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Take a look back at the first decade of the MTV Video Music Awards

Image: AP Photo

The first VMA ceremony took place 33 years ago, and while in some cases it seemed like a completely different world, it’s also a testament to how some things in the music industry will simply never change. The VMAs have gone on to become one of the biggest nights in music, drawing in a younger crowd than the Grammy Awards and keeping things a little more casual.

In fact, a lot of the of the most controversial moments in pop culture — from hair metal fist fights to Prince baring his behind in a yellow mesh outfit — took place at the VMAs. Here are some of the most infamous VMA moments that took place in the decade following that first Moonman award.


1984: The Beatles, David Bowie and Richard Lester are awarded the first ever Vanguard Awards

These awards are meant to honor pioneers in the music video industry. The Beatles were specifically recognized for “A Hard Day’s Night.”

Image: Giphy


1985: “We Are the World” won best group video

And that song is now stuck in your head, isn’t it?

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1986: The awards were broadcast from all over the place

Rather than having everyone in one building, the 1986 VMAs were broadcast live from New York, L.A., London, Miami and… New Haven, Connecticut.

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1987: Peter Gabriel took home 10 Moonmen

He still holds the record for most awards taken home in a single evening. The video for “Sledgehammer” is also the most acclaimed video in VMA history. It was nominated for 10 awards and won nine.

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1988: Arsenio Hall started his hosting tenure

He was the resident VMA host for four years, until comedian Dana Carvey took his spot in 1992.

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1989: Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crue duked it out

Not for awards, they actually fought. Izzy Stradlin of Guns N’ Roses got in a fight with Motley Crue vocalist Vince Neil, then Axl Rose got involved in a shouting match with Neil. This is one of the first times actual drama ensued at the VMAs.

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1990: Artists got political

In the midst of the Parents Music Resource Center hearings, many artists were speaking out against censorship in music. 2 Live Crew performed “Banned in the USA” and Janet Jackson ripped off her top.

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1991: Paul Reubens made his first public appearance since his arrest earlier that year

Dressed as Pee-Wee Herman, Reubens asked the crowd, “Have you heard any good jokes lately?”

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1992: Elton John touched Kurt Cobain’s spit

After Axl Rose challenged Cobain to a fight, Cobain decided to spit on a keyboard backstage he thought Rose would be playing. It turned out to be Elton John’s keyboard.

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1993: Milton Berle and RuPaul presented an award together

The two apparently didn’t get along backstage and they had an incredibly awkward exchange onstage when RuPaul decided to ad-lib the presentation. 

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1994: Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley made out onstage

The relationship between the newlyweds was controversial from the beginning, due to their age difference. Jackson responded to these snickers by saying, “And just think, nobody thought this would last” before making out in front of the crowd. Turns out, it didn’t last and the two divorced two years later.

Image: Giphy

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