Top 10 Times Award Show Performances WENT HARD
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Top 10 Times Award Show Performances WENT HARD

VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Isabelle Brown
These award show performances didn't need to go THAT hard. For this list, we'll be looking at the best musical displays from a wide selection of televised award shows. Our countdown includes Lady Gaga, Madonna, Prince, and more!
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Top 10 Times Award Show Performances WENT HARD


Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Times Award Show Performances WENT HARD.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the best musical displays from a wide selection of televised award shows.

Which performances live rent free in your brain? Let us know in the comments below.

#10: Lady Gaga
“26th MTV Video Music Awards” (2009)


Lady Gaga was only 23 years old when she stunned audiences with this melodramatic display. Beginning with a few lines from “Poker Face,” the epic arrangement quickly shifts into “Paparazzi”. The superstar is accompanied by a group of dancers as she delivers some seriously amazing live vocals. She also takes a chance to show off her skills as a pianist in quintessentially Gaga fashion. From there some vivid stage wounds up the theatrical ante, before the performance is capped with the unforgettable image of the singer hoisted into the air. Fantastical, campy, and a little gruesome, Gaga’s first performance at an awards show is one for the books. It’s no wonder she was awarded best new artist the same evening.

#9: Missy Elliott
“36th MTV Video Music Awards” (2019)


The female rapper joined the ranks of Madonna, Janet Jackson, and Beyoncé in 2019 when she was awarded the Video Vanguard Award. She and a fleet of dancers took to the stage to deliver a jaw-dropping performance featuring some of the artist’s greatest hits. Iconic moments from Elliott’s career are referenced through the choreography and the costumes. Even Alyson Stoner makes an appearance 17 years after she was cast in the “Work It” music video. Audience members can’t stop themselves from dancing along with the contagious beats. The incredible performance is a testament to Elliott’s influential career.

#8: Pink
“40th American Music Awards” (2012)


One thing Pink does well is entertain an audience. Whether it’s dancing on a giant spinning record or taking to the air, the lady knows how to put on a show. Her performance of “Try” at the 2012 AMAs takes inspiration from the song’s music video. Accompanied by a dance partner, the vocalist sings live while performing skillful choreography. The routine incorporates swinging from a chandelier, shattering glass, and breaking furniture. Pyrotechnics complete the image. The story that’s told is a tragic one, but the execution is stunning. Overall, the number is an impressive display of Pink’s musical ability, physical strength, and overall artistry.

#7: Jennifer Holliday & Company
“36th Tony Awards” (1982)


The Broadway musical “Dreamgirls” received 13 Tony nominations and won six at the 1982 award show. The cast also gave a performance that night that is still talked about four decades later. Beginning with “It's All Over” and smoothly transitioning into “And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going”, the set replicates the end of the first act. Jennifer Holliday steals the show with her powerful energy and pure vocal talent. When she’s finally alone on stage, the passionate performer turns to face the audience and is met with a wild applause. Her unrestrained belting is undoubtedly the highlight of the number, as well as the night.

#6: Madonna
“7th MTV Video Music Awards” (1990)


This legendary performance is historical in more ways than one. It helped cement the artist’s place as a dance music icon. Dressed in 18th century attire, the singer takes to the stage accompanied by her backup singers and group of male dancers. Supposedly, inspiration for the costumes and props came from the period drama “Dangerous Liaisons”. Meanwhile, the choreography and song itself is a reference to a dance style from the Harlem ballroom scene of the late 20th century. The number is equal parts aristocratic, opulent, and provocative. To top it off, the track’s music video won three awards the same night.

#5: Neil Patrick Harris, “Bigger”
“67th Tony Awards” (2013)


For his fourth time hosting the Tonys, the “How I Met Your Mother” actor decided to go, well…bigger. He, along with the companies of multiple musicals, opened the award show with an impressive display of song, dance, magic, and more. Beginning with a modest set and costume for the host, the number quickly evolves in size and production value. Harris is joined on stage by acrobats, child actors, and even Mike Tyson. The song, an original by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is packed with playful references to the Broadway world, and features a surprisingly heartfelt bridge. As the number accelerates towards its climax, Debra Messing’s expression speaks for all of us. Nothing is held back in this legendary opening number.

#4: Beyoncé
“33rd MTV Video Music Awards” (2016)


The 2016 award show might as well have been a Beyoncé concert, because we remember nothing but her performance from that night. It features a medley of tracks from the artist’s critically acclaimed and somewhat autobiographical studio album “Lemonade,” accompanied by evocative and immersive visuals. From the choreography to the lights to the cinematography, every single moment is excellently executed. Even the transitions are works of art. At the center of it all is one of the greatest musical artists of the twenty-first century. She demonstrates why she deserves the title “Queen B”. The performer’s stage time totals over 15 minutes long, and we love every second.

#3: Prince
“12th American Music Awards” (1985)


This pick is proof that nothing can compare to charismatic stage presence. It shows the legendary musician at his finest, performing a single from his critically acclaimed album “Purple Rain”. Donning a glittering blue and green suit, the small yet mighty man captures the attention of everyone watching. His falsetto literally brings the number to a higher level. Towards the end of the set, Prince steps away from the mic to play a guitar solo, and you can tell he loves every second of it. His performance continues to be one of the greatest from the AMAs. The artist himself walked away from the night with three new awards.

#2: Janet Jackson
“17th Billboard Music Awards” (2006)


As the youngest sibling in a family famous for their musical abilities, performing is in Jackson’s blood. She was still a teen when her third studio album, “Control”, received twelve nominations for the “14th American Music Awards”. Nearly 20 years later, the artist released another album in commemoration of the one previously mentioned. She performed songs from both albums at the “2006 Billboard Music Awards”. The icon begins her set high above the audience before disappearing in a pyrotechnic display. She reappears on stage among a group of hip hop dancers. With her name on a screen for the audience to see, the singer reminds us all of her impact on contemporary music.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

Britney Spears, “18th MTV Video Music Awards” (2001)
We Hope That Snake Was Treated Like the Star That It Is

Dolly Parton, “23rd Annual Country Music Association Awards” (1989)
The Country Icon Sounds Amazing Accompanied by a Gospel Choir

Kelly Clarkson, “22nd MTV Video Music Awards” (2005)
The “American Idol” Winner Rocks Out While Getting Drenched

Celine Dion, “23rd Billboard Music Awards” (2016)
The Icon Award Recipient Shows the Audience She’s Not Going Anywhere

#1: Michael Jackson
“30th Annual Grammy Awards” (1988)


In case you were wondering why MJ is considered the “King of Pop,” this performance explains it all. From his moonwalk to his signature vocalization, it features some of Jackson’s most iconic moves. The young musician begins the set alone on stage, full of confidence and swagger. Singing “The Way You Make Me Feel”, he commands attention with his casual yet precise dancing. He follows up the first song with an earnest rendition of “Man In The Mirror''. Joined by his backup singers and a gospel choir, the triple-threat energetically brings his set to a close. The performer may be a divisive figure, but his talent is undeniable.
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