Music

The Most Memorable Looks in MTV Video Music Awards History

The stories behind Rose McGowan's naked dress, Lil Kim's seashell nipple pasty and Lady Gaga's meat dress.
Reading time 5 minutes

MTV's Video Music Awards, which will be held tonight at New York City's Radio City Music Hall, are usually one of the wilder award shows. Aside from all the unpredictability to come, it can be assumed that Cardi B will be the queen of the evening (she received 10 nominations this year) and there will most likely be a tribute to soul legend Aretha Franklin (perhaps by the Carters?). Another thing we know for sure is that the outfits will be memorable. Here's a look back at some of the most iconic outfits in VMA history. 

Madonna in a wedding dress, 1984

It was the first Video Music Awards and the first major scandal with Madonna. Although she wasn't yet a household name, the singer performed Like a Virgin - in a wedding dress, a symbol of virginity and piety, while rolling around the stage. It's since been said that she boosted ratings so much that she practically single-handedly launched this award show franchise.

 

Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain with Frances Bean, 1993

 

 

Courtney in the image of Marilyn Monroe and Kurt Cobain at the height of his fame, wearing none other than the oval shades he's made iconic. This also happens to be one of the last photographs of the family together before his death in April, 1994.

Dennis Rodman, 1995

Everybody knows Dennis Rodman is more than a little problematic— but we also know not to sleep on his sartorial choices. He's toned down a little, but in the 90s he did not refrain from including rhinestones and crystals whenever he could. Also, we fully support the wearing of sparkly crop tops for men. 

Marilyn Manson and Rose McGowan, 1998

 

Rose McGowan's barely there chain dress is probably the most memorable and debated outfits in VMA history. She's since explained that she chose to wear the dress as a form of silent protest after being sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. 

Gwen Stefani, 1998

 

 

 

This is an artifact from the heydays of No Doubt; a saucer skirt over pants, a fur bikini, and that hairstyle—Stefani really was one of the great punk princesses. 

Lil Kim, 1999

Lil Kim's iconic mermaid-in-a-nipple-pasty outfit has been imitated many times over the years. The outfit became even more memorable when during the ceremony Diana Ross "jiggled her boob" on stage. 

Macy Gray, 2001

 

 

 

 

Soul singer Macy Gray pulled off one of the greatest red carpet self-promotions of all time. Her 2001 outfit was a shout out to her album's release date—and the back said: "Buy it." 

Lady Gaga, 2010

Ah, the dress that launched a thousand complaints. Lady Gaga's meat dress (and hat, and shoes) were designed by Franc Fernandez and styled by Nicola Formichetti, and the meat was actually dried. Following the controversy, Lady Gaga told Ellen Degeneres about the meaning behind the look; "Well, it is certainly no disrespect to anyone that is vegan or vegetarian. As you know, I am the most judgment-free human being on the earth. However, it has many interpretations. For me this evening, if we don’t stand up for what we believe in and if we don’t fight for our rights pretty soon, we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on own bones. And, I am not a piece of meat.”

Nicki Minaj, 2011

 

 

Nicki Minaj has never been one to shy away from a crazy look, and this Harajuku inspired outfit is no exception. Although her outfits show no shortage of creativity, Minaj has frequently been accused of cultural appropriation—first with this outfit from 2011, then in her SNL performance, and finally with her hit single Chun Li

Inspired by Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake's iconic all-denim outfit from the 2001 American Music Awards, Katy Perry showed up with a most unlikely date to the 2014 VMA's—Riff Raff. Their bedazzled outfits were custom Versace. 

Amber Rose and Blac Chyna, 2015

 

 

One of the more powerful statements made through clothing came in 2015 when friends Amber Rose and Blac Chyna wore outfits painted with slurs like “slut,” “stripper,” “gold digger,” and “bitch." Both women, who are regularly called out for their pasts and high profile former relationships, claimed they were attempting to embrace the "insults."

Jared Leto, 2017

What better way to end this list than with Jared Leto, in yet another crazy Gucci outfit? The actor is besties with designer Alessandro Michele and hasn't been seen in anything other than the latest Gucci pieces for a few seasons now. We don't blame him. 

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