduation would crush 50’s Curtis album, with 50 reneging on his vow to retire as a result. 

“They had them come out and square up against each other like boxers on the main stage,” recalled Calloway of the bizarre scene before the show. “It was like Mayweather-McGregor and Kanye had to get on his tippy toes [to reach 50’s height] and he said ‘what’s up?’ and the crowd went crazy.”

Gym Class Heroes Vs. Amy Winehouse

Grammys? Sure. VMAs? Not so much. While late R&B singer Winehouse cleaned up at that year’s Grammy Awards, she controversially lost out to the “Cupid’s Chokehold” rappers (who also bested Carrie Underwood) for Best New Artist in Vegas.

GCH was then signed to Wentz’s Decaydance Records label and the FOB bassist said they were “too hip-hop for rock and too live band for pop,” which is what made them stick out in a good way, even if it sometimes made life hard for them.

“It was the first award they ever won and it was huge for [singer] Travis [McCoy],” Wentz said. “I saw him about to cry. Would it have been that big a moment for Amy Winehouse or Carrie Underwood? It meant a fuck ton to Travis and the band. It was sheer elation. He didn’t even give a speech, he just took a drink and stood there.”

The win was indicative of the momentum Decaydance (also home to 2006 Video of the Year winners Panic! at the Disco) had at the time, Montgomery said. “None of those bands thought they’d be doing anything like that, so there was a lot of champagne popping.” 

Rihanna Vs. The World 

"Umbrella” had ruled the summer of 2007, so it was no surprise the sparks-raining video won Video of the Year, besting such established stars as Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Kanye and Winehouse. 

“I think they made a statement that there was a new person to watch in pop and it was this young West Indian girl who has great songs,” said Calloway. “I don’t know if this was an upset so much as a sign that something is coming. Britney’s shortcomings left the door open, the Kanye/50 Cent thing… Rihanna all showed it was a year of change.” 

FOB acted as Rihanna’s backup band that night for the song “Shut Up and Drive” and Wentz said that was the night when he saw the singer’s career trajectory go “super vertical.” 

A version of this article originally appeared in the Sept. 2 issue of Billboard.

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