Dove Cameron, Saucy Santana and Yung Gravy all probably have mixed feelings about being asked to perform on the VMAs’ pre-show rather than the main telecast: They’re glad to be invited at all, of course, but also perhaps at least a little disappointed not to be on the main stage. (The bookings for this year’s pre-show were announced on Friday Aug. 19. The show will be held Sunday Aug. 28 at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.)
They shouldn’t take it as a slight, though. Many future A-listers made their first VMAs performances on the pre-show. Nicki Minaj, this year’s recipient of the Video Vanguard Award, performed on the pre-show in 2010. And she’s not the only Video Vanguard winner who started out on the pre-show: Rihanna, who performed on the pre-show in 2010, got the Video Vanguard honor in 2016. Foo Fighters, who received a Global Icon Award last year – and may very well be Video Vanguard winners one day — performed on the pre-show in 1997. Even Jack Harlow, who is “anchoring” this year’s VMAs along with Minaj and LL Cool J, started out on the pre-show in 2020.
Dozens more stars who first performed on the pre-show have yet to step onto the MTV main stage, for whatever reason:. They include No Doubt (who performed on the pre-show in 1996), Barenaked Ladies (1998), Smash Mouth (1999), Papa Roach (2000), Avril Lavigne (2002), Sean Paul (2003), Jadakiss (2004), Fergie (2006), My Chemical Romance (2006), Charli XCX (2014), Cardi B (2017), Ava Max (2019), Megan Thee Stallion (2019), Tate McRae (2020), Machine Gun Kelly (2020), Polo G (2021) and Swedish House Mafia (2021).
So why didn’t the VMA producers book some of these acts for the main show instead of the pre-show? The show is pretty packed every year. Also, sometimes, their most timely hits broke big after the VMAs’ line-up was set. The VMAs usually air in late August or early September. The bookings are generally made and announced weeks before that.
In some cases, the hits were helped along in their chart climbs by the VMAs exposure. Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week,” which they performed on the pre-show in September 1998, hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 the following month. Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves),” which she performed on the pre-show in August 2017, hit No. 1 in October 2017.
Performances on the pre-show may have helped a few artists land key Grammy nominations. Many Grammy voters watch the VMAs, just as thoughts are turning to that other, longer-established show. Avril Lavigne performed “Complicated” on the pre-show in 2002, and went on to receive a song of the year nomination for that song at the Grammys. The Black Eyed Peas performed “Where Is the Love?” on the pre-show in 2003 and went on to receive a record of the year nomination at the Grammys.
Here are the 16 acts who performed on the pre-show on their way to the main telecast. You’ll be amazed at some of the big stars who had wait their turn to get invited to the main event.