With their upcoming debuts at the MTV VMAs’ pre-show, Sabrina Carpenter and NLE Choppa are set to join the storied company of future A-listers who made their first VMAs performances on the pre-show.
Nicki Minaj, last year’s recipient of the Video Vanguard Award, performed on the pre-show in 2010. And she’s not the only Video Vanguard winner who started out on the pre-show: Rihanna, who performed on the pre-show in 2010, got the Video Vanguard honor in 2016. Foo Fighters, who received a Global Icon Award last year – and may very well be Video Vanguard winners one day — performed on the pre-show in 1997.
In all, 16 acts who first performed on the VMAs’ pre-show later stepped up to performing on the main show. The list also includes such heavy hitters as Usher, Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato.
Dozens more stars who first performed on the pre-show have yet to step onto the MTV main stage, for whatever reason:. They include No Doubt (who performed on the pre-show in 1996), Barenaked 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 Thee 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 pretty packed every year. Also, sometimes, their most timely hits broke big after the VMAs’ line-up was set. The VMAs usually air in late August or early September, but the bookings are generally made and announced weeks before that.
In some cases, the hits were helped along in their chart climbs by the VMAs exposure. Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week,” which they performed on the pre-show in September 1998, hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 the following month. Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves),” which she performed on the pre-show in August 2017, hit No. 1 in October 2017.
Performances on the pre-show may have helped a few artists land key Grammy nominations. Many Grammy voters watch the VMAs, just as thoughts are turning to that other, longer-established show. Avril Lavigne performed “Complicated” on the pre-show in 2002, and went on to receive a song of the year nomination for that song at the Grammys. The Black Eyed Peas performed “Where Is the Love?” on the pre-show in 2003 and went on to receive a record of the year nomination at the Grammys.
Here are the 16 acts who performed on the pre-show on their way to the main telecast. You’ll be amazed at some of the big stars who had wait their turn to get invited to the main event.
Pre-show performance: Beck performed “Where It’s At,” a track from his sophomore album Odelay, on the pre-show on Sept. 4, 1996. “Where It’s At” went on to win a Grammy for best male rock vocal performance. Odelay went on to receive a Grammy nod for album of the year.
First main show performance: The very next year, Beck performed “The New Pollution,” also from Odelay, on the main show.
Pre-show performance: The trio performed “What’s My Age Again” and “All the Small Things” on the pre-show on Sept. 9, 1999 (which MTV cleverly promoted as 9-9-99). Both songs were from Blink’s hit sophomore album, Enema of the State.
First main show performance: The very next year, the band closed the show by once again performing “All the Small Things,” which peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100 in February 2000. It’s the trio’s only top 10 hit to date.
Pre-show performance: The R&B star performed “My Way” on the pre-show on Sept. 10, 1998. The song, which reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 in August 1998, is from Usher’s sophomore album of the same name.
First main show performance: Six years later, Usher opened the main show by performing “Confessions Part II” and “Yeah!” (featuring Ludacris and Lil Jon). Both songs were No. 1 hits on the Hot 100, and both were featured on Usher’s No. 1 Billboard 200 album Confessions, which was that year’s top-seller.
Pre-show performance: The rapper performed “Rollout (My Business)” and “Move B—ch” on the pre-show on Aug. 29, 2002. Both songs were top 20 hits on the Hot 100.
First main show performance: Three years later, Ludacris performed “Money Maker” with Pharrell and The Pussycat Dolls on the main show. The recorded version, which also featured Pharrell (but not The Pussycat Dolls), became Ludacris’ second No. 1 hit on the Hot 100.
Pre-show performance: The band performed “Monkey Wrench” and “Everlong” on the pre-show on Sept. 4, 1997.
First main show performance: A full decade after their pre-show performance, the band led an extended “Foo Fighters Fantasy Suite” set on the main show, as part of that year’s reimagined VMAs telecast. They performed “Shake Your Blood Part 1,” “Everlong” (again) and “All My Life.” The band featured Pat Smear on “The Pretender,” Serj Tankian on “Holiday in Cambodia,” Cee-Lo on a rendition of Prince’s “Darling Nikki” and Lemmy on “I’ll Be Your Sister” and “Shake Your Blood Part 2.” Also in this elaborate sequence, Foo front-man Dave Grohl was featured on performances by Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal.
Pre-show performance: The future superstar performed her first Hot 100 hit, “Pon De Replay,” on the pre-show on Aug. 28, 2005. The song had reached its No. 2 peak on the Hot 100 on July 30.
First main show performance: Two years later, Rihanna had two spots on the telecast. She sang her then-current hit “Umbrella” as an “intermission” in a Chris Brown segment. The song topped the Hot 100 for seven weeks that year, becoming Rihanna’s biggest hit to that point. She also sang her follow-up single, “Shut Up and Drive” (with Fall Out Boy joining her).
Fall Out Boy
Pre-show performance: The band performed “Sugar, Were Goin’ Down,” their first Hot 100 hit, on the pre-show on Aug. 28, 2005. The song reached its No. 8 peak on the chart dated Sept. 17.
First main show performance: Two years later, the band also headlined its own “Fantasy Suite” show. It performed “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” (again), “Thnks fr th Mmrs,” a medley of “The Carpal Tunnel of Love” and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” “Don’t Matter” and “Top Gun Anthem” from the 1986 film. The band also teamed with Rihanna on “Shut Up and Drive” and with Lil Wayne, Brendon Urie and Travie McCoy on “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race.” The latter song is Fall Out Boy’s biggest hit on the Hot 100 to date, reaching No. 2 in February 2007.
Pre-show performance: The future superstar performed “Check It Out” on the pre-show on Sept. 12, 2010. She was backed by will.i.am, who also joined her on the recorded version (which reached No. 24 on the Hot 100 in November 2010).
First main show performance: Four years later, Minaj opened the show in tandem with Ariana Grande and Jessie J. Minaj performed her solo smash “Anaconda” — which reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 in September 2014, becoming Minaj’s biggest hit to that point — and the three stars together performed their collab “Bang Bang,” which reached No. 3. Later in the show, Minaj also teamed with Usher on “She Came to Give It to You.” Their collab recording peaked at a disappointing No. 89 on the Hot 100 in September 2014.
Pre-show performance: The future superstar performed “The Way” and “Baby I,” her first two Hot 100 hits on the pre-show on Aug. 25, 2013.
First main show performance: The very next year, Grande was part of the previously mentioned tandem with Nicki Minaj and Jessie J, performing “Bang Bang.” Grande also performed her solo smash “Break Free,” a No. 4 hit on the Hot 100 in August 2014.
Pre-show performance: The big-voiced singer performed “Give Your Heart a Break” on the pre-show on Sept. 6, 2012. The song reached No. 16 on Aug. 25.
First main show performance: Three years later, Lovato performed “Cool for the Summer” on the main show, live from outside The Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. She was joined in the performance by Iggy Azalea. “Cool…” reached No. 11 on the Hot 100 in September 2015. Lovato is set to perform on the 2023 show.
Pre-show performance: Jonas performed “Levels” on the pre-show on Aug. 30, 2015.
First main-show performance: The very next year, Jonas performed “Bacon” (featuring Ty Dolla Sign) on the main show. The song was from the Jonas brother’s third studio album, Last Year Was Complicated. It bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 120 in September 2016, a poor showing for a single that had such a high-profile performance.
Pre-show performance: The female group performed “Bo$$” on the pre-show on Aug. 24, 2014.
First main show performance: Three years later, the group performed “Angel” and “Down” on the main show. Gucci Mane was featured on the performance of the latter song, as he was on the recorded version.
Pre-show performance: Cara performed “Wild Things” and “Scars to Your Beautiful” on the pre-show on Aug. 28, 2016. Cara went on to win the 2017 Grammy for best new artist in January 2018.
First main show performance: The very next year, Cara stepped up to the main show by again performing “Scars to Your Beautiful,” and then teaming with Logic and Khalid to perform the suicide prevention anthem “1-800-273-8255.”
The Black Eyed Peas
Pre-show performance: The group performed “Where Is the Love?,” their first top 10 hit on the Hot 100, on the pre-show on Aug. 28, 2003. The song had peaked at No. 8 on the Hot 100 dated Aug. 9. The hit, which featured Justin Timberlake (who did not appear on the pre-show), went on to receive a Grammy nomination for record of the year.
First main show performance: Seventeen years later, the Peas performed a medley of “Vida Loca” and “I Gotta Feeling,” teaming with Nicky Jam and Tyga on the show-closing spot. The latter song topped the Hot 100 for 14 weeks in 2009. Fergie also performed on the pre-show (in August 2006). She sang “London Bridge,” a No. 1 hit on the Hot 100 for three weeks beginning Aug. 19, 2006.
Pre-show performance: Harlow performed “Whats Poppin” on the pre-show on Aug. 30, 2020. The song reached No. 2 on the Hot 100.
First main show performance: The very next year, Harlow joined Lil Nas X to perform “Industry Baby,” which reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 in October 2021. In 2022, Harlow opened the telecast performing his No. 1 Hot 100 hit “First Class” in tandem with Fergie, who performed her smash “Glamorous.”
Pre-show performance: Sister duo Chlöe x Halle performed “Ungodly Hour,” the title track off their second album, on the pre-show on Aug. 30, 2020.
First main show performance: The very next year, Chlöe was booked for the main show, where she sang her debut solo single, “Have Mercy.” It reached No. 28 on the Hot 100.