Though the channel debuted in the early ’80s, MTV really found its groove in the ’90s when it still balanced music coverage with its burgeoning original reality, comedy, and animated programming. Because we can’t resist looking back fondly on the wild and wacky on-air incidents that shaped our adolescence, here are ten mind-blowing moments from MTV’s second decade that make us pine for those halcyon off-the-wall days; be sure to list the crazy ’90s MTV moments that are burned into your memory in the comments!
Janet Jackson performs “Black Cat” (1990)
A decade before that infamous Super Bowl performance, Janet Jackson ushered in a new age of sexual spontaneity on live television when she tore open her shirt while performing her single from Rhythm Nation 1814 on the Video Music Awards. It seems tame now, but it was just the beginning of the more sexualized image she took on in the ’90s.
The Dog Brothers on Sex in the ’90s (1992-1994)
This groundbreaking series highlighted the way dating, relationships, and sex changed in the ’90s, highlighting previously taboo subjects like HIV/AIDS, bisexuality, and casual sex. The video above, about the Dog Brothers from Long Island, proves that MTV always had an affinity for Jersey Shore-type buffoonery.
Tabitha Soren interviews Liz Phair… on a roller coaster (1993)
In one of the most ’90s interviews ever, MTV News anchor Tabitha Soren took singer-songwriter Liz Phair to Coney Island to ride amusement park rides and discuss Phair’s now-classic debut, Exile in Guyville. What better place to talk about post-feminism than on The Cyclone?
Thurston Moore interviews Beck on 120 Minutes (1994)
“Remember when MTV was about the music?” Sure, it’s a tired complaint, but shows like 120 Minutes actually did bring awareness to some up-and-coming artists. Consider this awkward, absurd interview between Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Beck, back when MTV also used to be about the spontaneity.
Real World: London cast member loses his tongue
Probably the most shocking moment on any Real World season was when “trance-noise” singer Neil had part of his tongue bitten off during a gig. There’s not much commentary to add to this cautionary tale, other than the suggestion that one should think before he lean off the front of a stage to French kiss a drunk stranger in the audience.
Courtney Love ambushes Madonna (1995)
“Courtney Love is in dire need of attention right now.” It’s rough when Madonna makes a statement like that, but Kurt Loder can recognize live-TV gold when it presents itself. What began as a funny little notion of putting two controversial artists together spiraled out of control as the two talked over each other and Love rambled on with the utmost incoherence (and then cornered a surprised Tabitha Soren).
Mike and Melissa’s threesome on The Real World: Miami (1996)
The fifth season of The Real World was notable for being the first to assign the cast a task (they, sadly, failed to start the business). It also was possibly the first time “not here to make friends” was uttered on reality TV. But the most shocking moment was when roommates Mike and Melissa invite a stranger in for a three-way shower, and provocateur Flora managed to break through the bathroom window to watch the dirty deeds.
Fiona Apple wins Best New Artist (1997)
Winning for “Sleep to Dream” off her debut album, Tidal, Apple took to the mic to infamously quote Maya Angelou and proclaim that “the world is bullshit.” Whether you found her ungracious or brave, it’s a moment that introduced the world to Apple’s unfiltered outspokenness.
Vanilla Ice destroys “Ice Ice Baby” video (1999)
Denis Leary, Jon Stewart, Janeane Garofalo, and Chris Kattan hosted this countdown of the 25 lamest videos in MTV history, providing Mystery Science Theater-style commentary while watching some pretty adequate, if over-played, videos. And then they invited Vanilla Ice on the air, which was probably ill advised. Listen for Garofalo’s blood-curdling scream as Mr. Ice takes a baseball bat to MTV’s copy of the “Ice Ice Baby” video and then goes on to destroy the set.
Diana Ross fondles Lil Kim (1999)
After’s a decade’s worth of shockingly revealing moments on the Video Music Awards, it seems appropriate that Lil Kim would attend the last awards ceremony of the ’90s with an exposed breast covered only by a sparkly purple pastie. Even more apt was Diana Ross’ decision to reach out and touch it.