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Top 10 VMA Upsets of All Time

VO: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Jarett Burke
When it comes to award shows, sometimes the best isn’t always recognized as such. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 VMA Upsets of All Time.   For this list, we’re looking at music videos that arguably should have won big at the MTV Video Music Awards but didn’t. The VMAs can be a tricky show to predict, as the best song is not always the best music video, so let’s look at the top major upsets.
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Top 10 VMA Upsets of All Time


 
When it comes to award shows, sometimes the best isn’t always recognized as such. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 VMA Upsets of All Time.
 
For this list, we’re looking at music videos that arguably should have won big at the MTV Video Music Awards but didn’t. The VMAs can be a tricky show to predict, as the best song is not always the best music video, so let’s look at the top major upsets.
 

#10: The Black Eyed Peas over Kanye West
“23rd MTV Video Music Awards” (2006)


 
We’re not saying that Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” is “The Godfather” of music videos, but it looks and sounds like a master work of art when placed alongside the Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps.” Fergie and Company’s number-one hit seemed to take on a life of its own when released on iTunes, and its reach kept expanding on radio and TV to the dismay of many – Kanye included. “Gold Digger” is just as catchy and a much better video overall.
 

#9: Dire Straits over. a-ha
“3rd MTV Video Music Awards” (1986)


 
There’s no doubt that “Money for Nothing” by the Dire Straits is a rocking tune, but -let’s face facts – the video hasn’t exactly aged well. On the other hand, a-ha’s “Take On Me” is also a great song, but its video is a truly impressive blend of live-action and animation that still holds up, especially considering that it was released the same year “The Goonies” made its debut in theaters. That’s a long time ago! Consider us hopeless romantics as well, but we also love the fact that the girl gets her guy in the end of a-ha’s video.
 

 

#8: Rihanna over Justice
“24th MTV Video Music Awards” (2007)


 
 
Perhaps the 2007 VMA was given to Rihanna because she was very new on the music scene and “Umbrella” was a lot of fans’ first encounter with the (now) mega star. Or perhaps she was being compensated for getting shafted one year earlier when the Best New Artist award went to Avenged Sevenfold instead of RiRi. Either way, “Umbrella” is a so-so video, and Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.” was so much cooler, high tech and interesting. How many videos have you seen that look like an acid trip projected on a t-shirt?  Trust us when we say that “D.A.N.C.E.” is a rocking video.
 
 

#7: Green Day over Kanye West
“22nd MTV Video Music Awards” (2005)


 
Once again Mr. West is the bridesmaid and not the bride at the VMAs, this time in 2005 when Green Day took home top spot for their “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” video, which beat out Kanye’s “Jesus Walks.” Green Day’s song is catchy, but the video is really just three dudes walking in the desert and then jamming out in an alleyway. Whereas “Jesus Walks” is a much deeper video, tackling issues of racism and the importance of faith. It’s really quite chilling and beautiful, and essential viewing for hip hop fans. 

 

#6: Christina Aguilera, Lil Kim, Mýa & Pink over Fatboy Slim
“18th MTV Video Music Awards” (2001)


 
At the end of the day, “Lady Marmalade” is just Christina Aguilera, Lil Kim, Mýa and Pink putting on a burlesque show – whereas Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” has the immortal Christopher Walken dancing all through a hotel in mad style. Up an escalator, on top of tables, into an elevator; Walken is a dancing madman in “Weapon of Choice” and we could literally watch this video all day. It’s our happy place. Almost two decades later and the video is no less fun now than it was back in 2001.
 
 

#5: Taylor Swift over Beyoncé
“26th MTV Video Music Awards” (2009)


 
 
The infamous “Kanye Incident” where he jumped on stage and interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for “You Belong with Me” winning the Best Female Video is utterly insane, and a rarity to see at award shows. But, the man had a point: Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” is the far superior video and much better song. “You Belong with Me” covers very familiar territory for Swift, but as Kanye said, Beyoncé “had one of the best videos of all time!”
 
 

#4: Aerosmith over the Beastie Boys
“11th MTV Video Music Awards” (1994)


 
Aerosmith’s “Cryin’” was a cool video that featured 90s staple Alicia Silverstone, but the Beastie Boys pulled out all the stops for “Sabotage.” Clocking in at just over three minutes, their comedic riff on 70s crime dramas is actually a better movie than a lot of feature length crime flicks of that era. “Sabotage” was nominated for five awards at the 1994 VMAs and was – incredibly – shut out of all five, causing B-Boy member MCA to rush the stage in protest dressed as his director character Nathaniel Hornblower.
 
 

#3: Neil Young over Madonna
“6th MTV Video Music Awards” (1989)


 
There’s no doubt that Neil Young is a legend even amongst legends, but his video for “This Note’s for You” is anything but legendary. Its message of selling out to big corporations is admirable, but the video’s direction and sound effects are the definition of “80’s “Cheese.” Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” had a lot more to say, and the controversy it stirred by criticizing the Catholic Church alone should have been enough to land it Video of the Year at the 1989 awards.

 

#2: Val Halen over Nirvana
“9th MTV Video Music Awards” (1992)


 
Though Van Halen’s “Right Now” was the most nominated video at the 1992 VMAs, its impact at the time and legacy since comes nowhere close to that presented by Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” as the song basically singlehandedly defined an entire generation. Perhaps Nirvana was just too raw for 1992 viewers? Or, perhaps their rebellious antics and public feud with Axl Rose that spilled out on stage that night didn’t do them any favors in the judges’ eyes. Either way, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” should have been the obvious winner.
 
 
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
 
Tokio Hotel over Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus for Best New Artist
“25th MTV Video Music Awards” (2008)
 
 
Katy Perry over Adele for Video of the Year
“28th MTV Video Music Awards” (2011)
 
 
Miley Cyrus over Sia for Video of the Year
“31st MTV Video Music Awards” (2014)
 
 

#1: The Cars over Michael Jackson
 “1st MTV Video Music Awards” (1984)


 
Out of all the upsets on our list, this one is still a major head scratcher. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” may just be the most iconic music video ever made, and Jackson himself took home three awards that night during the 1984 VMAs. Meanwhile, the Cars’ “You Might Think” didn’t take home any other awards other than the very first Video of the Year, and the video itself is something of a relic that hasn’t aged nearly as well as Jackson’s horror-movie spoof. Label this upset under the ever-relevant awards show category of “What Were They Thinking?!”
 
 

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