Every year since 1984, the MTV Video Music Awards, also known as the VMAs, have been a late summer/early fall tradition. Even as the television network began moving further and further away from airing music videos, news, and other programs about your favorite bands and artists, the VMAs have remained a cultural staple and MTV’s annual dedication to music. All genres are covered here, from rock to country to hip-hop and pop as the hottest and most established acts hope to get their hands on a Moonman statue.
Okay, so the VMAs don’t mean as much as the Grammys, nor does a Moonman hold as much weight compared to that gold statue, but isn’t that sort of the point? The VMAs are all about unbridled fun, and the show often features a handful of musical performances throughout the night. Music award shows are always more unrestricted and relaxed compared to the Emmys or the Golden Globes. If a musician walks the VMA red carpet and isn’t wearing fresh-off-the-runway couture, you kind of expect it. That makes it all the more surprising when a star is completely polished.
Everyone loves talking about hot red carpet looks. Although the 2015 VMAs have come and gone, we’re still talking about Taylor Swift‘s multiple wins, the drama between Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus, and Justin Bieber‘s appearance. However, this year is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s rewind and check out some of the most memorable looks from VMAs past.
15. Miley Cyrus’ Teddy Bear Onesie
The 2013 MTV VMAs were the year that put Miley Cyrus irrevocably, permanently on the map. She arrived to the show looking like a ’90s throwback with mini pigtail buns atop her head, a black off-the-shoulder long-sleeved crop top and matching high-waisted pants with large jewels. Then she shocked the world by switching into a Chuck E. Cheese-like gray furry bodysuit with a mouse on the front with its tongue sticking out.
The “Wrecking Ball” singer would later make yet a third costume change, this time into a nude-colored vinyl bra top and booty shorts, the infamous outfit in which she twerked on Robin Thicke as he performed “Blurred Lines” live. The stoned mouse leotard often gets lost in the shuffle due to that jaw-dropping performance, but women everywhere rushed out to buy the costume and pretend that they were Miley for one night on Halloween. It’s somehow just a more memorable look than that foam finger.
14. Carmen Electra’s Open Black Dress
Although never as popular as Pamela Anderson, Carmen Electra was one of the hottest celebrities of the 1990s, racking up five Playboy features, the first which had happened in 1996 and the next which hit newsstands a few months before the 1997 VMAs. The model had an image to live up to. For celebrities that aren’t musicians but show up to the VMAs anyway, there’s even more pressure to look good and not just fade into the background. Electra managed to have all eyes on her.
From the front, her long black gown looked classy and almost a touch demure. There’s no deep V-cut exposing Electra’s cleavage nor is the length short to showcase her legs. It’s on the sides where this dress went from drab to damn. Metal pieces connecting the front of the gown to the back prevent too much side boob or any other indecent exposure. However, all that skin also made it very evident that Electra had foregone any underwear that night. Hopefully those metal parts were reinforced.
13. Christina Aguilera’s “Shirt” and “Skirt”
When Christina Aguilera first surfaced on an already-packed female pop music scene in late 1999, she was fresh-faced and innocent, only showing off slivers of skin in a crop top. Even her music, while trying to be seductive, just came across as cute. As the years rolled by, she wanted to shed that image entirely, wearing lingerie with the likes of Pink, Mya, and Little Kim when they covered “Lady Marmalade” in 2001 and then releasing an album called Stripped in 2002. Although the title was supposed to represent rebirth, considering that Aguilera went from Christina to Xtina and started wearing as little clothing as possible, we’re not so sure.
Just take a look at the getup that she donned at the 2002 VMAs. Often topping plenty of worst-dressed lists, you can’t deny that when Xtina showed up on the MTV red carpet in little more than a scarf for a shirt and a strip of denim for a mini skirt that jaws had to be collected from the floor. With her dyed dreadlocks, black patent leather heeled boots, and overly obvious spray tan, while we all sometimes wish that we could forget this outfit, the media is just never going to let us. In that case, we might as well celebrate it a little.
12. Selena Gomez’s Wide Open Dress
Selena Gomez also seems intent on proving to the world that she’s not the same young, naive teenager who thought it was a good idea to continually fall back into the arms of Justin Bieber. She’s finally smartened up, and she’s also successfully transitioned from a Disney-centric career to one where she can stand on her own two feet. The “Who Says” singer was featured in 2013 in the scandalous Spring Breakers film, where she, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine, and Ashley Benson ran around in bikinis. Yep, Gomez is pretty far removed from her days on Wizards of Waverly Place.
She could have gone the Christina Aguilera route as described above, but instead Gomez displayed her newfound maturity and sense of independence in a just-short-of-classy Atelier Versace gown. In gorgeous navy blue, the long-sleeved dress features studs along the hem, especially the deep thigh slit. However, it’s the way that the top of the gown falls away to reveal a bustier beneath that was the most tantalizing part. Made of leather and sheer fabric, Gomez sure didn’t leave anything to the imagination that year.
11. Taylor Swift’s Classy Blue Gown
Taylor Swift is always so perfectly put-together. Whether she’s hitting the gym, wearing street clothes, performing in front of her millions of adoring fans, or on the red carpet, her looks are immaculate. She’s not known to show a lot of skin though; even when she’s spotted on the beach, Swift prefers bandeaus and high-waisted bottoms to revealing bikinis any day. That’s why it was a bit surprising (in a good way) to see the dress that she selected for the 2013 VMAs.
We can’t neglect to mention that it was only a few years prior at the 2009 MTV show that Kanye West infamously interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech, proclaiming that Beyonce was “the best of all time.” During that show, the “Blank Space” crooner’s voluminous silver off-the-shoulder dress seemed ready to swallow her whole. A few years later, she looked very grown up in a Herve Leger gown the same color as BFF’s Selena Gomez. Unlike Gomez though, the sloping V-cut of Swift’s gown is suggestive without being over-the-top.
10. Rose McGowan’s Barely-There Dress
When you’re dating Marilyn Manson as Rose McGowan was back in 1998, you know that all the attention isn’t going to be on you. After all, Manson was one of the biggest artists in the world at that time, and he had just went from a dark, goth look to a more glam one inspired by David Bowie. As his date, it seemed all but impossible for McGowan to be little more than background arm candy. After all, any little black dress wasn’t going to stand up to Manson’s faux-leopard print two-piece suit with a red furry collar, black platform boots, and fire engine red dyed hair.
As a result, McGowan didn’t wear a dress at all. Instead, she was practically naked in a halter-neck black mesh cover-up which was nothing but shreds in the back. Her only undergarments were a little leopard thong, possibly to match her then-beau. Her breasts, although covered, were clearly able to be seen through the sheer material, and her rear was definitely feeling any traces of the Los Angeles breeze that day. Even though the 1998 VMAs were nearly 20 years ago, people still instantaneously remember this McGowan look for better or for worse.
9. Nicki Minaj During Her Performance of “Anaconda”
The dress that bombshell Nicki Minaj wore to the 2014 VMAs was plenty nice. It was a black velvet number with a few side cutouts and of course a huge V-cut to show off Minaj’s ample cleavage. Her black and white patterned open-toed booties gave the look some character. However, it’s unlikely that anyone will remember or talk about that dress as 2014 becomes more and more of a memory. Instead, it was Minaj’s look for her live performance of “Anaconda” that really stole the show.
While her backup dancers were dressed and painted to look like snakes (it’s only fitting), Minaj had a garden-esque getup with a shimmery green bra covered in small fake leaves and high-waisted booty shorts in the same color. Minaj’s rear and upper thighs were painted in a green snakeskin pattern that naturally faded out. She finished the look with mismatched black sneakers. This is a simple costume change for sure, without a lot of bells and whistles that some pop starlets prefer, but it was functional, appropriate to the song, and overall pretty creative.
8. Lady Gaga’s Seashell Look
The VMAs have always been Lady Gaga’s personal catwalk. In 2009, she swathed her entire body in red lace and performed in a bleeding outfit. 2010 was the year of the meat dress, which needs no elaboration. In 2011, she was a dude for a night as she dressed up as her male alter ego Jo Calderone. At one point she performed her then-new tune “Applause” with a white box on her head. With such a colorful and zany history of costumes at the awards, if you were wondering how Mother Monster would up the ante in 2013, she found a way.
Instead of wearing as many weird clothes as possible, she wore as few as she would be allowed without being totally indecent. We’re not sure if she was going for mermaid inspiration, but Gaga fashioned a strapless “bra” with fake white plastic seashells and a white thong with flowers on the front. That’s it. Her blonde wavy tresses hung loose and may have been her own. Her face had a few odd splatters of black and red which were never explained. As Gaga performed for her legions of fans, she seemed to have no qualms whatsoever about her bare derriere being completely exposed for the world to see.
7. TLC’s Egyptian-Inspired Dresses
Remember in 2012 when Beyonce stunned the universe in her gorgeous, mostly-transparent MET Gala gown? The one that had flowery jewels studded in just the right places to keep her decent? Well, Queen Bey didn’t exactly think up of the look herself. Instead, it was inspired by a getup that TLC member Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez sported way back in 1997 at the VMAs. Egyptian-themed, Lopez’s costume that night consisted of little more than a nude-colored bejeweled bra, a mostly see-through skirt with beading on the front, and a jewel-encrusted neckpiece.
Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins had a similar but not identical look in a flimsy jeweled bra, hanging skirt, and matching headpiece and armbands. We’re not sure where Rozonda “Chili” Thomas was at the time, since the group was very much intact in 1997. These outfits may not have caused viewers to bat an eye in the wilder decade of the 1990s, but it was certainly nice for Beyonce to pay tribute to the deceased Left Eye and let the talented singer’s legacy live on.
6. Jennifer Lopez’s Shimmery Dress
Jennifer Lopez may have only been 45 years old for about a month by the time that the 2014 VMAs aired, but looking at her, you never would have guessed. The mother, actor, and singer was at the show that year right off the heels of the release of her eighth album A.K.A., which had just hit store shelves that June. She wasn’t performing, but she would be walking the MTV red carpet, so she knew that she had to look good, and look good she did.
In a dress better-suited for the Grammys or Oscars than the Video Music Awards, J-Lo rocked it in Charbel Zoe. This silver delight was shimmery and consisted of very little fabric until you hit the waist. Criss-crossing portions of fabric expose plenty of skin, enough to show off Lopez’s toned tummy. The slit at the thigh almost screams wardrobe malfunction in the making, but the “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” singer’s confidence, paired with her smooth long tresses, minimal makeup, and silver clutch and pumps kept the gown looking surprisingly sophisticated.
5. Amber Rose’s Chainmail “Dress”
If you thought that Rose McGowan’s ghost of a dress would be the first and last of its kind on this list, here’s another one. Perhaps as an homage to McGowan, Amber Rose draped her curvy body in a very similar “dress” at the 2014 VMAs. In support of her then-hubby, rapper Wiz Khalifa, we will admit that Rose’s version was definitely less revealing than McGowan’s, but again, as mentioned, the 1990s were a different, much raunchier time. It was far easier to get away with being practically naked on a red carpet.
Back to Rose’s look, the silver chainmail dress had a bra-like top that does provide some coverage. From the waist down though, Rose let it all hang out, enough so that you can see her matching silver thong in the front. From the back, the halter-style dress is solid enough to keep Rose’s rear contained. Considering her sometimes questionable fashion decisions and how she has no problems flaunting what she’s got, we really shouldn’t have been surprised that she’d wear something like this. Khalifa was probably feeling like quite a lucky man that night. Much in the same vein as McGowan’s dress above, while this is a little tacky, it’s a moment that will come up again and again when talking about VMA looks.
4. Coco’s Mesh Dress
Still, at least Amber Rose didn’t dress the way that Coco did back in 2005 at the VMAs show. Considering that Ice-T hadn’t put out any new music since 1999’s The Seventh Deadly Sin (although he would return to the studio in 2006 to release Gangsta Rap, his last album to date), we’re not exactly sure why he and Coco showed up to the MTV proceedings. Given the way that both of them dressed that night, maybe they should have reconsidered attending.
Ice was pimp-tastic in a bright mustard yellow suit with a black button-down shirt and matching fedora. Coco didn’t bother with undershirts or even really undergarments with her black mesh one-sleeved, slit-to-there dress. Again, this is one of those looks where you can barely even call it a dress. Mesh doesn’t hide very much, and whether Coco forgot her bra or purposefully left it at home, Ice-T was making peace signs and pointing to his wife, who definitely frustrated the censors working at MTV.
3. Rita Ora’s Black Feather Dress
At the 2014 VMAs, Rita Ora hit the red carpet in a dress that was almost the exact same bright shade as the carpet itself. The chintzy red silk gown showed plenty of cleavage and thigh. It would have been an A+ look had the dress not fit so loosely in the bodice that the “How We Do (Party”) crooner risked a wardrobe malfunction if she were to bend over too far. At this year’s August 30th show, she fashioned a similar look but one that had its act together.
This time, instead of blending into the red carpet, Ora choose a complimentary black dress with a cut so deep that part of her stomach is on display. Tighter, thicker sleeves anchor the top half of the gown much more than the flimsy spaghetti straps of her 2014 red silk number. This dress may have been forgettable save for the black feathers which make up the lower half and extend to a train on the ground. This time the thigh slit is necessary, allowing Ora’s skin to breathe under all those feathers. With simple hair and makeup as well as pretty black nails, this Vera Wang piece is a winner.
2. Britney Spears’ Green Getup with a Python
Long before Britney Spears stepped back on the VMAs stage in 2007 for a lackluster comeback performance that saw her moving like a zombie, she was the queen of the Video Music Awards. The same year that she and ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake rolled up to the American Music Awards in matching denim-on-denim-on-denim, Brit-Brit stunned at the VMAs when it was time for her to perform.
Yes, her red carpet look of a black lace see-through minidress with black underthings was nothing special, but maybe she was too busy thinking about the giant python that she’d have to sling while singing “I’m a Slave 4 U.” The snake is just the beginning of what makes this gear so great. Spears was young and confident, and her green bikini top with matching blue and green shimmery shorts with a cape in the back gave her the Middle Eastern-esque look she was going for. Let’s not neglect to talk about her nude-colored boots with sparkles, rhinestones, and other jewels on them that tied the whole look together.
1. Lil’ Kim’s Purple Pasty
For most starlets and singers, having one of your breasts pop out on the red carpet would be an absolute nightmare. For Lil’ Kim, it was intentional. Back before she began going under the knife to alter her face and body, Kim was all smiles at the 1999 VMAs in a one-shouldered body suit that covered only one of her breasts. She stuck a matching pasty over the other and called it good. Her bright purple wig added some more zaniness to her appearance.
When presenting an award, Diana Ross was stunned at Kim’s outfit and even touched the bare breast. Unsurprisingly, years and years later in 2013, Miley Cyrus copped the rapper’s look and did a recreation for Halloween. Lil’ Kim was never afraid to wear whatever she wanted, and she proved it on this night in 1999. This purple outfit will forever live on, since it’s almost always mentioned whenever someone talks about VMAs past.
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