Madonna, who is nominated for best long-form music video for “MADAME X,” was nominated for best new artist in a video at the inaugural MTV Video Music Awards for “Borderline.” She didn’t win — the award went to Eurythmics for “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This”) — but she left with something even better than an award: She stole the show with her fully committed performance of “Like a Virgin,” in which she writhed around the floor of Radio City Music Hall in a wedding dress.
The other 2022 VMA contender who was nominated at the first VMAs is Elton John. The pop legend is nominated this year for both song of the year and best collaboration for “Cold Heart (PNAU Remix),” his hit collab with Dua Lipa. Elton was also a double nominee at the first show, for the exuberant “I’m Still Standing,” which was up for best choreography in a video and best editing in a video.
The VMA nominations were announced on Tuesday. The awards will be presented Aug. 28 at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Elton has never won in a competitive VMA category, though he and his longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin received a special recognition award in 1987. (It would be nice if Elton finally won one of the few awards that has eluded him. Now he just needs to buckle down and win an Emmy so he can become an EGOT.)
Madonna has won 19 competitive VMAs and one non-competitive award, the Video Vanguard Award. Interestingly, she received that award in 1986, one year before she finally won her first competitive VMA for “Papa Don’t Preach.”
Madonna’s biggest night at the VMAs came in 1998 when she won six awards – five for “Ray of Light” and one for “Frozen.” “Ray of Light” brought Madonna her only VMA for video of the year, following back-to-back nods in that category for “Like a Prayer” in 1989 and “Vogue” in 1990.
Madonna’s most recent VMA win came in 1999 when “Beautiful Stranger” from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me won best video from a film.
But the 1984 show is where she seized the moment, took a huge risk (it could have been remembered as a disaster) and became the most talked-about star in the music business overnight. At the time of the VMAs (Sept. 14, 1984), she had not yet reached the top 10 on the Billboard 200 and had cracked the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 just once, with “Borderline,” which peaked at No. 10 in June. Within five months, she had topped both charts for multiple weeks.
In his 2017 list of the 100 greatest awards show performances of all time, Billboard’s deputy editor Andrew Unterberger ranked Madonna’s 1984 VMAs performance No. 2 (just behind Beyoncé’s 15-minute-plus Lemonade medley on the same show in 2016). Here’s how Unterberger described it: “The singing is occasionally pitchy, the staging feels a bit haphazard, and the presentation is downright low-budget by modern-day standards. But if you had to pick one four-minute clip to demonstrate what an award-show performance could and should be at its best, there’d be absolutely no debate: Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin,’ in which she stepped down from a wedding cake at the very first Video Music Awards and writhed her way into the heart of the 1980s. Before Madonna, the best award-show performances could hope for was to get people to buy the record, after her, they became the historical record; the way we remember stars at their most iconic, and the way they demonstrate their immortality, no matter whose names are in the night’s envelopes. It’s the veritable big bang for the format as pop art.”
Several of the top nominees and performers from the 1984 awards have since died, which is sobering, but perhaps not surprising. Thirty-eight years is a long time. They include David Bowie, who was one of the inaugural recipients of the Video Vanguard Award, the first winner of best male video for “China Girl,” and a performer on the show (albeit pre-taped and from London, where he sang his then-current hit “Blue Jean”).
Other 1984 nominees who have since died include Michael Jackson, a video of the year nominee for “Thriller” and a three-time winner on the night (albeit a no-show: his awards were all accepted by his pal Diana Ross); Donna Summer, a best female video nominee for “She Works Hard for the Money”; plus numerous group members – Ric Ocasek of The Cars (the upset video of the year winners for “You Might Think”), Dusty Hill of ZZ Top, Eddie Van Halen of Van Halen, Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones, Freddie Mercury of Queen, Eric Carr of KISS, and Eric Woolfson of the Alan Parsons Project.
Dan Aykroyd, one of the stars of the top-grossing film of 1984, Ghostbusters, and Bette Midler, who was between hits at the time, but is always a hoot, co-hosted the first VMAs. Performers on the show, in addition to Madonna and Bowie, were Tina Turner (“What’s Love Got to Do With It,” which went on to win Grammys for record and song of the year in February 1985), Rod Stewart (“Infatuation”), Huey Lewis & the News (“I Want a New Drug”), ZZ Top (“Sharp Dressed Man”) and Ray Parker Jr. (“Ghostbusters”).