The 10 Greatest VMA Performances of All Time


The MTV VMAs are responsible for many a Seen on Screen dance extravaganza! As one of the most iconic nights in music, we’ve rounded up our favourite performances in VMA history. From N Sync’s reunion to Britney’s python embrace, relive some of the most legendary moments in pop history below. 

Rihanna’s VMA Video Vanguard Performance (2016)

The name on everyone’s lips at last year’s VMAs was undoubtedly Bad Gal Riri. The Bajan beauty graced the stage not once but four times with a medley of her greatest hits, including ‘We Found Love’, ‘Where Have You Been” and a dancehall remix of ‘Rude Boy/What’s My Name/Work’. The real talking point came along with the sultry Trap Medley, in which Rihanna danced across a pink-lit stage as lightning flashed behind her. Putting a spotlight on team spirit, Ri Ri welcomed all-female dance crew The Royal Family who helped her deliver a showstopping performance full of attitude, sass and sophisticated filth.

Britney Spears - ‘I’m A Slave 4 U’ (2001)

Hands down the most iconic VMA performance of all time! The Princess of Pop waved goodbye to her bubblegum days and revealed an altogether more raunchy side - and let’s just say, we definitely approved. The jungle themed performance, created by celebrity choreographer Brian Friedman, saw Britney dominate the stage with her army of backing dancers, as well as that low-key appearance by a certain yellow python. Can we have a moment of silence for those killer abs?

Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Madonna & Missy Elliott - ‘Like A Virgin, Hollywood, Work It’ (2003)

Where to begin? Britney and Xtina’s wedding dresses, Madonna popping out of a giant wedding cake wearing a tux, The Kiss (who remembers Justin Timberlake’s face?!) - OMG moments don’t get bigger than this. Opening the 2003 ceremony with a homage to Madonna’s 1984 hit ‘Like A Virgin’, these divas changed the course of awards shows forever, and gave new meaning to the saying ‘anything can happen.’

Janet Jackson - ‘Scream’ (2009)

The VMAs wouldn’t be what they are today without the influence of the legendary Michael Jackson. So, less than two months after his death in 2009, it was only right that the King of Pop took centre stage one way or another - and Janet Jackson’s performance of Scream, with MJ projected onto the screen behind, was the perfect tribute. Alongside her badass troupe of dancers & choreographers (Tina Langdon, Brian Friedman, Laurianne Gibson and Gil Duldulao to name a few) Janet performed the exact choreography from the music video, reminding us all why there’ll never again be a brother-sister act like the Jacksons.

Beyoncé - ‘Love On Top’ (2011)

This is the moment Queen Bey gave a masterclass in shutting down tabloid speculation, when she revealed to the world she was expecting baby Blue Ivy. While performing her hit 'Love On Top’, Bey asked the audience to “feel the love growing inside me”, and swiftly followed by ripping open her sequinned jacket, rubbing her bump and executing one of the best mic drops of all time. The audience went wild, Jay Z couldn’t stop grinning, and our love for the Queen reached fever pitch.

Britney Spears & N Sync - ‘Baby One More Time’ & ‘Tearing Up My Heart’ (1999)

If ONLY school was as cool as this. Back in her nineties heyday, the undisputed Queen of the VMAs Britney Spears teamed up with N Sync to bring us a pop-tastic collaboration. The stage was transformed with school desks, lockers and high school jocks, before Britney blessed us with a rendition of Baby One More Time. Determined not to be outdone, N Sync showed us all why no boyband will ever come close to rivalling their music video moves. Pop heaven at its best!

Lady Gaga - ‘Paparazzi’ (2009)

Paparazzi is Gaga’s best VMA performance to date, period. Staged in a extravagant mansion, LG opened her performance laying underneath a gigantic chandelier as she sang about the trials and tribulations of fame. The performance then took a darker turn as she showcased the real price of fame and paparazzi ‘love’ that pursues those in the spotlight, with a shocking stunt involving copious amounts of faux blood. We’re still thinking about it to this day.

Beyonce VMA Medley (2014)

We already knew that Queen Bey is the GOAT, but it never hurts to have another reminder. The enthralling self-titled performance featured all 14 tracks from her 2014 album (the one that dropped in the middle of the night) and firmly established the Queen as a freedom-fighter. Filled with epic vocals, full-on dance breaks and iconic feminist imagery, the 15-minute performance left no one in any doubt that she was the most prominent performer of her time. Fitting, as Jay Z and Blue Ivy then presented her with the Video Vanguard Award.

Michael Jackson Medley (1995)

It’s incredible to think that the King of Pop had never properly taken the spotlight at the VMAs before his iconic 15-minute performance at the 1995 ceremony. In what became the standard for today’s Video Vanguard Award performances, MJ delivered hits from every era, including ‘Billie Jean,’ ‘Smooth Criminal,’ and a crotch-thrusting setpiece to ‘Dangerous.’ As expected, Jackson slayed the dance floor with his untouchable moonwalk, sleek sways and killer vocals. Nineties babies, head to YouTube pronto to reacquaint yourself with this brilliance.

Justin Timberlake & N Sync Medley (2013)

We’re sure you’ll agree that everyone screamed at their TV’s when Justin Timberlake gathered up his boys for an N Sync reunion during his iconic Video Vanguard performance. With slick choreography and a back-to-back catalogue of hits including Like I Love You,’ 'Bye, Bye, Bye’ and ‘Girlfriend,' this performance earned its place in the history books for all the right reasons. Here’s hoping for a real reunion sometime soon.