The annual MTV Video Music Awards have been one of pop culture’s biggest nights for decades. Good, bad or ugly, the show has had more than its fair share of headline-making moments since its debut in 1984. Remember when Drake professed his love for Rihanna on stage in 2016? Or Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley’s awkwardly long kiss in 1994? Oh, and need we even mention Lady Gaga’s 2010 meat dress?
Despite its anything-goes reputation, the ceremony has always been a celebration of the year in music. Musical acts across genres are recognized not just for their records and albums, but for the hard work and creativity they put into accompanying visual works. And although going home with a moon person trophy (most notably for video of the year) is surely a goal for nominees, for viewers, it’s the show’s performances that consistently leave people talking.
To celebrate the TV spectacular, we’ve dug back into MTV’s archives to round up the best performances in VMA history. There’s no question that pop megastars including Michael Jackson, Madonna, Britney Spears and Lady Gaga made a strong showing on the tally. Hip-hop heavyweights like Kendrick Lamar, Eminem and Kanye West have also made their mark — especially as the genre grows further into the mainstream. Plus, Video Vanguard recipients from Justin Timberlake to Missy Elliott have proven their superstar statuses with show-stopping medleys.
But who had the most memorable moment of all? Find out where these acts and more rank and relive 22 of the jaw-dropping performances below.