It's been 20 years since *that* iconic VMAs kiss. We finally know what happened BTS.

In my humble opinion, for most of their life, the VMAs were pop culture's most important annual event

'Were' because let's be honest, the show's heyday is definitely over. But it was fun while it lasted!

Just think about the gigantic moments we watched live on that stage. The VMAs were synonymous with chaos ever since Madonna scandalised 1980s society by rolling around on the floor in a wedding dress while singing 'Like a Virgin' in 1984. 

They were where the Kanye x Taylor story began

Remember Britney and her snake?! Gaga and her meat dress?! Beyonce announcing Blue Ivy's impending arrival on stage?!? MILEY TWERKING???

So many mems.

But there is, of course, one VMAs moment to trump them all.

And it involves Britney, Madonna, and (an oft-forgotten) Xtina.

The trio were, as I'm sure you are aware – because we are ALL aware – performing at the 2003 event.

Britney Spears opened the main show, dressed in custom wedding attire, paying homage to the Queen of Pop's very first VMAs performance. As she sang 'Like A Virgin', Christina Aguilera appeared and they jointly writhed around on stage in what would've been an iconic moment all on its own.

But then Madonna arrived, transitioning into her song 'Hollywood'. As she sang the main hook, she gave both Britney and Christina a big ol' kiss.


Maybe the funniest part is that, after this, Missy Elliott appeared and they performed a rendition of 'Work It'. It absolutely slaps, but no one really remembers that part because... well, THEY KISSED?!

Image: Getty.

It has now been 20 years since that moment (I know) and to mark the occasion, those who worked on the show have been doing the media rounds, dishing on all the behind-the-scenes decisions.


Including the spur-of-the-moment culture-defining choice to cut away for Justin Timberlake's reaction, of course.

At the time of the show, Britney was the biggest popstar in the world, so there really was no universe in which Brit would not be part of the performance. It was like a passing of the torch, except for the fact that Madonna was definitely not giving up a damn thing.

But casting the second younger popstar required a little more work.

Gwen Stefani, Pink and even Kelly Osbourne were all in the mix, but Jennifer Lopez was the frontrunner. Madonna had, in fact, wanted JLo to take part, but she was unable to commit because she was shooting her rom-com Shall We Dance?.

"We had met – me, her and Britney – to do it at [Madonna's] home, and then I just couldn't get off the film," JLo told E!.

Producer Alex Coletti told Yahoo Entertainment that secretly, everyone at MTV had wanted Christina. Because of the drama.

At the time, everyone believed that Britney and Christina were locked in a feud dating back to their time on the Mickey Mouse Club, but mostly down to the fact that media and society weren't sure that two young pop divas could actually co-exist.

For what it's worth, Coletti said he saw no evidence of a feud during any rehearsals or preparation for the show.

Once the casting was finalised, rehearsals began and director Beth McCarthy-Miller flew to Los Angeles for a sneak peek.


During the runthrough, McCarthy Miller saw Madonna kiss both Britney and Christina on the cheek, and realised that that wasn't what it would be come performance day.

"I remember us all huddling and we were like, 'This is gonna be amazing but, like, is this okay?' Because, you know, people didn't do that back then," former MTV Senior Vice President in charge of productions Sally Frattini told Nylon.

"We did our diligence by discussing it, all the way up to people like [then Chair and CEO of MTV] Tom Freston. He was like, 'If Madonna wants to do this, let's do it.'"

Besides the kiss, one of the most infamous parts of this entire moment was the camera cutaway to Britney's ex-boyfriend, Justin Timberlake, in the audience after the Britney-Madonna kiss, meaning that most of Christina and Madonna's was missed by TV audiences.

And everyone involved still stands by McCarthy-Miller's split-second decision, even if it did irritate camp Christina.

"The tricky thing was, you couldn't go from that reaction shot and get back to Christina in time," Coletti told Yahoo. "So, yeah, Christina got slighted a bit. It was never about how Madonna kissed Britney and Christina. It was always known as the 'Britney/Madonna kiss.' And I feel bad for that."

Former MTV executive vice president Tom Calderone told Rolling Stone that Christina's team asked MTV to re-edit the performance for future re-broadcasts to include her kiss. The network did... not comply.


Christina did give a notorious interview with Blender magazine after the event, criticising Britney in particular for lip-syncing and calling the cut to Justin "pathetic".

"MTV didn't even screen my kiss properly – they cut away instead for Justin's reaction shot. How predictable, 'Let's see the ex-boyfriend's response.' Pathetic," she said.

In a 2018 interview with Andy Cohen, she also said it was "weird" and a "cheap shot".

But while the Timberlake shot is the most memorable, there are plenty of other iconic crowd shots throughout the performance: from Avril Lavigne and Kelly Osbourne (both billed as 'anti-Britney' stars at the time) looking bored, to Beyoncé's excitement, to a shot of the original Queer Eye cast that appears to show Carson Kressley freaking out about Madonna's very existence.

Twenty years on, the actual cause of this hoopla is certifiably tame. A kiss on the VMAs stage? We eat that for breakfast. 

But at the time, it *was* boundary pushing.

Ron Norsworthy, who designed the giant cake that formed such an important part of the set, told Nylon he remembered Madonna's brief for the performance: "We need to be on the cover of every newspaper the next day."

They certainly achieved that, and a casual 20-year legacy as well. Classic Madge.

Feature image: Getty.

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