The MTV Video Music Awards’ Video Vanguard Award is widely regarded as the most prestigious honor that music video creatives and musicians can win from the organization.
It’s also, however, one of the most storied and controversial awards in the business. Since being introduced at the very first VMAs in 1984 (during which The Beatles and David Bowie both won it), the Video Vanguard Award has experienced several name changes and sporadic periods in which years went by without it being awarded to anyone at all.
Whether directly or indirectly, this is due to the award’s name being changed in 1991 to the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award — just three years after the King of Pop himself won it in ’88. In 2003, though, Jackson went under investigation by the L.A. Department of Child and Family services regarding suspicions he’d sexually abused children at his California “Neverland” Ranch.
The Vanguard — a gold-plated Moonman statue as opposed to the silver trophies awarded in all other categories — was presented that same year to Duran Duran, but under the title of “Lifetime Achievement Award.” Jackson, meanwhile, was later charged with seven counts of child molestation and went to trial, at the end of which he was found not guilty in June 2005.
In 2006, the Vanguard was simply referred to by MTV as the Video Vanguard Award when it was given to Hype Williams. And during the following five years, nobody won it — until Britney Spears did in 2011, around two years after Jackson’s death. The VMAs restored his name to the award that year in his honor, and it remained the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award until 2019 — when the abuse allegations against him were freshly brought to light in the documentary Leaving Neverland.
The VMAs still gave the award under Jackson’s name to Missy Elliott after the documentary’s release, but then went again without presenting it at all until 2022. In the initial announcement naming Nicki Minaj the year’s winner, Jackson’s name was included in the award’s title.
But no matter what it’s been called or when it has or hasn’t been given out over the years, the Vanguard’s purpose has remained the same: to recognize artists for their “outstanding contributions and profound impact on music video and popular culture.” From 1984 to 2022, from The Beatles and Bowie to Nicki Minaj — who’s set to receive this year’s trophy — keep reading to see the complete list of everyone who’s won MTV’s Video Vanguard Award.