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Is This 2003 MTV VMA's Performance the Greatest Moment in Music History?

This was more than a faux-lesbian pash between pop stars. This was 2003, and this was iconic.

by Daisy Jones
05 July 2016, 11:54am

The word “iconic” gets thrown around a lot these days. We will just as readily brand a Nando's flame-grilled PERi PERi chicken meal “iconic” as we would Mariah Carey’s video for “Heartbreaker,” or that swan dress Björk wore to the 2001 Oscars. Because of this, the true meaning of “iconic” seems to have been lost—or at least watered down to something that does not resemble “iconic,” but rather, “relatively good, and better than the cascading mediocrity of our habitual existence.”

Most of us are probably still familiar with the on-stage kiss between Madonna and Britney Spears because it’s often spoken about on late night More4 countdown programmes presented by a decomposing Alex Zane. The image of their tongues and lips locked for a quarter of a second has become so recycled and regurgitated that it’s hard to believe it actually happened, and that people were there to see it in real time. But it did, and in order to remind ourselves of the true meaning of "iconic"—and reclaim some much needed gravitas for the word—we need to travel back to that sublime moment of decadence, when the low-end couture of gossip magazines and pop-world iconography coalesced into what can only be described as one of the modern world's most iconic moments. Seriously: this shit was wild. It's at least 10,000 times better than Miguel booting someone in the face.

The kiss itself is a generation defining moment, but the performance is so much more than a faux-lesbian pash between pop stars. In fact, I would go as far to say that the lip-locking is almost irrelevant in the grand scheme of these five minutes. For a start, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Missy Elliott performed a medley so extraordinary, if it was sent to space, the receiving life form's first words to human life would be "Yo, where can I get more of this shit?" It was a performance so specific to a particular place and time, that when you see all four artists together on one stage, it's like you can taste the discontinued Pepsi Blue, you can feel the cargo pants you once wore, and you can hear the Budweiser “Wassup” advert echoing throughout your cranium. This was 2003, and this was iconic. And so, before I dive into this head first with snorkels on, please go ahead and watch the whole thing below.

See that? That right there is a flowing river of brilliance. You've got Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera in matching wedding dresses, rolling around the stage with their bouquets. Madonna, rising from a three storey weding cake like some kind of occult dominatrix queen. Madonna, then, pulling the lace garter from Christina's leg, kissing them both, one-by-one, with tongues, before introducing Missy Elliott by rapping (yes, rapping) "YO! YO! YO! WHO DA BEEEAT?!” to an audience that can only be described as either increasingly hysterical or completely nonplussed. It's such a red-hot moment in the canon of iconic moments that I kinda need a cold flannel to fan the fire from the flames. But let's not summarise any longer, let's get the microscope out and examine the fuck outta this.


EXHIBIT A. AVRIL LAVIGNE AND KELLY OSBOURNE

Never has an image summed up our collective teenage years more concisely than Avril Lavigne and Kelly Osbourne in the audience looking like two goths at the Christmas dinner table. Despite their baggy jeans and “ugh pop music is so lame, lemme go rip thumb holes in my sweatshirt” faces, it’s worth remembering that just a year before, Kelly had released her own rendition of Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach,” and that years later, Avril would go on to have a shiny pop career that revolved around trying and failing to match the success of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, before marrying herself off to a man who has as much charisma as the damp edges of a tablespoon and popping up every so often with a culturally appropriating music video.


EXHIBIT B. MARY J BLIGE LEGIT HAS A PROBLEM WITH CHRISTINA AGUILERA

This face basically occurs the moment Christina walks onstage and re-appears throughout. It's a face so utterly disgusted that you would only throw it at someone if they'd slashed your car tires, had sex with your husband, and pissed all over your face. It's a face that reads: "Do not cross me bitch, for I am Mary J Blige.” Maybe she is prophesying the feud that would occur between her and Christina two years later, when Christina would put her hand out for Mary to kiss and Mary would call her “rude” (that actually happened). Or maybe she just fucking hates weddings. Either way, here she is again, looking pissed off. Someone should start a pissed off Mary Tumblr:


EXHIBIT C. JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE’S REACTION TO BRITNEY AND MADONNA’S KISS

This reaction is everything, and I do not know why we are only just speaking about it now. For context, this is a year after Britney Spears cheated on Justin Timberlake, and a few months after he released his clap back track “Cry Me a River.” I don’t think Britney is crying any rivers here though. She is too busy with her tongue in Madonna. There are no rivers here unless we are talking about the ones in people's pants (sorry).

EXHIBIT D. PARIS HILTON AND LINDSAY LOHAN

Aaawww here’s Lindsay Lohan before she started stealing necklaces and running for president, and here’s Paris Hilton before she ran away to Ibiza to become one of the highest paid DJs in the world. Seeing these two dancing like extras in a chick flick prom scene gives me so many feels I want to immediately quit my job, move to Beverly Hills, bring my groceries home in brown paper bags and have an affair with at least one gardener. On a side note, what the actual fuck is Lindsay wearing? I repeat: what the actual fuck is Lindsay wearing? I know this was 2003 when people had hair like super noodles, wore bleached bootcut jeans and said “word” non-ironically, but I don’t know know if that is enough to excuse the situation above. It's like she waltzed straight from the pre-set Simolians in The Sims Hot Date and into a premature mid-life crisis. Someone send help.


EXHIBIT E. SNOOP DOGG GIGGLING THE ENTIRE TIME LIKE HE’S WATCHING YOUTUBE VIDEOS OF DOGS DREAMING ABOUT CHASING STUFF

I like to think that Snoop’s continuous creasing is in response to the absolute absurdity of the situation, but he’s probably just really, really, really baked.


EXHIBIT F. EMINEM AND 50 CENT NOT KNOWING WHAT TO THINK

Me neither, nem and 50. Me neither.


FINALLY, EXHIBIT G. CAN WE HAVE A MOMENT FOR HOW GENUINELY HOT THE WHOLE THING IS?

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Tagged:
Music
Features
Noisey
kissing
making out
Britney Spears
Madonna
Missy Elliott
Christina Aguilera
Iconic
Snogging
VMA 2003
Pop moments