Madonna Opens the VMAs With a Shady Michael Jackson Tribute

MAdonna in leather.
Photo by John Shearer/MTV VMAs 2021/Getty Images for MTV/ViacomCBS

Madonna seems to have a standing invitation to MTV’s Video Music Awards. After making a surprise appearance to close out the 2018 VMAs, she showed up unannounced at the 2021 VMAs to instead open the show. If you found the moment just a little bit awkward, well, maybe that was on purpose. She was referencing (perhaps in homage, or perhaps as a bit of shade) one of the most awkward moments in VMA history: when Michael Jackson similarly made a surprise appearance to open the 1994 edition of the VMAs. Yes, it’s a reference older than most of the night’s nominees.

Back in 1994, Jackson was married to Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis, for only a few months. Neither the tabloid press nor much of the public really understood the union, and Jackson and Presely opened that year’s VMAs hand-in-hand. After a minute of silence, and then a welcome given to the audience, Jackson said, “and just think, nobody thought this would last,” while motioning to Presley. The two shared a very public make out session before walking off stage with no further word. The pair would be separated by the end of 1995.

Madonna decided to recreate the moment in her own fashion, though we suppose she meant MTV was the Presley to her Jackson. She, too, quickly walked off with little further comment.

To be quite honest, it is an iconic moment in VMAs history, though one MTV itself doesn’t quite celebrate. Of course, leave it to Madonna to bring it up on the edition of the VMAs that also celebrates the channel’s 40th anniversary. Between Jackson and Madonna, MTV as we know it wouldn’t exist. It’s fitting, we guess, that their legacies would intersect, even in such an awkward fashion, this year.