MTV Memories: 30 Of The Most Memorable Moments In MTV History

by (@unclegrambo)

As we near the end of our celebration of MTV’s 30 birthday, we figured it would be apropos to look back at thirty of the moments that defined the channel. Now, we easily could’ve listed 30,000 reasons why we love our MTV, but we’ll just have to wait until MTV’s 30,000th birthday to publish that list. For now, enjoy this cornucopia of memorable reality shows, groundbreaking music videos, hilarious interviews, jaw-dropping moments of violence, and celebrity beef.


30) Kurt Loder Prevents A Full-On Brawl Between Madonna and Courtney Love
The scene: The 1995 Video Music Awards. During a post-show interview with the unflappable Kurt Loder, Madonna gets pelted with a compact thrown by the Queen of Grunge, Courtney Love. (Heroin-fueled) hilarity and awkwardness ensues.

29) “Paint The Mutha Pink”
This memorable promo for a 1984 MTV contest was pegged to the release of John Cougar Mellencamp’s album, Uh Huh, which featured the eighties heartland anthem “Pink Houses.” The grand prize winner received a house in Bloomington, Indiana (Mellencamp’s hometown), which came with a special paint job: Pink.

28) Totally Pauly
Hey buhhh-deeee, don’t go weezin’ all the juice! After landing a gig as a VJ in 1989, Pauly Shore went from being an unknown stand-up to a major motion picture star inside of two years.

27) Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica
Remember these cute kids? Before Newlyweds launched in August of 2003, Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson were firmly on the bubblegum pop B-List, but Jessica’s exuberantly dizzy personality and constant use of malapropisms somehow hurdled these two into the A-List (albeit for a short time). By February of 2007, they were divorced.

26) True Life: I Have A Summer Share
In November of 2003, MTV aired what many consider to be the pinnacle of their True Life doc series, an episode called “I Have A Summer Share.” This startlingly awesome hour of television introduced America to the Goomba lifestyle and made a star out of Tommy (pictured above). Amazingly, it would take MTV another five years to realize that there was enough cultural anthropological gold on them there Jersey shores to make a weekly television series…

25) House Of Style
Back in 1989, there was no single female alive that defined the All-American look more than Cindy Crawford. In 2011, the very same thing is true.

24) The Osbournes
SHARRRRROOOONNNNNNN! The myth of Ozzy Osbourne as the wild, bat-biting Prince of Darkness was forever shattered when he was exposed as a doddering (if totally loveable) man who lived under constant threat of ball-busting from his wife, Sharon, and two kids, Jack and Kelly (both of whom would later end up in rehab).

23) Nirvana Taunts Axl Rose At The 1992 VMAs

The grungesplosion of 1992 was reflected at the Video Music Awards that year, which featured performances by both Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The Nirvana performance was the more memorable of the two, for a few reasons: The band debuted the controversial first few chords of “Rape Me” (which would later end up on In Utero), bassist Krist Novoselic split his head open after an ill-advised bass toss, and drummer Dave Grohl used the opportunity to mock Axl Rose from the stage (an event which would later result in a near-brawl backstage).

22) Justin Timberlake Gets Punk’d
On the debut episode of Ashton Kutcher‘s televised prankfest, boy band idol Justin Timberlake was duped by Prankmaster General Kutcher as he was moving into his brand new home. Timberlake was so taken aback by the allegations that he owed $900,000 to the IRS that he began to cry. Timberlake admitted just a few weeks ago that he was stoned when this happened, hence his general confusion and tears. [Watch Episode]

21) RuPaul And Milton Berle Beef
At the 1993 Video Music Awards, these two performers got embroiled in one of the weirdest and most uncomfortable beefs of all-time. According to lore, the two feuded backstage, but RuPaul decided to bring the beef public, attacking the legend with this wholly uncouth blast: “So you used to wear gowns, but now you’re wearing diapers?” Berle, being the seasoned showbiz vet that he was, fired back, “Oh, we’re going to ad lib? I’ll check my brain and we’ll start even.” Advantage Uncle Miltie.

20) “I Wanna Dip My Balls In It”
MTV’s mid-nineties sketch comedy experiment, The State, was the launching ground for a slew of today’s most-respected comedians (we would name them all here, but it would take FOREVER). It marked one of the first times when New York City’s burgeoning “alternative comedy” scene took root in the mainstream, and thanks to its recent release on Netflix Instant, the youth of today is beginning to catch on to this show that was truly ahead of its time.

19) The Visible Deodorant Chunks In LL Cool J’s Pits During MTV Unplugged
Just look at ‘em!

18) The Hills / Laguna Beach
For better or worse, the reality shows that defined a generation and ushered in a whole new era of “reality” television.

17) “I Go Through Life Like A Karate Kid”
In November of 2008, MTV aired a one-hour long documentary called Britney: For The Record. Britney’s difficulties had been well documented by this point, yet it was still stunning (and more than a little bit heartbreaking) to see the (heavily medicated?) pop star confess that the only way she’s able to cope with the stress of international superstardom is to “go through life like a Karate Kid.”

16) Remote Control
The greatest game show of all-time or the greatest game show of all-time? There’s only one answer.

15) “Money For Nothing And Your Chicks For Free”
It didn’t take long for MTV to gain a foothold in popular culture, but not everyone felt that the change was necessarily for the best. Seventies rock dinosaur Dire Straits was dragged kicking and screaming into the video era in 1985 with the semi-satirical “Money For Nothing,” a song which took aim at the way the music industry shifted their focus from bands with chops to bands that looked good in 3 minute videos. Ironically, the song became the biggest hit of Dire Straits’ career, due in no small part to the song’s catchy “I Want My MTV” refrain (sung by Sting, natch).

14) Beavis And Butthead
One of the first wave of “meta” shows in the nineties, Beavis and Butthead became a beloved cultural institution (and a huge cash cow) for MTV. The animated pair drew the ire of stuffy critics, law enforcement, and the PTC, but with the benefit of hindsight, Mike Judge‘s creation is now recognized as an important (and hilarious) piece of cultural criticism.

13) Vanilla Ice Goes Nuts
MTV made a good decision by having comedic stars like Jon Stewart, Janeane Garofalo, Chris Kattan and Denis Leary host a countdown show of the videos that MTV promised never to play again. MTV didn’t make such a good decision when they invited an unhinged Vanilla Ice on set to participate in a segment, though; after receiving harsh criticism for a few minutes, Vanilla snapped and took a metal baseball bat to the set. That laughter you here is of the nervous variety.

12) The Tom Green Show
Much like Pauly Shore before him, Tom Green was a one-trick pony who rode a wave of annoying and faux shocking behavior from Canadian public access TV all the way to Hollywood stardom (and a short engagement to Drew Barrymore!). However, there’s no denying the effect (however short-lived) that he had on the culture-at-large. After all, if there was no Tom Green Show, there would never have been…

11) Jackass
MTV has a long history of courting controversy with its youth-centric programming, but Jackass pushed the limits of what could be shown on television, earning strong criticism from the likes of US Senator Joe Lieberman along the way.


10) “Like A Virgin”
Madonna kicked off the inaugural Video Music Awards in 1984 with this stunner of a performance, one in which she rolled around the stage of Radio City Music Hall in a wedding dress and humped the floor repeatedly. After this performance, she went from mildly controversial to mega controversial, cementing her place in the pop landscape.


9) Choose Or Lose
MTV received plenty of criticism for being dull, vapid and brainless, but in 1992, the network proved it had the mettle to be a force for good. Getting the young vote out propelled Bill Clinton to victory over George Bush and H. Ross Perot in the ’92 election, even if it meant Clinton being forced to answer a question he had never been asked by a journalist before: “Boxers or briefs?”

8) Kurt Cobain dies
When Kurt Cobain took his own life during the spring of 1994, the world found out about it from Kurt Loder. In the days before the Internet and the Daily Show, MTV News was THE primary way young people got their news.

7) Stephen Slaps Irene
During the history of the Real World, there have been many seminal moments, but none quite so chilling as this. During the Seattle season, Irene and Stephen got in many tiffs, but the moment when Stephen ran Irene down as she was leaving the Real World home and slaps her across the face ushered in the spectre of violence into what had previously been a mildly tame medium. Of course, that was upstaged by…


6) Snooki gets punched
The first season of Jersey Shore was magical, as producers were able to catch proverbial lightning in a bottle with their cast of soon-to-be stars. However, the show was struggling in the ratings department until some drunken jabroni punched the pickle-loving Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi square in the kisser. It was one of the most shocking moments in the history of reality television.

5) “Imma Let You Finish But…”
When Kanye West burst on stage during Taylor Swift‘s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs, it was the moment that bore a thousand memes. It vilified Kanye, elevated Swift to angelic status, and permanently linked these two artists’ careers.

4) Nirvana MTV Unplugged
There have been a lot of powerful performances in the stories history of MTV’s Unplugged franchise (Eric Clapton‘s “Tears In Heaven” comes to mind), but Nirvana’s haunting performance in November 1993 will forever resonate as the pinnacle of artistry on the program. The band refused to play any of their “hits,” and instead put together a performance that was closer to a wake than a rock show, but showed that Kurt Cobain was a once-in-a-generation talent. Six months later, Kurt would take his own life.

3) Madonna Kisses Britney Spears
Yeah, Christina Aguilera was there too, but her presence on the night that Brit Brit and Madge locked lips has been reduced to an afterthought. How powerful was this kiss? No one can even remember what song was being performed when it went down.

2) “Video Killed The Radio Star”
The Buggles had no clue how prophetic their song would be when they recorded it in 1979 (we should note that it went to #1 in four countries). At the time, music videos were still in their nascent stage, but when this became the first video ever to air on MTV on August 1, 1981, The Buggles earned a place in history.


1) “‘Cause This Is Thriller”
There are two eras in the history of music videos: Before “Thriller” and after “Thriller.” Michael Jackson was already a massive international star when the 14-minute short film/music video for “Thriller” debuted on the network on December 2, 1983, but this epic music video launched him (and the channel) to a whole other level. At the time, it was the most expensive video ever made, but the gamble was worth it: It sold over 9 million units (!), propelled the album Thriller to worldwide sales of 110 million units, and was named the Greatest Music Video of All-Time by MTV in 1999.

What did we miss? Leave your favorite MTV memory in the comments below!

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