20 Shocking Facts about the MTV VMAs You Definitely Never Knew
There's a lot more to the show than moonmen and music videos.
Any child of the ’80s will tell you that, back in their day, before all the Teen Mom seasons and Jersey Shore hijinks, MTV dedicated practically every minute of its airtime to music videos. And it wasn’t long before the network launched its own Video Music Awards (VMAs) in 1984, complete with the iconic astronaut trophy that has affectionately been dubbed the “moonman.”
Thirty-five years later, what began as a way to honor the best in the music video medium has morphed into an epic night of over-the-top fashion, history-making musical performances, and, of course, jaw-dropping celebrity moments. Ahead of this year’s awards on Monday, August 26th, we’ve rounded up the most shocking true stories about VMAs past that even diehard music fans don’t know. So grab some popcorn, put on your meat dress, and dive into these crazy facts about the MTV Video Music Awards.
The seating chart takes months to finalize and stars don’t even follow it.
With all the who’s who of music in one place, creating a seating chart that works for everyone attending the VMAs is no easy task. In 2016, Gina Esposito, MTV’s vice president for music and talent, told Cosmopolitan that it takes months to figure out seating arrangements, from the moment nominations are released until cameras start rolling on the live awards show.
Celebrities can request to sit next to one another (like Taylor Swift and her squad) and the network does its best to accommodate, but they’re also looking to make good TV, so they’ll seat people next to friends to get those genuine, meme-worthy reactions.
And if stars aren’t happy with their seats, they take matters into their own hands. “You’ll have artists who rearrange seats in real time so they sit together,” Esposito said. “If we don’t seat them together, they find their way to each other anyway.”
Some nominees have to buy their own tickets… for $800 a pop!
Unless you’re, say, Cardi B or Ariana Grande, MTV charges attendees up to $800 per ticket—and that includes nominees. Josh Forbes—who directed a music video for Walk the Moon that was nominated for Best Rock Video in 2017—told The Daily Beast that he had to start a GoFundMe just so he could afford to attend the ceremony.
“You spend your whole life making these things and it’s nice to feel like you’re part of something, and then it’s depressing when you find out you’re not invited,” he said. “‘You are part of the club—and we’re having a party!’ ‘Cool! Can I go?’ ‘Oh, no—YOU can’t go.’”
A secret committee selects nominees.
Though fans have had the opportunity to vote online for certain categories since the dawn of the internet, there’s not much info out there as to how the nominees are selected. One reporter for Bustle did some snooping and tried to figure things out, but the selection committee for VMA nominees is pretty much kept under wraps.
And it’s been that way for decades! After the 1987 VMAs, UPI reported that “the awards are voted on by the National Video Academy, made up of a minimum of 1,500 representatives of the music and video industry selected on a yearly basis by the members of the MTV-appointed Video Awards Executive Committee.” Guess we’ll never know who the chosen “members” are!
And viewers can’t vote on every category.
While the VMAs are touted as a primarily fan-based awards show, there are a few categories you won’t find on the voting website. There are six “professional” categories that only the aforementioned select committee is able to vote on: Best Direction, Best Visual Effects, Best Cinematography, Best Choreography, Best Editing, and Best Art Direction.
The very first show was hosted by Dan Aykroyd and Bette Midler.
The first-ever MTV VMAs aired live on September 14, 1984, and the ceremony was hosted by Dan Aykroyd and Bette Midler, who took to the stage dressed in astronaut suits designed to mimic the “moonman” award statues.
“We’re about to embark on an event of galactic proportions,” Aykroyd said before announcing Rod Stewart’s performance. Oh, how times have changed.
Madonna’s iconic “Like a Virgin” performance was supposed to involve a live tiger.
Madonna’s original plan for her 1984 performance of “Like a Virgin” was to sing the song to a real-life white Bengal tiger, Billboard reported. Though the idea was nixed—for safety reasons—she still delivered an iconic performance, emerging from a 17-foot tall wedding cake in that unforgettable lace bustier wedding dress. But even that wasn’t entirely planned.
“I walked down these steps which were the tiers of a wedding cake, and I lost…my white stiletto. I thought, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to get that? It’s over there and I’m on TV.’ So I thought, ‘Well, I’ll pretend I meant to do this,’ and I dove onto the floor,” she told Jay Leno in 2012. “And I rolled around and I reached for the shoe, and as I reached for the shoe, the dress went up, and then the underpants were showing. And I didn’t mean to.” Classic MTV VMA debauchery.
The moonman statue was almost a sneaker.
Manhattan Design, the NYC-based design firm that created both the logo for MTV and its now iconic moonman, initially submitted three ideas for the statue: a sneaker, a container of popcorn (which ended up becoming the trophy for the MTV Movie Awards), and, of course, the moonman.
“I think the moonman and the VMAs connect to the roots of where MTV started, which is with music and videos and entertainment,” Pat Gorman, the statue’s designer, told MTV in 2016. Designed to mimic the station’s moon landing-themed “top of the hour” animation, the moonman even pays homage to Neil Armstrong with a footprint on the base of the trophy underneath the astronaut’s floating foot, imitating the line heard ’round the solar system: “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
And it has only been redesigned once in 35 years.
The iconic moonman statue has been redesigned one time in its three-decade history, but it wasn’t permanent. In 2013—when the VMASs were in Brooklyn—renowned Brooklyn-based artist KAWS gave the statue a special-edition makeover: His skull-and-crossbones head moonman was only given that singular year.
There used to be an award for “Ringtone of the Year.”
Yes, in 2006, this seriously was a thing. But it was just given out for that one year, so Fort Minor is the only lucky winner in history. He won for a collaboration with Holly Brook on the song “Where’d You Go.” Other nominees for the one-time category included Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” and The Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps.”
There also used to be a “Best Video Game Soundtrack” award.
Tony Hawk’s Underground became the first winner of the Best Video Game Soundtrack Award in 2004, back when MTV was trying to broaden its audience to the massive gaming community. The soundtracks for Dance Dance Revolution Extreme and Marc Eck’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure were the only other two winners, in 2005 and 2006 respectively, before the network decided to shelve the category for good.
Shoes are prepped so artists don’t fall.
According to MTV News, VMA wardrobe staff scuffs and tacks talents’ shoes to make sure they don’t fall, which makes total sense considering the amount of dancing that typically goes on during performances.
There have only been four female hosts ever.
For the first seven years of the VMAs, men dominated the hosting duties, with comedians ranging from Arsenio Hall to Chris Rock taking a crack at helming the night of music videos. That streak was broken in 1991 when comedian Roseanne Barr hosted the ceremony. Since then, only three women have followed suit: Chelsea Handler in 2010, Miley Cyrus in 2015, and Katy Perry in 2017.
No one has won Video of the Year three times.
Though several talented artists have been nominated numerous times, only the most prolific have won that sought-after Video of the Year title twice. Missy Elliot won for “Work It” and “Lady Marmalade,” Eminem for “The Real Slim Shady” and “Without Me,” Rihanna for “Umbrella” and “We Found Love,” and Beyoncé for “Single Ladies” and “Formation.” But no one has taken home the night’s biggest moonman thrice!
Only one married couple has won Best New Artist.
Singer-songwriter Aimee Mann (and her new-wave group, ‘Til Tuesday) scored the Best New Artist award at the VMAs in 1985, while artist and composer Michael Penn won in 1990. The pair wed in 1997, making them the only married couple to have both won the award. Talk about a music industry power couple!
The director of Fight Club and Gone Girl has won three VMAs.
David Fincher has received directing accolades not only for big screen movies, but for several music videos as well. The Fight Club and Gone Girl director took home VMAs for Best Direction for Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and “Vogue,” in 1989 and 1990, respectively, and for Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie,” in 2013.
Rose McGowan’s famous VMA red carpet outfit from 1998 had an important message behind it.
Rose McGowan’s nearly nude 1998 VMA outfit wasn’t just a fashion statement, but a political one, too. Years later, in light of the #metoo movement that she had a huge part in, McGowan shared that the outfit was worn in response to her being sexually assaulted that year.
“It was my first public appearance after being raped,” McGowan told actress and activist Jameela Jamil for the I Weigh online interview series. “And I thought, it was kind of like Russell Crowe in Gladiator when [he] comes out in the ring and he’s like, ‘Are you not entertained?’ And that was why I did that. That was my response to being assaulted.”
The most-awarded video in VMA history is more than 30 years old.
Peter Gabriel’s high-minded, artistic, claymation masterpiece for the song “Sledgehammer” won a whopping nine Video Music Awards in a single night during the third annual show in 1987. More than three decades later, the video still holds up and it still holds the record as the most-awarded video of all time.
The Beatles have a VMA even though they weren’t together when the awards began.
The Video Vanguard Award—renamed the Micheal Jackson Video Vanguard Award in 1991—has become the VMA equivalent to a lifetime achievement award, with accolades going to Kanye West, Beyoncé, and Jennifer Lopez in recent years. But, at the first VMAs in 1984, it was a way to acknowledge artists who were trailblazers in the music industry. David Bowie and The Beatles took home the very first installment of the Video Vanguard Award for their work incorporating video into their musical repertoire.
In 2019, the VMAs are being held in New Jersey for the first time ever.
The 2019 VMAs, set to be hosted at New Jersey’s Prudential Center, in Newark, will mark the fourth time in the show’s entire history that it will take place outside of New York or Los Angeles. Miami was home to the star-studded affair in 2004 and 2005, Las Vegas hosted in 2007, and now, the Garden State will be the home of the VMAs for the first time.
Beyoncé is the most-awarded artist in VMA history.
Queen Bey made history in 2016 when she won a whopping eight awards for her groundbreaking album Lemonade, including the most coveted title, Video of the Year. Before that, Madonna had held the spot as most-decorated VMA artist, winning 20 moonmen between 1986 and 1999. She held that title for a solid 17 years, until Bey outdid her with 21 VMA trophies. And for more about pop music’s biggest star, here are 20 Little-Known Facts About Beyoncé That Will Make You Love Her Even More.
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