The MTV Video Music Awards — to be broadcast live Sunday night from Los Angeles, presumably with the usual array of scantily clad celebrities, intentionally controversial moments and, oh yeah, awards for music videos — has been an annual occasion for 27 years. And as those years continue to slide by, taking us further from the network’s target demographic, the antics at the VMAs seem to grow increasingly tasteless.
But is that actually true, or is this just what happens when we grow older and less charmed by the sight of celebrities gratuitously making out onstage to generate buzz?
After tracing the progression of puerile behavior in this list of “controversial” events from VMAs past, let’s see whether the standards really have lowered or if they actually sank to rock-bottom in the ’90s and stayed there. After following that timeline, feel free to vote in our pair of VMA tastelessness polls.
1984: Madonna in the wedding dress
Madonna opens the first MTV Video Music Awards by writhing onstage in a lacy bridal gown as she moans out the lyrics to “Like a Virgin.” This was deemed scandalous at the time. Now many of us routinely see this sort of behavior at wedding receptions.
1989: Andrew Dice Clay talks dirty
Andrew Dice Clay recites some of his signature adult nursery rhymes and a few other jokes without censoring his occasionally profane language. As a result, MTV bans him from the channel for life.
1992: ‘I Am Fartman’
Radio megastar Howard Stern descends from the rafters dressed as Fartman, the flatulent superhero who exposes his buttocks and forces Luke Perry to touch them. No ban is issued.
1993: Milton Berle vs. RuPaul
Milton Berle gropes the breasts of RuPaul while presenting an award. Berle jokes about once dressing in drag, then RuPaul makes a crack about how the 85-year-old now wears diapers. None of it is funny.
1994: The kiss
Michael Jackson lays a major, cringe-inducing kiss on wife Lisa-Marie Presley. They divorce two years later, but the footage of this moment lasts forever.
1997: Fiona Apple’s message of positivity
During an acceptance speech for her Best New Artist award, Fiona Apple declares that this world (meaning the MTV world) is bull[expletive].” Tasteless? Perhaps. But also refreshingly candid.
1999: Lil’ Kim and the, um, dress
Lil’ Kim, rapper and pioneer of the intentional wardrobe malfunction, shows up in an ensemble that exposes most of one of her breasts. While presenting an award with Kim, Diana Ross does what we’ll call “pulling a Milton Berle.”
2001: Britney Spears and the python
A scantily clad Britney Spears gyrates to “I’m a Slave 4 U” with a yellow python draped around her neck, angering PETA and unwittingly laying the foundation for a dance routine on “Glee” nine years later.
2002: Eminem gets mad at a puppet
Eminem loses himself in the moment, gets in a fight with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and, while accepting an award, threatens to punch Moby.
2003: The kiss, part deux
Madonna places a steamy, pop diva torch-passing kiss on both Spears and Christina Aguilera, making us all miss the subtle nuance of her performance from 1984.
2007: Guy fight!
Pamela Anderson exes Kid Rock and Tommy Lee get into a fistfight in the VMA crowd at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. It must have been the decidedly peaceful sounds of Alicia Keys, who was performing at the time, that pushed them over the edge.
2008: Russell Brand’s brand of comedy
Host Russell Brand calls then-President George W. Bush a “retarded cowboy” and mocks the Jonas Brothers for pledging to remain abstinent. Not only is he not banned, he’s also invited back to host again the following year.
2010: Gaga and the dress
Lady Gaga shows up with her breasts covered . . . in hunks of raw, red meat that’s been made into a dress. PETA, once again, is not pleased.
My verdict? Standards may not have lowered progressively since the early VMA days, but once you let Fartman in the door, classiness certainly has a tendency to sneak out the window. Now it’s your turn to weigh in: