David Bowie was the first artist to receive the top honor at the inaugural VMAs in 1984. Seven years later, the network renamed the award to honor Michael Jackson, who was presented the Moon Person in 1988. The name was once again changed in 2019 after Jackson came under fire for sexual abuse allegations in HBO’s Leaving Neverland documentary, with all mentions of the late performer removed from the awards’ website and 2019 broadcast. (Jackson, who died in 2009, denied all allegations against him in the past.)
At the 36th annual VMAs, Missy Elliot made history as the first female rap artist to accept the Vanguard Award, which is not presented every year. In 2018, Jennifer Lopez became the first Latin artist to win the award.
“I grew up on MTV. This is really like, a tremendous honor for me. It has been an incredible journey of dreaming my wildest dreams, and then kind of watching them come true,” the “Waiting For Tonight” singer said during her acceptance speech before gushing over her twins, Max and Emme. “There is so much more to do, and I know in my heart that the future is even brighter than anything I could have accomplished up to now because of you.”
“You are like my twin soul. We are like mirror images of each other,” the performer said. “My life is sweeter and better with you in it because you make me realize that every day, the sky is not the limit. The universe is infinite, and so is what we can accomplish together, with love and trust and understanding. There so much more to do and to experience, and there is nobody I would rather do it with, baby. You are my macho, and I love you.”
The trophy was no longer awarded after 2019, with Lady Gaga receiving the first-ever Tricon Award at the August 2020 ceremony. In September 2021, Foo Fighters will be honored with the Global Icon Award.
Scroll through to revisit some of the most memorable Video Vanguard Award winners over the years.