Sorry, we didn’t hear you — we were thinking about Beyoncé again.

Awards shows should push the envelope.

Like, we don’t wanna see tired concepts or lackluster choreography. Give us creativity, give us drama, give us something fresh. Blow our minds.

Mind exploding.

The MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) are known for doing just that. In fact, the ceremony has become legendary for its ability to produce unforgettable — albeit sometimes strange — moments. This isn’t a stuffy, pompous party — it’s a place to experiment and be creative.

The 2021 VMAs air Sunday, September 12 — and they embody the exact attitude IGNITE wants you to have as we kick off this new semester. Try new things, bring your visions to life, and push the limits of what you thought was possible.

So, to inspire you, here are seven of the most iconic performances from VMAs past:

1. Britney Spears — Slave 4 U (2001)

In 2001, Spears was about as famed as pop stars come. At only 20 years old, she’d already won over 60 awards, topped the Billboard charts and set two Guinness World Records. Her conundrum was clear: with all that success already under her belt, how could she top herself and make her set unforgettable?

The answer presented itself in the form of an albino Burmese python named Banana. In the middle of her song Slave 4 U, Spears wrapped the snake around her shoulders and strutted the length of the stage with it. The imagery has become so infamous she’s even referenced it herself — that’s how you know you’re iconic.

Also, if you look closely at 0:24, you’ll spot a familiar face from Tiger King.

2. Beyoncé Love On Top (2011)

If there’s one thing Beyoncé knows how to do, it’s surprise an audience. But, two years before she revolutionized the album rollout with the surprise release of her self-titled fifth album, she masterfully revealed her first pregnancy — Blue Ivy — to the world after an awe-inspiring performance of her hit Love On Top.

3. Lady Gaga — Paparazzi (2009)

*Content warning: this performance contains fake blood.*

You aren’t born a little monster. You become one after you see Lady Gaga hover across the VMAs stage in knee-high boots and a soiled white costume.

4. Jennifer Lopez — medley (2018)

Ten songs. A six-train subway car. Four costumes. Two guest artists. One legendary performer.

J.Lo received MTV’s Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award in 2018, the highest honour at the ceremony, honouring her profound impact on the music industry and making her the first Latina artist to be awarded the title. Before accepting her place among fellow Vanguard Award recipients — like Kanye West, David Bowie, Beyoncé, Madonna, Britney Spears, Missy Elliott and, of course, Michael Jackson — she performed a showstopping 10-minute medley of her greatest hits complete with costume changes and features from Ja Rule and DJ Khaled.

We’ve dreamed of this set for so long.

5. Madonna — Vogue (1990)

When asked about memorable Madonna VMAs performances, most people bring up her 1984 Like A Virgin set or that time she performed with Missy Elliott, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, kissing the latter two.

But, for your consideration, we’d like to offer up her 1990 performance of Vogue — which was based on the 1988 film Dangerous Liaisons and featured the singer and her dancers in 18th century-inspired ball gowns and makeup. 

Let them eat cake and let us eat up these dance moves.

6. Michael Jackson — medley (1995)

OK, so, J.Lo did an 10-minute medley of her own songs the night she was granted an award named after Michael Jackson. Jackson himself? A 15-minute medley of his greatest hits complete with a two-minute guitar solo from the one and only Slash.

What’s there to say? One of the most proficient triple threats of all time. A legend. A superstar. 

7. Alicia Keys — Fallin’ (2001)

It takes some serious talent to captivate a room with only your voice, your piano skills and some help from a backup choir. But this singer-songwriter did exactly that with this stripped back and intimate performance at the 2001 VMAs. 

Even if you aren’t a fan of Beethoven, we bet you will be once you hear Keys play him.

Just like these artists, IGNITE challenges you to think outside the box this year. And, you don’t have to do it alone — we’re here to support you every step of the way.


We can think of another iconic performance coming up soon: Frosh 2021 featuring 2 Chainz! Snag your spot now!

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