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The Most Memorable MTV VMA Sets in Recent History

In name, the MTV Video Music Awards are all about, well, videos. But throughout the show’s three decade history, it’s often the elaborate and jaw-dropping performances—and their sets—that have stolen the show.

Below, just some of the most memorable MTV VMA sets in recent history.

Madonna, 1984

At the inaugural Video Music Awards, Madonna performed “Like a Virgin,” in a moment that’s since been cemented in pop culture history. The whole performance began when a wedding dress-clad Madonna stood upon a giant wedding cake—an image that was brought back during another now-iconic VMAs performance when the Material Girl kissed Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears.

Photo: Getty Images

Ariana Grande, 2018

For her fierce performance of "God Is a Woman," Ariana Grande created her own version of the Last Supper, complete with a stage-length long table and towering Grecian columns. Her backdrop wasn't just some colorful lights, but the cosmos—a screen showed swirling constellations and stars.

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Photo: Getty Images

Kendrick Lamar, 2017

As Kendrick Lamar sang and rapped his medley, a wall of flames, complete with flipping Ninjas, erupted behind him. Eventually the rapper scaled the wall to the awe of the crowd.

Photo: Getty Images

Lady Gaga, 2009

Lady Gaga has created her fair share of shocking on-stage moments. But her 2009 performance of “Paparazzi” was one of the most ornate: it saw Mother Monster recreate a Baroque-esque ballroom—complete with a collapsed chandelier—in Radio City.

Photo: Getty Images

Beyoncé, 2014

A Beyoncé performance is always epic. But her 2014 one featured simply powerful set design: she performed a 15-minute medley in front of a screen that said “FEMINIST.” “As far as feminist endorsements are concerned, this was the holy grail: A word with a complicated history reclaimed by the most powerful celebrity in the world. And then she projected it —along with its definition, by the Nigerian feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie—into the homes of 12 million unassuming Americans,” wrote Time’s Jessica Bennett.

Photo: Getty Images

Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande, 2016

There’s no question that this gym-style set brought the fun. Between stationary bikes, colorful dumbbells, and giant blow-up fishnet legs, it had the audience dancing in their seats (and likely mentally preparing for their next spin class).

Photo: Getty Images
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Originally Appeared on Vogue