Dove Cameron, Saucy Santana and Yung Gravy all probably have mixed feelings about being asked to perform at the VMAs’ pre-show instead of the main telecast: They’re definitely happy to be invited, but probably a little disappointed not to be on at least one of the main stages. (Bookings for this year’s pre-show were announced on Friday August 19. The show will take place on Sunday August 28 at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ)
They should not take it for granted though. Many future A-listers made their first VMA performances at the pre-show. Nicki Minaj, recipient of this year’s Video Vanguard Award, performed at the pre-show in 2010. And she’s not the only Video Vanguard winner who debuted at the pre-show: Rihanna, who performed at the pre-show in 2010, received the Video Vanguard honor in 2016. The Foo Fighters, who received last year’s Global Icon Award – and could very well be Video Vanguard winners – performed at the pre-show in 1997. Even Jack Harlow, who is “anchoring” this year’s VMAs with Minaj and LL Cool J, started the pre-show in 2020.
In all, 16 acts who first performed at the VMA’s pre-show went on to perform at the main show. The list also includes heavy hitters like Usher, Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato.
Dozens of other stars who first performed on the pre-show have yet to step onto MTV’s main stage, however: these include No Doubt (who performed on the pre-show in 1996), the Barrencade Ladies (1998), Smash Mouth ( 1999), Papa Roach (2000), Avril Lavigne (2002), Sean Paul (2003), Jadakiss (2004), Fergie (2006), My Chemical Romance (2006), Charli XCX (2014), Cardi B (2017), Ava Max (2019), Megan The Stallion (2019), Tate McRae (2020), Machine Gun Kelly (2020), Polo G (2021) and Swedish House Mafia (2021).
So why didn’t the VMA producers book some of these acts for the main show instead of the pre-show? The show is packed every year. Plus, sometimes, their most timely hits get big after setting the VMA’s line-up. The VMAs usually air in late August or early September. Bookings are usually made and announced a few weeks in advance.
In some cases, the hits were helped by VMS exposure to help them climb the charts. In September 1998, they performed at the pre-show Barrencade Ladies’ “One Week”, which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 the following month. Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)”, which she performed at the pre-show in August 2017, peaked at No. 1 in October 2017.
Pre-show performances may have helped some artists earn Grammy nominations. Many Grammy voters watch the VMAs, just as thoughts turn to that other, longer-established show. Avril Lavigne performed “Complicated” on the pre-show in 2002, and received a Song of the Year nomination at the Grammys. Black Eyed Peas performed “Where’s the Love?” 2003 at the Pre-Show and earned Record of the Year nominations at the Grammys.
Here are 16 acts who performed in the pre-show en route to the original broadcast. You will be surprised to see some of the big stars who waited their turn to be invited to the main event.