The MTV Video Music Awards’ Video Vanguard Award is widely considered the most prestigious honor music video creators and musicians can earn from the organization.
It is also, however, one of the most legendary and controversial awards in the industry. Since its introduction at the very first VMAs in 1984 (at which the Beatles and David Bowie both won), the Video Vanguard Award has gone through several name changes and sporadic periods in which years have passed without be awarded to anyone.
Whether directly or indirectly, this is because the name of the award was changed in 1991 to the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award – just three years after the King of Pop himself won it in 1988. 2003, however, Jackson was investigated by the Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services for suspicion that he had sexually abused children at his California ranch “Neverland”.
The Vanguard – a gold-plated statue of Moonman as opposed to the silver trophies awarded in all other categories – was presented the same year to Duran Duran, but under the title of “Lifetime Achievement Award”. Jackson, meanwhile, was subsequently charged with seven counts of child molestation and went on trial, after which he was found not guilty in June 2005.
In 2006, the Vanguard was simply referred to by MTV as the Video Vanguard Award when it was presented to Hype Williams. And for the next five years, no one won it — until Britney Spears did in 2011, about two years after Jackson’s death. The VMAs restored his name to the award that year in his honor, and he remained the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award until 2019 – when abuse allegations against him were recently revealed in the documentary. Leave Neverland.
The VMAs still presented the award under Jackson’s name to Missy Elliott after the documentary’s release, but then walked away without presenting it at all until 2022. In the initial announcement naming Nicki Minaj the winner of the year, Jackson’s name was included in the award title.
But no matter what it’s called or when it was or wasn’t distributed over the years, the Vanguard’s objective remained the same: recognizing artists for their “outstanding contributions and profound impact on music video and popular culture.” From 1984 to 2022, from the Beatles and Bowie to Nicki Minaj – who is set to receive this year’s trophy – keep reading to see the full list of everyone who has won MTV’s Video Vanguard Award.