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. While reports surfaced in 2019 that MTV considered changing the name after Jackson came under fire for sexual abuse allegations in HBO’s Leaving Neverland documentary, the network seemingly confirmed its decision to keep the name when they announced Missy Elliott as the honoree of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award in a press release that year. (Jackson, who died in 2009, denied all allegations against him in the past.)
Elliott will make history as the first female rap artist to accept the Vanguard Award, which is not presented every year. A year earlier, 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.”
Scroll through to revisit some of the most memorable Video Vanguard Award winners over the years.