The first ever MTV VMAs were held on September 14, 1984 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. They were co-hosted by two of the biggest stars of the day, Dan Aykroyd, fresh off the blockbuster release of Ghostbusters, which he starred in and co-wrote, and Bette Midler, was riding high on her cover of the Rolling Stones “Beast of Burden.” Remember that? Anyone?
No one had ever seen, much less uttered the letters, “VMAs” yet, and no one had any idea they were about to see Madonna writhing around in a wedding dress,
and Bette Midler wearing a spinning hairpiece while introducing a futuristic “featurette” about the wonders of special effects in music videos.
Never mind the fact that there were literal references to cocaine thanks to The Go-Go’s introduction of Iggy Pop:
And this phrase had to be uttered three times: “Accepting this award for Michael Jackson is Diana Ross.”
Have bands like Suicide and Bad Brains ever been mentioned on MTV in the time since Ric Ocasek shouted them out?
And then there were the winners.
In addition to The Cars winning Best Video for “You Might Think,” Cyndi Lauper won Best Female Video for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” David Bowie won Best Male Video for “China Girl.” ZZ Top won Best Group Video for “Legs” and Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” won Most Experimental Video, Best Concept Video, Best Special Effects in a Video, Best Art Direction in a Video, and Best Editing. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” won “Viewer’s Choice.”
(Check out the full list of winners here.)
As you can see from the tone of many of the presenters, many didn’t actually give a s—t to be there, and, despite the existence of a Viewer’s Choice award, the audience barely contained anyone under 40, so we’re not certain the audience contained many active voters.
The first VMAs were oddly prescient. David Bowie, whose life will surely be remembered this year, won a Vanguard Award, Billy Idol made a joke about how the Viewers Choice Award is the only election with an actual choice anymore. And yet they couldn’t feel more dated, with celebrations of computer animation and confetti cannons malfunctioning and blasting the audience at the announcement of every winner.
To call anything a “first annual” event is presumptuous but MTV knew it possessed star power and could bend the will of even the most legendary rockers. Check out the after parties where acts like Roger Daltrey, Alice Cooper, Cher, Ron Wood and Rod Stewart, and many others came together to celebrate the 1st Annual VMAs. Maybe we can ask them all back to relive the festivities one day.
3 Eddie Murphy
4 Alice and Sheryl Cooper
5 Richard Belzer Was There
6 The Who’s Roger Daltry
7 Weird Pairing Alert
8 Ron Wood and Rod Stewart
9 Another Odd Pairing
10 Tina Turner
11 And of course…