But can this year's lineup trump some of the show's most memorable past performances? Here's a look back at five of the most iconic VMA performances -- and what you didn't know about them.
The Material Girl was a virgin -- to the MTV stage, at least -- when she performed a racy rendition of her then-unknown song, "Like A Virgin" at the very first MTV VMAs back in 1984. But while her stage-rolling and garter-showing looked pre-planned, Madge begged to differ. According to Yahoo! Music, in a new book an MTV VP recently revealed that Madonna originally wanted to bring a full grown Bengal tiger onstage, but when that idea was nixed a 17-foot wedding cake was built instead. Madonna later explained to late night host Jay Leno that she accidentally lost her white stiletto during her debut VMA performance, so she "dove" onto the floor to retrieve it-- thus the spontaneous slither across the floor and the subsequent fanny flashing. "I didn't mean to," she said.
Nearly two decades later, Britney Spears got the tiger-- as well as a bright yellow python-- for her 2001 VMA performance of the song "I'm a Slave 4 U." But Spears also endured the wrath of PETA for her use of exotic animals in the performance. While she later apologized for the incident, it didn't stop her from later utilizing elephants for her "Circus" video -- and dressing them in circus attire, no less! PETA slammed the pop princess once again, so she opted to leave Dumbo at home come tour time. But whatever became of her beloved VMA snake? A quick Twitter check by Brit recently revealed that the snake (named Banana!) is alive and well.
Speaking of Madonna and Britney, back in 2003 they had a threesome -- with Christina Aguilera! But the highly-controversial three-way kiss almost went another way. According to Entertainment Weekly, MTV Music Group President Van Toffler recently revealed that Jennifer Lopez had actually been tapped to be part of the girl on girl action. "Originally, J.Lo was in the mix," Toffler told the magazine. "That didn't happen. And Britney and Madonna, they had history so it was not easy to get them together on the stage. [But] Britney and Christina [Aguilera] obviously respected Madonna. Only she could pull that off."
Alternative rocker band Nirvana caused all kinds of hijinks at the 1992 VMAs. In addition to famously performing the first few lines of their song "Rape Me" (after assuring network execs that they wouldn't play it), they quickly segued into the agreed-upon song, "Lithium." But that performance ended with drummer Dave Grohl taunting Guns 'N Roses front man Axl Rose in response to an earlier backstage run-in. Meanwhile, Cobain decided to spit on Rose's piano keys minutes before G'N R was slated to perform the song "November Rain." In a recently unearthed 1993 interview with Guitar World, Cobain said, "I spat on Axl's keyboards when we were sitting on the stage. It was either that or beat him up. We're down on this platform that brought us up hydraulically…I saw his piano there, and I just had to take this opportunity and spit big goobers all over his keyboards." Too bad the legendary Elton John sat down at the piano instead, to accompany G'N R on their epic tune! In a 2002 interview, Nirvana's former guitar tech Ernie Bailey said, "When the pianos arose for the duet's intro to 'November Rain', Elton was seated at the piano whose keys Kurt had spat upon. I'm not sure which was funnier, Kurt's horror at what he had done, or the sight of Elton John hammering away on that piano."
In 1993, RuPaul and Milton Berle famously paired up to present the MTV's Viewer's Choice Award, when RuPaul ad-libbed the snarky line: "So you used to wear gowns, but now you're wearing diapers." A stunned Berle replied, "Oh, we're going to ad lib? I'll check my brain and we'll start even." RuPaul went on to mock Berle, sarcastically clapping like a seal and telling him, "You still got it, Uncle Miltie, oh, you're hot!" While many felt that RuPaul was disrespectful to the legendary comic, according to MTV the duo did not get along backstage. On RuPaul's website, the "Supermodel" singer wrote, "The Milton Berle incident is a perfect example of me ignoring my gut when he was power tripping me in the dressing room. Before we went on stage I got very mad at myself for allowing him to treat me that way and decided to get him back, live on stage in front of 20 million people. I made a big fool out of myself that night, all because my ego was hurt."
The 2012 MTV Video Music Awards will air live from Los Angeles on September 6.
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